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Dilemma of the Month: Why Attendance Policies Are So Important

Back Article Oct 8, 2020 By Suzanne Lucas

I have a problem with employees calling in to say they are not coming into work once they’ve reached 40 hours. We have a lot of overtime available, so it’s easy to have worked 40 hours by Thursday. People then call to say they are not coming in on Friday and don’t want to use their paid time off to cover the time, since they’re already getting paid for 40 hours (plus more, because of California overtime laws). It’s really causing problems with scheduling. What can I do?​

This story is part of our October 2020 issue. To subscribe, click here.

Say no. Honestly, it’s that simple. You need to have an attendance policy and enforce it, especially with so many employees now working remotely. 

I understand what happened here. You want to be kind, and it makes sense to be accommodating. After all, you would have to pay overtime for the entire time they worked that last day, so maybe it made sense at one point to allow people not to work once they reached 40 hours — without docking their PTO.

But you are within your rights as an employer to set an absentee policy that makes sense for your business. You need work done, and that’s why you hire employees. This does not mean that your employees should devote their entire lives to your business, nor does it mean you let them walk all over you. When you’re talking about attendance, you need a good policy.

Here’s what that could look like.

  • PTO should consist of at least two buckets: sick leave and vacation time. 
  • Sick leave can be taken without notice. Vacation time needs advance approval.
  • If an employee has used all their sick time and they are still sick, they must use a vacation day.
  • A doctor’s note is required for three or more consecutive days off.
  • Other unpaid time off is strictly subject to the manager’s discretion.

Of course, you must follow all relevant laws regarding time off. If an employee is eligible for intermittent leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, your company must grant it when requested. If the employee has a disability that qualifies within the Americans with Disabilities Act and additional time off is a part of the reasonable accommodation, you must honor that.

It is vital that your employees have the time to recover from any illnesses, especially during this coronavirus pandemic. You need to have sufficient sick leave and adequate vacation time to keep your employees healthy, rested and happy. If your competitors offer better packages, you need to match or beat what they offer.

California’s labor code also requires all companies with 500 or more employees nationwide to provide up to 80 hours of supplemental sick leave to all full-time employees who are unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19.

You need work done, and that’s why you hire employees. This does not mean that your employees should devote their entire lives to your business, nor does it mean you let them walk all over you. When you’re talking about attendance, you need a good policy.

In addition to establishing a policy, you need to have and enforce consequences. Some companies follow a progressive discipline model where people accumulate points for violating rules, which can ultimately result in termination. You can work out how best to do that based on your business needs. But if all you say is, “Oh, Laura, I wish you wouldn’t call in that you want the day off!” nothing will change.

Once you’ve created a solid policy that will work for your business, meet with your employees and explain how things will function. Make it clear that they need to work all scheduled days (unless they are legitimately sick or have scheduled PTO), regardless of how many hours they have put in. And if they call in sick, they must use their sick leave (and vacation time, if needed).

In California, employers must pay overtime when a nonexempt employee works more than eight hours in a day, so you may wish to control the daily schedule in favor of having people work eight-hour days, five days a week. This would be a financial benefit to you, because you’re currently paying overtime wages.

There is a way you can switch to four 10-hour days in California without having to pay overtime, but it’s tricky. The most crucial part is that two-thirds of your affected employees have to agree to it in a secret ballot. If lots of people are working overtime during the week and then want Fridays off, and they are able to get their work done in four days, it might be worth pursuing. Don’t do this on your own, though; get your employment lawyer involved.

If you want to keep operations running five days a week and give employees flexibility, make that part of the schedule. One option is to adopt a four-day workweek with 10-hour days and have rotating schedules. All of your employees may not get Fridays off, but they will get one weekday per week off. That might make your workplace more popular. 

Regardless of whether you want to stick with the eight-hour workdays plus overtime or switch to an alternate workweek, it’s time to take control of the schedule. Be kind and flexible, but make sure your employees know they need to work every day.

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