Speaking of Absenteeism…

The cold weather is upon us, the days are getting shorter and winter is almost here. With it also comes the time (or excuse) for increased absenteeism. A lot of discussion has been focused on whether employees should stay home when they are sick or whether they should drag themselves in to the workplace. If we bring sickness into the workplace, we have the potential to make others sick. Being sick in the workplace is no picnic for the afflicted person or their co-workers. Being miserable and noisy is usually a major disruption and embarrassing. But if the sick person doesn’t work while sick, does their work and workplace suffer anyway?

That is a question that begs for an answer, but the answer is …it depends. It depends on the culture and tolerance of the work environment and what the person is suffering from etc.  Each individual should decide if they might be infectious and if in doubt they should check with a doctor. How does the employer know if the absent employee is really sick or just goofing off? This question has perplexed numerous employers over time.

It is important to define “absenteeism”. Innocent absenteeism happens when an employee is absent due to circumstances beyond their control. This absenteeism can be easy to recognize since it usually happens suddenly, is infrequent for this employee, and may last longer than one day. If in doubt, this type of absenteeism can usually be verified by a medical certificate if the duration is long enough. Culpable absenteeism is the opposite of innocent absenteeism since it is can be frequent and excessive compared to others in the organization.

There is no magic formula for tracking excessive absenteeism. A good rule of thumb is to track the company absenteeism average on a monthly basis. Next compare all employees to see which ones have a higher record month over month without proper medical documentation. A good line of defence is to have an attendance policy in place, stating what is acceptable and what is not. Ensure that it is well communicated and enforced consistently and fairly and has progressive discipline procedures listed for culpable offenders. An initial meeting with a frequent absentee employee is recommended. Information gathered should ensure that there are no personal issues causing the absenteeism that may need some accommodation or support. Communication is essential before any judgement is made.