Absenteeism is, to some degree, unavoidable when you’re running a small business. No matter how dedicated or reliable your employees are, there are going to occasionally be reasons they need to miss work.
But when absenteeism becomes excessive, it can have a seriously negative impact on your business, including lost productivity, additional costs, and an overall decline in employee morale and commitment.
But what, exactly, is considered excessive absence from work? How can you prevent your employees from missing an excessive number of workdays? And what do you do if you find yourself dealing with an employee who is racking up absences that clearly fall under the “excessive” umbrella?
Let's find out.
What is considered excessive absenteeism?
Excessive absenteeism is when an employee repeatedly misses work. As a business owner, you get to decide how many absences are too many. For example, you might decide that two unexcused absences in a 30-day period are too much. Or that eight days throughout the year is the most your employees can rack up before disciplinary action kicks in.
If you create a policy about absenteeism, it should be included as a section in your general attendance policy, which we’ll discuss in more detail below. That way, you can spell out the specifics of your policy, so every employee knows the details and is held to the same standard.
A written policy levels the playing field, so to speak. You treat everyone the same, so there aren’t any accusations of favoritism among your staff.
Your policy should also explain the difference between excused and unexcused absences. For example, you might decide that excused absences require employees to schedule time off according to your paid time off (PTO) policy. Excused absences could also include last-minute emergencies that arise when the employee notifies their manager before their shift begins.
On the flip side, an unexcused absence could be anytime your employee doesn’t show up to work and doesn’t notify their manager.
Then, only unexcused absences count towards your excessive absence policy. This encourages your employees to keep you in the loop when something comes up, and they won’t be able to work.
What are the main causes of absenteeism?
Employee absenteeism can be caused by many things, such as health or childcare issues and job dissatisfaction. Some are avoidable and others are not. Let's look at a few of the main reasons why employees miss work.
Employees may call in sick because they’re feeling ill or got injured. If your employee is dealing with a chronic health condition, that also may make it difficult to come to work sometimes.
Or, if your employee has a substance abuse issue, that could also lead to excessive absenteeism.
Mental health is also an important factor. Some employees may need to take a day or two off to deal with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. These mental health days can help your employee get their head back in the game and return to work ready to roll.
If your employees have young children at home, they may need to miss work occasionally to deal with a sick child, take them to medical appointments, or stay home with them if their school or daycare is closed.
Older children may also need to be taken to and from extracurricular activities, which can result in employees missing work.
If your employees are unhappy with their job, they may start calling out sick more often. There are several reasons why an employee might be dissatisfied with their job, such as:
- Lack of challenge
- Poor working conditions
- Toxic workplace environment
- Unclear job expectations
Often, these employees are your quiet quitters. But eventually, they may get to the point where they just stop showing up altogether.
What types of leave are not excessive?
Just because your employee is gone for an extended period doesn't automatically mean their absence is excessive. There are a few types of leave that, while they may be prolonged, don’t fit that category:
- FMLA leave: The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for up to 12 weeks for specified family and medical reasons.
- Military leave: Employees called to active duty or to perform training may be entitled to up to five years of military leave.
- Jury duty: If your employee is summoned for jury duty, they are legally obligated to serve.
- Bereavement leave: Most employers offer bereavement leave, which allows employees to take time off after the death of a loved one. This leave is mandatory in some states.
- Sabbatical: A sabbatical is a planned, extended leave of absence from work, usually to focus on study or research.
- Approved vacation time: If your employee has been approved to use vacation time or other personal leave, that time off is not considered excessive.
These types of leave may last a while, but they are typically planned in advance and are not considered excessive absenteeism.
How do excessive absences impact a small business?
When you have an employee missing work at an excessive rate, it doesn't just impact them. It can also hurt your business by lowering productivity, reducing morale, and increasing costs. With so many potential negatives, it's essential to address excessive absenteeism early on, as it can harm your business if left unchecked.
Here's a bit more about each one.
