Office Discipline – Dealing With Attendance Issues

Absenteeism occurs when an employee frequently fails to report for work with no apparent valid or excusable reason(s). What makes this attendance issue difficult to handle is that employees are generally very creative in citing reasons for their absences . Their reasons normally boil down to two categories – being sick with minor ailment (cold, headache, upset stomach, etc.) or personal emergencies (sickness in the immediate family is very common). There is ground to suspect, however, that they are just inventing things. The frequency and similarity of excuses often give you the reason to doubt their sincerity. You would like to reform them or if that were not possible, ultimately boot them out of the company as misfits.

Here are my suggestions on how you may handle these kind of employees:

The first approach is, of course, the human relations approach. Have a private counseling session with the offending employee. Your basic purpose is to change his or her bad attendance habit by showing how the corporate performance is adversely affected by it. You can also remind him or her of the basic commitment she or he entered into when he/she was hired by the company – to be diligent in performing his/her work and give the company its due in exchange for the monthly salary and other benefits he/she receives. Hopefully, these gentle reminders will be effective and the employee will correct his/her attendance problem. If the attendance problem is corrected, don’t forget to give positive reinforcement by giving him complement for it which can be verbal or in writing.

If the above soft approach does not work, then you proceed to the next stage. The idea here is to now put some pressure on the employee to follow the house rules by making it more difficult for him/her to invent excuses and to formally document the process so that should you be compelled to discipline him/her, you would have gotten the legal basis for doing so. Should the employee continues to manifest attendance problems, do the following as soon as he/she commits an offense:

Issue her a written memo stating the specific offense he/she has committed and ask him/her to explain in writing why she should not be disciplined for such an offense. Give the employee a deadline for submitting his/her written explanation, e.g., within 24 hours from receipt of your memo. Make sure that

he/she officially acknowledges receipt of your letter by having her sign a duplicate and indicating therein the date/time of receipt of the same. You must also state in your letter that if the employee fails to reply to you in writing within your prescribed period, the presumption is that he/she has no valid excuse for the absence or tardiness and therefore, can be disciplined accordingly.

If you do not receive a written reply from the employee within your prescribed period, then you can go ahead and apply the disciplinary action for that as may be prescribed in your company’s house rules. It is standard in corporate house rules to have a system of progressive penalties ranging from oral reprimand to dismissal or termination of service if an employee repetitiously commits a particular infraction of rules, e.g., the rule on attendance. Be sure you put in writing the disciplinary action and have the employee acknowledge the receipt of your letter by affixing her signature on the duplicate which you must keep in your file.

If the employee officially replies in writing to your letter asking for explanation of the absence or tardiness, then you should now evaluate the probable truthfulness of his/her explanation. You may request the employee to submit proofs, if the same is applicable. For example, if he or she claims that she had been sick, then ask for a medical certification from his or her attending physician. If the employee has none because he or she claims to have just gone on self-medication, then inform him/her that next time, you will not accept that explanation anymore. He/she has to get a medical certification next time around.

The point I am making here is for you to make it more and more difficult for the employee to invent excuses and get away with it. The above example is only one of such typical excuses. There surely will be other excuses for hard-headed employees but the bottom line always is for you to ask proof or evidence in writing. By doing that, you are giving the employee psychological pressure to desist from the bad attendance habit and at the same time, you are also compiling documentary evidence that you can use in case you arrive at the point where the only option left is to terminate the employee. When an employee gives a written explanation, you have something solid to pin him/her down by conducting an investigation on the truthfulness of her statements. In the case of a claim that the employee got sick, for example, you can call or personally see the physician to find out if that was true. If the employee claims that he/she had to rush a relative to a clinic or hospital, you can always verify the records of the clinic or hospital.

Most of the time, employees with attendance problems who are confronted with this approach are forced to reform, particularly if they still value their job. However, there will be occasional cases when you may encounter really stubborn ones who will refuse to reform and continue to make misrepresentations in explaining their absences or tardiness. In these cases, you have to be firm if you are responsible for administering your company’s attendance rules. Give employees a chance to reform but be prepared to terminate them if they are beyond correction.

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