Absence Management: Solving Absenteeism and Promoting Balance

employee time and attendance

Updated September 12, 2023

When employees aren’t at work, it can create a significant disruption among the entire workforce. This is especially true when multiple team members are absent at the same time. Since absenteeism can wreak havoc on the company culture and overall morale, it’s vital to plan for absences and manage them appropriately. Find out how to create an absence management plan for your business and why it’s important to make it a priority.

What is Absence Management?

Absence management is a term that encompasses how employers manage employee absences, or being away from work. There are a number of reasons why an employee might not be present at work. These include illness, injury, the need to care for a loved one, and vacation. Some of these situations are planned, while others pop up unexpectedly. Regardless of the industry in which your business operates or the number of employees it has, you will deal with employee absence at some point.

Every employee must take time away from work for different reasons. What matters is how you plan for and respond to those needs. Additionally, businesses must create absence management policies that balance supporting employees with fairly disciplining those who have excessive or questionable absenteeism.

Why is Absence Management Important?

In the workplace, absence management plays a vital role in the efficient function of a business. If employees are constantly absent, productivity and morale tend to decline. Additionally, excessive absenteeism can cost an organization a lot when having to bring in temporary replacements or pay overtime to those who are present and working longer hours to pick up the slack.

Every company needs a consistent and transparent policy that outlines how employees can take time off work, what to do when they need to, and the benefits available when they are absent. Managing absences fairly and consistently can boost employee morale, ensure compliance, and reduce the risk of abuse of the system.

Employee productivity

Understanding absence management is a piece of the employee productivity and engagement puzzle. Employees can’t be productive if they aren’t present at work. Unfortunately, excessive absenteeism impacts more than just the individual who is missing work. Company morale often declines when one person isn’t there, leaving others to pick up their slack.


Employees may start to take advantage of a lax or non-existent absence management policy. Missing work becomes more of a habit than an exception, putting more strain on the other employees. Of course, employees will be absent, but an efficient management system ensures better tracking and consequences for those who violate the rules.

Absenteeism costs companies billions of dollars every year. Excessive missed work by service employees cost businesses $8 billion, while professional-level workers cost their companies over $24 billion by missing work. These costs are linked to:

  • Costly replacement workers, such as temps or overtime pay for employees
  • Administrative costs associated with absence management
  • Wages paid to employees who are absent from work

Employees who rush to complete work may cause a decline in the quality of goods produced or services rendered. Lower productivity is another factor in the cost of absenteeism, along with safety concerns among those who lack the skills or experience needed to cover for an absent coworker.

In extreme cases, a business may not be able to operate due to excessive absenteeism. This is especially the case for small businesses that lack the workforce needed to fill in the gaps.


Certain absences fall under laws and regulations to protect employees. For example, an employee who gives birth to or adopts a child may be afforded protections under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Employees with disabilities may qualify for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Your business can’t afford to minimize compliance with these and other regulations that apply to employee absence. But without a tracking system in place, supervisors may not realize who is on leave versus who is simply absent from work.

Customer service

A company that’s struggling to cover open shifts likely can’t devote the time or resources needed to provide a good customer experience. But in today’s world, the experience of each customer determines the ultimate success of a business. As brands compete for attention and consumers have more options available to them, providing a top-notch experience is a differentiator.

Dealing with absent employees is a challenge that impacts companies across all industries. But when your business interacts directly with customers, it’s vital to ensure a positive experience at every touchpoint.

Benefits of great absence management

In addition to the aforementioned benefits, additional advantages of a strong absence management policy and enforcement include the following.

  • Promotes employee wellness: Employees who are sick and need to take time away from work to recover need the opportunity to do so. Continuing to work when ill can extend recovery times and cause sickness to spread. Offering the option to take time off promotes wellness in the workplace.
  • Encourages communication: A clear absence management policy helps all involved to understand the expectation and procedure for taking time off. This boosts the communication process and fosters trust and transparency.
  • Boosts productivity: When employees can take the necessary time off, they tend to be more productive while at work, especially when they are healthy.
  • Increases profitability: Companies that can keep labor costs under control while maintaining high levels of engagement and productivity are more profitable.
  • Informs your business for better forecasting: It’s vital to know who is planning to take time off when creating schedules and forecasting labor needs.

