Do you have an employee who is constantly calling out "sick" or taking excessive amounts of time off? While many employee absences are legitimate, recurring unscheduled absenteeism can really disrupt a business – especially if the employee is taking paid time off.
Your first instinct might be to discipline the employee, accuse them of taking advantage, or even threaten to fire them. But if their reason for missing work qualifies as a legally protected absence, you could land yourself in hot water.
Tricia Meyer, founder and managing attorney at Meyer Law, noted that it's important for employers understand federal or state laws regarding employee leave so they aren't creating illegal policies or making unfair demands of their workers. Here's what you need to know about creating a smart time-off policy and handling employee absences.
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What to include in your policy
Whether you're writing your first time-off policy or updating your existing one, our sources recommended including a few key things.
Employee work hours: Define the expected business hours and number of hours worked per week, as well as a clock-in/out procedure to make sure employees are meeting those requirements.
Available paid and unpaid leave: Aside from regular paid time off (including sick days, personal days and vacation days), list out paid (or unpaid) holidays, leave periods (e.g., bereavement or jury duty), and federally protected absences like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and disability leave.
"Write a clear description of what paid and unpaid leave is available for employees, including when and how they qualify for leave and how much leave they accrue each week, pay period, month or year," said Jaime Lizotte, HR solutions manager at ComplyRight.
Calling-in procedure: What is the procedure for calling in sick or notifying the company when an employee won't be in? Should someone be notified if an employee will be late? Are employees responsible for finding a replacement for unscheduled time off?
"Be sure to explain the policy for requesting leave, including any deadlines for vacation request and blackout periods," Lizotte told Business News Daily.
Your policy should be shared among all employees, supervisors and managers. Additionally, executives should be trained on how to apply it fairly, according to HRhero.
Consequences for violations: The last part of your policy should spell out the repercussions if an employee does not follow the policy.
"Write down the steps that will be taken for various infractions, to protect your business from charges of favoritism or discrimination down the line," said Lizotte.
Staying legally compliant
As an employer, you have a legal obligation to treat employees fairly when it comes to your leave policies. Research federal laws like FMLA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. You should also familiarize yourself with your state's workers' compensation laws, according to HRhero.
"You must make sure that you are not reprimanding or even denying the absence of an employee for any protected reason," said Lizotte. "Also, make sure that you are treating each employee the same so that you do not end up with a discrimination or wrongful termination claim."
It is always best to have an experienced attorney review your policies to make sure there's no problematic language or rules.
"Employers should consult with professionals to ensure that they are complying with various federal and state laws with respect to their policy and implementing best practices," Meyer told Business News Daily. "An employer's policy should be clearly written and sent to all employees for their review/acknowledgment."
Tracking and handling employee absences
Employee absences are more than just a compliance issue, and how you handle them affects company costs, profitability, culture, employee morale and more, said Raj Narayanaswamy, co-founder and co-CEO of Replicon.
"The way you choose to comply with these absence requirements can have a far-reaching impact on more than just your legal department, so take the time to fully understand how time is being deployed in your company," he said.
Lizotte noted that employers can easily track employees' absences by either creating a process in their company in which they document absences regularly, such as with paper, or finding an electronic solution that allows them to easily enter employee absences as they occur.
"If the employer intends on scaling the company, I'd recommend using a third-party software product to track, as it is typically less administratively burdensome compared to tracking in a spreadsheet, is less likely to contain errors, and allows the employer to ensure compliance with state and federal laws more easily," Meyer said.
Before you approach an employee about chronic absenteeism, it's wise to conduct an internal audit to uncover the root of the issue, said Lizotte. Is your employee choosing to call out of work because they're feeling stressed and pressured and need some time to decompress? Are they calling out because of a family situation (e.g., caring for children or aging parents)? Because of health-related behaviors of their own?
Next, Lizotte said to look at your company's attitude toward unscheduled absenteeism. Do you tolerate it because everyone needs time off now and then? Do you feel it's abused because you don't know how to manage it differently? Or is it frowned upon, and the employees know it, but it still happens?
"By conducting this audit and answering these questions, you will be able to identify … [and] understand any absentee issues your company may have, and [then] implement a plan," said Lizotte.
Prior to taking any disciplinary action against an employee, we advise consulting an HR professional and/or an attorney to make sure you're staying legally compliant.
Additional reporting by Sammi Caramela.