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How to Handle Attendance Problems

One of my clients had an employee who repeatedly showed up late for work, sometimes by as much as an hour but always with an excuse. There were no time clocks, so if the employee claimed to arrive on time—“you were in the back and didn’t notice”—what could the employer say? Finally, the employer lost his temper, threatened to fire the employee and stormed out in frustration. What could he have done differently?

First, the employer should add “arrive on time” to the requirements of the job in the employee handbook and job description. You may think this requirement is obvious but a written policy helps ensure that everyone understands expectations. It also provides proof that the employee knew the expectations, if a lawsuit is threatened.

Second, the employer should consider whether the employee’s lateness is a temporary or permanent problem. Maybe the employee relies on public transportation that is notoriously unreliable. Maybe the employee’s family or medical situation has changed and the employee is under stress. Would some accommodation be appropriate (for example, a change in shift assignment) to prevent future lateness?

Three, the employer should document his conversations with the employee, and those conversations should be professional. The employer may want to ask the employee to sign a document acknowledging the conversation and remediation steps or consequences that were agreed to.

Fourth, the employer should make sure that the employee’s absences are not covered by federal and state regulations such as the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Finally, the employer may want to create an incentive for good attendance by all employees by instituting a reward system for consistent attendance.

If you are facing attendance problems at your workplace, I can help you with creating policies, talking with employees who violate the policies, protecting your business from lawsuits and ensuring that you have met regulatory standards for dealing with the problem.

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