Consequences of poor absence management

Of course, poor absence management comes with its own list of disadvantages that can seriously impact your organization’s bottom line. These may include:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Emotional stress
  • Lack of trust
  • Toxic culture patterns
  • Poor work-life balance
  • Employee churn
  • Lower workforce morale
  • Employee burnout
  • Negative employer reputation
  • Reduced productivity
  • FMLA violations
  • EFMLA and EPSLA violations

When employees aren’t able to take time off, they tend to feel overworked, burned out, and stressed. As a result, they’re less productive and may have little trust in the company. Morale will decline and the company may develop a negative reputation, which can impact future hiring efforts and retention rates.

The legal risks associated with a lack of management of employee attendance cannot be understated. A business faces serious penalties and opens itself up to lawsuits if it fails to honor employees’ legal protections afforded to them by the federal and state government.

Types of Absences

When assessing or creating an absence management policy, it’s essential to understand the types of absences that will impact the members of your workforce.

Planned absences

Planned absences are those that are approved in advance, such as time away for vacation or doctors’ appointments. When an employee can plan to take time off from work, this puts less of a burden on the rest of the team. Supervisors can plan accordingly with staffing and scheduling to maintain productivity and keep morale high.

Unplanned absences

Of course, not all absences can be planned, which is why it’s important to have a policy in place for unplanned time away from work. Illness, injury, and emergencies all fall under this category. Unfortunately, unplanned absences put more strain on a company because those present at work are often left scrambling to cover for the absent employee.

The most common unplanned reason for absence is illness. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, a United Kingdom-based HR organization, roughly 10 percent of organizations lost a quarter of work time due to sickness-related absences in 2021. During the coronavirus pandemic, employers saw unplanned absences rise as employees followed isolation and recovery guidelines. The need for paid time off was so great during this period that legislators mandated the provision of sick leave among all eligible employers.

Extended absences

Employees may also need to take extended leaves of absence for a variety of reasons. One common example is maternity or paternity leave, which is available to a new parent to care for a child after birth or placement (adoption or foster care). Longer absences may also be necessary if employees or their family members experience serious health conditions or other urgent situations.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of leave to address their own health needs or the needs of their family members. During this period, a qualified employee cannot lose their job, as the FMLA affords protection.

Mental health has become part of the conversation in all atmospheres, including places of work. If an employee experiences a mental health crisis, they may need to take an extended period of leave. The FMLA includes mental health needs under its approved conditions. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also prevents employers from discriminating against employees with mental health conditions.

The Components of Absence Management

Your company’s absence management policy should include a few key details, which we have outlined below.

Excused absence management

Employees will need to take time off for various reasons. When they notify the organization in advance, these absences are typically excused. Examples of excused absences may include:

  • PTO
  • Sick leave
  • Planned leave of absence
  • Sabbatical

This section should outline the process for requesting an excused absence and any benefits that may be available, such as PTO or sick time accruals. Leaves of absence typically fall under legal protections, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Leave management

A leave of absence allows an employee to take a longer period of time away from work to manage an extended need, such as a health condition or treatment. Some leaves of absence are afforded under federal regulations, while others are granted by employers voluntarily. A leave of absence may be paid or unpaid, but if it qualifies for protection, the individual cannot lose their job while out.

Managing tardiness and schedule changes

Tardiness is another problem that should be addressed in an attendance policy. If an employee arrives late, this can create a problem for various people throughout the organization, as well as for potential customers or individuals with whom that person interacts. Create a system in which tardy employees face consequences for their actions.

Schedule changes may need to happen due to illness or other absences. Make sure to communicate these as soon as possible and provide schedule access to all employees so they can stay aware of their planned shifts.

The Foundation of Absence Management: Your Employee and Leave of Absence Policies

Your company’s policy serves as the framework for managing absences and issuing consequences for those who violate the rules.

Defining excused and unexcused absences

Clearly define what absences are excused vs. unexcused, and what will happen to an employee if they have multiple unexcused absences. Sometimes, situations arise in which an employee is unable to work at the last minute. Examples include an unexpected injury or illness or problems with their mode of transportation. In general, an unexcused absence is an instance when an employee is not present at work without advance approval from their supervisor.

Communicating your PTO policy

Offering PTO as a benefit is a must in today’s business world, as it’s a vital aspect of a good work-life balance. Make sure your absence management communicates the PTO policy, including when employees can take time off and how to request it. It should also detail how employees accrue PTO. For example, if they receive four hours of PTO per pay period, this should be clearly stated in the policy.

Outlining when an employee should miss work

To avoid creating a culture of presenteeism, your organization should emphasize when it’s important to miss work. Encouraging employees to work when sick or injured is not good for morale or the physical and mental well-being of the workforce. Make sure your team members understand that they can and ought to take time off to care for themselves when ill or hurt.

