An absenteeism policy is a document setting out guidelines and procedures that aim to reduce the number of work days your employees miss. It covers issues such as acceptable reasons for absences and the consequences of absenteeism or tardiness.
It’s important to clearly communicate your expectations around attendance to your employees, as extended absences directly cost your organization money. A clear absenteeism policy is an important part of a broader absence management strategy.
What Is Absenteeism?
Absenteeism is regular, unscheduled non-attendance at work. It includes situations where an employee misses whole days, turns up late, or leaves early more frequently than is acceptable.
Factors that cause absenteeism can include an employee’s personal issues, family commitments, or chronic illness. It can also be a response to negative factors in the workplace such as bullying, harassment, or burnout.
Absences and absenteeism both refer to an employee missing work, but with an important distinction. An absence is when an employee can’t come to work on occasion due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, injury, stress, carer responsibilities, family issues, or commuting difficulties.
Repeated or extended absences, on the other hand, amount to absenteeism, and can be a serious problem for your business.
Why Should You Have an Absenteeism Policy?
A level of employee absence always exists in organizations. There are valid reasons why an employee may be late or unable to come to work on occasion. An absenteeism policy should acknowledge this and offer some flexibility for the odd, unexpected absence.
However, chronic absences amounting to absenteeism are disruptive and can cost an organization. As a conservative estimate, unscheduled absenteeism in the US costs employers $3,600 per hourly employee every year.
This affects the absent employee’s productivity and therefore your bottom line. Absenteeism can also affect your company culture and the morale of employees who have to step in to cover for absent colleagues.
An absenteeism policy helps you identify any patterns in employee absences and devise strategies to reduce them by communicating the organization’s expectations of employees around attendance.
An absenteeism policy is also necessary from a legal perspective. A potential consequence of ongoing absenteeism is often termination. Your organization needs to have clear guidelines around how absenteeism is handled and possible disciplinary action so that employees are aware of policies and consequences up front.
What to Include in an Absenteeism Policy
You can adapt an absenteeism policy to suit your organizational needs. However, there are some minimum inclusions to consider.
Purpose of the policy
When drafting your absenteeism policy, keep its purpose in mind— to inform employees of their responsibilities and help managers to understand how to deal with employee absences. So your employees understand the reasons behind it, it may help to explain how absenteeism affects the organization and other employees in the document.
Your policy needs to define key concepts such as absence and absenteeism. For example, different types of absences may include:
- Excused absences, where an employee gives sufficient notice and the manager approves the employee to use their paid time off (PTO) leave to cover it
- Unexcused absences, where an employee takes unplanned time off without prior approval, notifying their manager on the day
- No-shows, where an employee fails to turn up and doesn’t contact their manager
- Tardiness, or showing up late to a shift
- Leaving a shift early
Different types of absences might have different policies and different degrees of consequence, so each will need to be clearly defined and explained.
The threshold for excessive absences and therefore what counts as absenteeism also may vary between organizations, so this is another important detail to clarify in your absenteeism policy.
There are legal protections around certain types of absences. For example, in the US, disability leave and jury duty are protected reasons for absence. Check whether there are any laws or regulations that apply to your situation and include a brief explanation of them in your policy so that employees know their rights.
Your absenteeism policy should set out the processes employees must follow when they’re unable to come to work or running late. This includes who to contact—typically a supervisor or manager—and how to inform them, for example, by phone, email, or instant message.
Identify any situations where employees must provide a document supporting their absence, for example, a doctor’s certificate.
How absences should be formally recorded
You need to keep track of absences for pay purposes, but having detailed records helps to highlight any long-term patterns that may amount to absenteeism. You can record employee absences manually on a timesheet or electronically via a scheduling app.
The consequences of absenteeism
A key part of your policy is explaining the consequences and any potential disciplinary action for absenteeism.
Some organizations allow employees a certain number of absences—days or occurrences—each year, without requiring an explanation for them. Once an employee goes over this allowance, disciplinary action may be taken.
Others use a points-based system. They assign points to absences—often based on the type of absence—and set out what happens when an employee accumulates a certain number of points.
Consequences may include:
- Verbal warning
- Written warning
- Meeting with management or HR
Before including either of these in your policy, confirm whether there are any relevant laws or regulations that apply, especially concerning counting protected forms of leave as absences and the termination of an employee.
Tips for creating an effective absenteeism policy
- Communicate it to your employees. Your employees can’t follow or rely on a policy they don’t know about. Give your new employees a copy of your absenteeism policy during onboarding and make it available on the intranet for all employees to access when they need to.
- Write it in plain language. This ensures your employees can understand, follow, and apply it properly. It also helps to provide a contact person in the policy—typically someone in HR—in case your employees have any questions.
- Involve your managers. When developing an absenteeism policy, ask for managerial feedback on it. Managers know the day-to-day realities of their workforce. They are ideally placed to spot an issue with the policy or see ways it could be improved.
- Educate your managers. Once your absenteeism policy is in place, it’s essential to educate managers—or the people responsible for applying the policy—on how to use it fairly and consistently.
- Use it to complement other absence management measures. An absenteeism policy alone isn’t an absence management strategy. Use it alongside other measures such as flexible work arrangements, return-to-work plans, and employee well-being programs to reduce your organization’s absence rate.
A generous paid time off (PTO) policy can also help reduce absenteeism. It allows employees to take paid leave as needed, rather than resorting to unexcused absences.
While your organization will always experience some level of employee absence, chronic absence—or absenteeism—is costly and disruptive to your workforce.
An effective absenteeism policy is a good starting point for your absence management strategy. It communicates your expectations around employee attendance and sets out how absenteeism is managed, including potential disciplinary actions. This is a valuable tool to help you track attendance and reduce absenteeism in your workplace.