HR Tip of the Week

Posted on  |  Performance management, Policies

Handling Absences, Tardiness and No Shows

Businessman talking on smartphone, looking at wrist watch checking time

Absenteeism, tardiness and no shows can have a significant impact on a business, including lost productivity, increased overtime costs and elevated stress among the employees left to pick up the slack. Here are some guidelines for addressing these issues. 

Develop written policies.

It’s a best practice for all employers to have written policies in place governing attendance, punctuality and no shows.

An attendance and punctuality policy should stress the importance of regular attendance, identify requirements and procedures for scheduling time off in advance, provide guidelines on what is considered a violation of the policy, and cover potential consequences for policy violations.

The policy should also require employees to give the company reasonable notice for unexpected absences where possible. Your policy should outline who the employee should contact (for example, their supervisor), when (before the start of their shift, when possible), and how (such as by phone). When crafting your attendance policy's notice requirements, also pay attention to notice requirements for any leave laws that may apply to your business and make sure your notice provisions comply.

Many employers will have policies stating that if employees fail to report to work without proper notice, they may be subject to discipline, up to and including termination. This gives the employer some flexibility based on the facts and circumstances of each case, including the severity of the offense and any past performance and conduct issues.

To address repeated no call/no show violations, many employers state in the policy that after a certain number of consecutive missed shifts without notice, the company will consider the job abandoned (that is, the employee quit). Many employers have discretion to determine how many consecutive absences without notice will be considered job abandonment, but some states may have laws that address what timeframe is considered reasonable. Absent a law to the contrary, the most common threshold used is three working days.

Avoid no-fault attendance policies.

No-fault attendance policies subject an employee to a specific form of discipline if they are absent or tardy a certain number of times, regardless of the reason. These types of policies can be problematic if one or more absences are protected under federal, state or local laws, and the employer still counts the absence against the employee. For example, employees who have the right to take leave under laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, a state or local paid sick leave law, or the Americans with Disabilities Act cannot have that leave count against them when evaluating their attendance (or performance).

Employers are permitted to adopt a policy that subjects employees to discipline for excessive, unapproved absences, provided that employees aren’t subjected to adverse action for taking leave to which they are entitled under the law. If you adopt a policy, make sure you have safeguards in place to avoid violating these laws.

Take a balanced approach.

Overly strict rules and practices on attendance and punctuality may be counterproductive and may encourage employees to come into work even though they are sick or incapable of performing at full capacity. Excessively rigid policies may also unlawfully discourage employees from using the time off to which they are entitled.

Review time-off policies.

Consider reviewing leave of absence and time-off policies on a regular basis to ensure they are effectively meeting business needs. For example, if you offer generous sick leave but too little vacation, some employees may "call in sick" when they are actually taking a vacation day. This is one of the reasons some employers have moved to a paid time off (PTO) plan.

With PTO plans, there are no distinctions between vacation, personal days or sick leave. This allows employees more flexibility in scheduling time off. PTO plans aren’t without their own drawbacks. For example, in some states, employers may be required to payout unused PTO at the time of termination.

Consider flexible work arrangements.

Flexible work schedules and telecommuting may help employees better manage their work and personal responsibilities and ultimately reduce the number of unplanned absences. While flexible work arrangements may not be practical for every job, consider evaluating such requests on a case-by-case basis.

Address concerns promptly.

If an employee isn't meeting expectations for attendance or punctuality, or is violating company policies, address the situation promptly. Don't wait until their annual performance review.

Meet with the employee in private, express your appreciation for their contributions and be straightforward. Let them know you've noticed issues with their attendance and/or punctuality and give examples. Explain that you are trying to help the employee improve and give them an opportunity to respond.

During the meeting, the employee may reveal information that can trigger certain obligations. For example:

  • If the employee discloses that the reason for their change in behavior or performance is because they're a victim of sexual harassment, launch a prompt investigation into the allegations.
  • If the employee reveals they have a disability, you may be required to engage in an interactive process with the employee and provide a reasonable accommodation to the employee.
  • If they reveal symptoms of burn out, offer company resources that may help, such as an Employee Assistance Program, and help them develop a plan for improving.
  • And, if they are having difficulty working with another employee, guide them through resolving workplace disagreements.

At the close of the meeting, confirm that the employee has fully understood the expectations for improvement and have them acknowledge the discussion in writing. Document the meeting, including the date and substance of the conversation, and retain a record of it in the employee's personnel file.

Then, follow up with the employee to see how they're doing. If their performance/behavior hasn't improved, further intervention may be necessary.

Ensure accurate time reporting.

Maintaining accurate time and attendance records is critical to properly implementing attendance policies. As such, it is a best practice to maintain a timekeeping system that records work time to the minute. Employers should also communicate the potential consequences of falsifying time records.


Set clear standards regarding attendance and punctuality through written policies. Those policies should be drafted in compliance with federal, state and local laws, and with the company's business needs in mind. Supervisors should also receive training on administering and enforcing policies.


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