Creating a leave of absence policy

As you create your leave of absence policy within the larger absence management policy, incorporate the following aspects for consistency and transparency.

Types of leave of absence to cover

Your policy should outline the different types of leave available to employees. These may include:

  • Short-term health leave related to illness
  • Long-term health leave related to surgery, injury, or major medical diagnosis
  • Parental or caregiver leave
  • Sabbatical
  • Maternity/paternity leave
  • Vacation time
  • Unexcused absence

Define the tool for tracking absences

Define what tool the company will use to track absences in the workplace. If you use a time-tracking solution, describe how it will track when employees aren’t present and what will happen at each occurrence.

Outline the procedures in place

Employees need to understand the procedures around requesting a leave of absence and returning to work. Define how each process will work with details around how the employee will be notified at each step.

  • Request and approval of absence: The first step is the request, which the employee should submit to their manager. The supervisor can then review the request for a leave of absence, determine whether the employee qualifies, and approve or reject it.
  • Back-to-work process: This interactive process should include the employee, manager, HR, representative, case manager, and/or physician when discussing a return to work. It should also incorporate guidelines for the duration of disability based on diagnosis and any accommodations needed to facility a successful return to work. Some companies hold return-to-work interviews with employees coming back from leave.

What is an Attendance Policy?

Part of a company’s absence management strategy involves creating and sticking to an attendance policy. This policy outlines the expectations for employee work attendance. It also aids in reducing employee absenteeism, ensures compliance with hour and wage labor laws, and boosts engagement.

Another of the key purposes behind an employee attendance policy is to hold employees accountable. It describes how the business handles employee attendance issues. Examples of such issues might include employees arriving late, leaving early, or failing to show up at all. A strong attendance policy details the regulations and guidelines. Company leaders must enforce the policy fairly across all departments and employees.

What to include in an attendance policy

Every attendance policy should include the following components:

  • A definition of employee attendance with expectations
  • Detailed descriptions of violations (such as approved vs. unapproved absences, early departures, late arrivals, professional leave, and job abandonment)
  • How the company will handle leaves of absence (including short-term and long-term leaves)
  • Disciplinary actions and when each will apply
  • Time-off request procedures
  • Attendance tracking method(s)

If your company doesn’t have an attendance policy in place, now is the time to change that. Without this type of policy, employees won’t know the expectations around attendance. Additionally, a lack of attendance policy leads to increased absenteeism, lower morale, and workforce frustration. Regardless of the size of your company, you need an attendance policy that’s adhered to across the entire business.

Use our attendance policy template to get started or make adjustments to your company’s existing policy.

Download our Attendance Policy Template

Leave of Absence Management

Another key element of absence management in a business is creating a policy for taking a leave of absence. Employees will need to take time away from work for various reasons. Depending on the stage of life each employee is in, some may even take multiple leaves. For example, younger employees tend to take parental leave to care for members of their growing families. Older employees may experience the need for additional bereavement leave.

A leave of absence policy outlines the procedures and definitions around taking leave. Employees have legal protections when they need to take a leave of absence in certain circumstances. Employees will also take time off work for personal reasons, such as vacations. This falls under the paid time off (PTO) policy, outlined in detail below.

Leave of Absence Types

Some of the most common needs for time away from work include:

  • Recovery from illness
  • Recovery from injury, surgery, or major medical diagnosis
  • Professional or developmental leave (time spent attending professional development-related activities or programs, such as workshops or conferences)
  • Caregiver or parental leave (time taken to care for a spouse, child, parent, or another dependent)
  • Paternity or maternity leave (time taken to care for a child)

Mandatory vs. voluntary leave

Leaves of absence fall under two main categories: mandatory and voluntary. Mandatory leaves are those that qualify for federal protection, such as those that fall under the FMLA, ADA, or other federal legislation. Voluntary leaves are not necessarily protected by law, but rather offered by employers as benefits. In most cases, voluntary leave is unpaid. Mandatory leave may be paid, depending on the employer and benefits offered, but federal laws do not require employees to be paid when taking leave. Instead, the employee’s job is protected while they are off.

Some leaves of absence qualify individuals for short-term or long-term disability benefits, which can help offset the cost of taking unpaid leave.

Forecasting and planning for leaves of absence

Employers must forecast and plan for leaves of absence as much as possible to avoid disruptions to business operations. Include guidelines for requesting and taking leaves of absence in your attendance policy to ensure that all eligible employees understand what they need to do. When you have employees who will likely need time off in the future, start planning ahead. For example, if an employee becomes pregnant, you can start cross-training team members or seeking temporary replacements to fill in when they take time off to deliver and care for their new baby.

