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What Impact Does Unscheduled Absence Exert on Our Productivity?

We know unscheduled absences can cut into productivity. But how can we learn whether too much absenteeism is indicative of larger cultural/engagement issues in our culture?
October 4, 2011
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Dear Not Fond of Absence:

You are wise to examine the impact this kind of absence has on productivity and identify — and then eradicate — its cause.

First, check local, state and federal laws where the employee and the work site are located. You'll also need to check precedents for your state supreme court, federal circuit courts for your area and the U.S. Supreme Court. It is beyond the scope of this response to outline the laws and court precedents that may apply, but you need to be aware they may all impact what you ultimately choose to do.

Other considerations to make before choosing how to handle this situation include:

• Is the employee subject to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act? Most employees who are not managers are. That means they are eligible for overtime. Through the FLSA, the federal government established standards that determine an employee's eligibility for overtime. These are not subject to change by the employer.

• Is software you use compatible with how you want to address the situation? For instance, some software does not credit employees with accrued sick or vacation leave.

• Does your company allow for leave? Does your company have an employee manual that commits it to specific treatment of the employee that may conflict with your chosen resolution?

Unscheduled absences could be a red flag. They can result from an injury or illness that will not go away. This could involve issues with workers' compensation, the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Family and Medical Leave Act that have not been properly dealt with by the employee or by the employer.

Investigate the reasons behind the repeated unscheduled absence. Ask the employee to explain why he or she is unable to get to work as scheduled. Explain the effect this has on co-workers, and how the absences may reflect poorly on the employee. If the employee has a justifiable reason for being absent—for instance, staying home with a sick child— try to work together to resolve the situation. You might check to see if this falls under FMLA (or comparable state law).

If circumstances recently changed in the employee's life, a different daily start time might help alleviate the absence issues. Perhaps the person no longer is able to perform the job duties, if he or she was recently injured on or off the job; employees may not want to tell the employer this out of fearing of being let go. In summary, your employee may have a situation going on that he or she does not know how to deal with.

There is a lot of employee uncertainty now because of the economy. Many employees may be toughing it out, waiting for the situation that causes their absence to improve. Be proactive by offering assistance to your employees. They may realize that by your doing this, their employer has employees' best interests at heart. They may be much more willing at this point to talk to you about engagement issues that may be causing employees to give less than their best effort. This can also be one of the best things an employer can do to retain employees and build engagement.

SOURCE: Joe Gross, HR & Policy Solutions, Olympia, Washington

LEARN MORE: On a related matter, please read how to help managers can combat chronic employee lateness.

Workforce Management Online, October 2011 -- Register Now!

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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