Employees missing work typically leads to a drop in productivity, unless the rest of the team picks up the slack. But even when they do, there can still be missed deadlines and work that gets left undone.
Frequent absences can impact morale as other employees feel overworked and may start to resent the absent employees. This can lead to a decrease in job satisfaction and an increase in turnover.
If you're constantly shifting schedules around to try to cover a missing employee, that can take a toll on your budget. Sometimes, you may even need to hire temporary workers or pay overtime to compensate the team members filling in for their absent colleagues.
How can you prevent excessive employee absenteeism?
The best way to prevent excessive employee absenteeism is addressing your expectations around employee absences right from the get-go—with a clear employee attendance policy.
If you don’t yet have one, now is the time to get this policy in place. Carve out a section of your employee handbook to outline your company’s attendance policy. This should include:
- A review of your paid time off policy (including the number of days for sick time, vacation time, and any other leave or PTO offered)
- How the company views and handles different types of absences, including tardiness, sick days, and no-calls/no shows
- The procedure for reporting an unscheduled absence (for example, the procedure for calling in sick)
- The number of unexcused/unscheduled workdays that the company considers excessive absenteeism
- The disciplinary action employees will face if their absenteeism is deemed excessive
- What is considered job abandonment at your company
Have human resources review your attendance policy with every employee—and once the review is complete, have the employee sign the company policy and keep a copy in their personnel file.
What to do if an employee starts racking up excessive absences
Having a clear attendance policy can help prevent excessive absenteeism—but even so, you might find yourself dealing with excessive employee absences at some point.
If you have an employee who is missing work and racking up unscheduled absences, here are some tips for effectively managing the situation:
Consider the circumstances
Again, excessive absenteeism doesn’t have any firm definition. So, before you take any disciplinary action against an employee for excessive absenteeism, it’s important to consider the circumstances that led to the employee’s absences. If the circumstance is unusual, short-term, and somewhat out of the employees’ control, you might consider letting them slide.
For example, maybe you have an employee that recently lost a loved one or has a family member dealing with a serious medical condition—and have been taking off more time than usual to try to navigate the challenging situation within their family. Or maybe your employee’s car broke down—and, as a result, they were tardy a few days in a row while they figured out the best way to get to work using the public transportation system.
In those circumstances, you might consider cutting your employee some slack, even if the absences are what you would typically consider excessive—especially if you’re dealing with an employee who generally has good attendance. Life happens—and if you can cut your employees some slack when it does, it will show them that you’re invested in them and their place within your company.
Track your employee’s attendance
If you’re considering taking disciplinary action against an employee for excessive absenteeism, it’s important that you track that employee’s attendance. You’ll need a clear attendance record that shows when and how often they were tardy or absent from work. With an app like Hourly, you can track when an employee clocks in, and where—and keep an organized record of it all on your phone, or desktop. This makes it easy for you to pull up the data when you’re discussing attendance with your employees.
Talk to the employee
Before you move forward with disciplinary action, you should talk to the absent employee about their absenteeism. Explain how their absenteeism is negatively impacting your business and their co-workers. Tell them that you need them to show up to work on time and in accordance with your attendance and absenteeism policy—otherwise, you’ll have to move forward with disciplinary action.
Often, a simple conversation is all it takes to bring the issue to your employee’s attention and get their attendance back on track.
Move forward with disciplinary action
If, after you talk to your employee, their absenteeism doesn’t improve, it’s time to move forward with any disciplinary action outlined in your employee handbook.
Call a meeting with your employee and let them know how they were in violation of your attendance policy, what disciplinary actions are being taken, and what progressive discipline they’ll face if they don’t comply with your attendance policy moving forward. Be as clear and specific as possible—and have human resources create a document for both you and your employee to sign that clearly outlines all of the above.
Don’t let excessive absenteeism hurt your business
Absenteeism is, on some level, unavoidable. But excessive absenteeism can put your business at risk—so make sure that you’re taking the steps necessary to prevent excessive employee absenteeism (and that you’re taking the proper steps to deal with it if and when it happens).