How to Discipline an Employee for Absenteeism

There is no question that absenteeism has a negative effect on the workforce so learning how to discipline an employee for absenteeism could be critical to the success of your business. When it comes to discipline I hope you never take pleasure in issuing it to any employee regardless of whom they are. However, unfortunately human beings are prone to doing their own thing regardless of what the rules are. So it should come as no surprise that a certain percentage of your staff are going to test you by calling in sick as often as they think they can get away with.

I suppose one of the first things we should discuss is how many times can an employee call in sick before it becomes unacceptable? I can only give you my recommendation based on forty years of experience. Therefore, no matter what number you come up with there will be at least one employee that will press it right up to the very number you have placed on it. However, I believe that a reasonable number of acceptable unscheduled absence periods before taking disciplinary action in a one year rolling calendar period of time is five. Understand that I am defining an absent period as any time an employee is out one or more days for the same illness without having scheduled it in advance. As an example, if an employee calls in sick for one day because of a headache and another time they call in three days in a row because they had the flu, each time is only counted as one absent period.

Before discussing how to discipline an employee for absenteeism we must also decide if you are going to require an employee to produce a document from their medical provider confirming that they were ill. Again, based on my experience I would not require them to produce any medical documents unless they were out more than three days in a row. It has been my experience that anytime an employee is out three or more days the illness is more serious and should require a medical visit. (Note: If your business falls under the FMLA there may be different rules that apply to the employee’s specific situation.)

So for our purposes in this discussion we have decided that anytime an employee is out five times or more they may (depending on whether they qualify and elect to take FMLA) receive disciplinary action. So for our purposes today here is how to discipline an employee for absenteeism.

When an employee has been out a fourth time within a twelve month rolling calendar period of time I would call the employee into my office and remind them of your absenteeism policy. I would let them know that you are not questioning whether they have been actually ill or not, you are just reminding them that if they are out one more time they may be subject to an employee discipline notice for absenteeism. I would let them know that you are going to follow up your meeting with a simple email confirming your discussion. During my discussion with them I would try very hard not to get into any of their medical reasons for being absent. In fact I would begin my discussion with letting them know you would rather not discuss any of their medical issues. This may protect you later against a disability discrimination law suit, if the employee must be terminated later for absenteeism.

I am a strong believer in using an electronic form that will ask all the pertinent questions required when issuing an employee discipline notice. Because I got tired of all the other employee discipline forms on the market I decided to develop my own that I can use right from my own computer or any other electronic device.

Thank you and May God bless you!

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