What is the FMLA?

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a piece of legislation that provides protection to employees who need to take time off work. This policy, enacted in 1993 by the U.S. Department of Labor, allows an employee to take leave for specific family and medical reasons without losing their job. An eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of leave within a 12-month period.

Examples of medical or family needs that may necessitate FMLA leave include:

  • Caring for a parent, spouse, or child with a serious health condition
  • Caring for a newborn child
  • Recovering from the birth of a child
  • Caring for a child placed through foster care or adoption (within a year of placement)
  • Managing a severe health condition that limits the ability to perform job duties

Employees with parents, a spouse, or children serving on active duty for the U.S. Armed Forces can also take FMLA leave for up to 26 weeks to manage a qualifying exigency or serious injury or illness.

Common FMLA violations by employers

Employers may violate the regulations of the FMLA in a number of ways.

  • Refusing to approve FMLA leave: If an eligible employee requests to take leave and meets all the necessary terms to do so, an employer cannot prevent them from taking their authorized time away from work.
  • Failing to inform employees of their FMLA rights: All eligible employers in the U.S. must display the Department of Labor’s FMLA poster in the workplace. The poster summarizes the major provisions and rights of the act and serves as the main tool for informing employees of their rights.
  • Discouraging the use of FMLA leave: An employer should never attempt to discourage an eligible employee from taking job-protected leave under the FMLA. This action violates the act and threatens the employer’s legal compliance.
  • Asking (or requiring) an employee to work while on leave: Employers cannot interfere with an employee who is on FMLA leave for any work-related purpose, as this eliminates the entire point of taking time away in the first place. Asking or demanding an employee to perform work tasks is a violation of the law and could result in an employee taking legal action.
  • Failing to understand the ADA and its connection to the FMLA: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has a connection to the FMLA as employees who are injured or disabled may be entitled to leave under either federal law. Failing to understand the connection between the two can put an employer at risk of non-compliance with these laws.
  • Demoting employees upon returning from FMLA leave: Under the FMLA, an employee has the right to return to the same position held when their leave began. However, one caveat allows employers to place an employee in an equivalent position with the same pay, benefits, and employment terms and conditions. Demoting an employee to a lower-level role with lower pay and/or benefits violates the law.
  • Penalizing employees for days missed while on FMLA leave: The consequences enforced for absences in the company attendance policy do not apply to employees while on FMLA leave. Penalizing a team member violates the terms of the FMLA, which provide employees with job-protected leave. Additionally, employees should not be held to their standard performance quotas while out on leave.

When tracking or managing employee time, an employer also may not manipulate the data to avoid the responsibilities that fall under the FMLA. The U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division is responsible for administering and enforcing the FMLA for all employees. Its staff members also investigate complaints and may take an organization to court to ensure compliance.

Each of these FMLA violations by employers put companies at risk of legal action and costly fines and penalties. It’s essential to keep careful, accurate records for FMLA compliance.

FMLA tracking

Some employees will take all of their allowed FMLA leave at once, while others may take it intermittently. Both are acceptable under the law’s provisions, but tracking either type of leave can be a challenge. An employer might use an FMLA tracking spreadsheet to keep track of the number of hours/days an employee has been away from work. If your business uses this type of tracking spreadsheet, make sure to include the following:

  • Employee name
  • Employee ID number
  • Number of work hours per week
  • Number of FMLA hours available
  • FMLA leave start date
  • Date
  • Number of hours taken
  • Notes

Using a FMLA tracking spreadsheet can lead to an increased risk of manual errors. It’s not worth the risk, especially when legal compliance is on the line. Explore the custom accruals policies available in WorkforceHub and simplify the tracking process within your organization.

FMLA calculation

Before beginning the FMLA calculation process, it’s important for employers to understand who is entitled to this leave and how much they’re eligible to take. We outlined the standard and military caregiver leave amounts earlier in the article. But an employer must allow its employees to use FMLA leave in the smallest time increment allowed for other forms of leave.

For example, if an employee can take PTO in 15-minute increments, FMLA must also be allowed to be taken in 15-minute increments. The smallest increment must be no more than one hour (i.e., a four-hour smallest increment policy would not work for FMLA leave).

When calculating FMLA leave usage, an employer can only count time actually taken away from work against the amount of leave entitlement. Additionally, the amount of leave taken is calculated as a proportion of the actual workweek. This proportion is determined by dividing the number of hours the employee would have worked prior to taking any type of leave (including FMLA leave) by the amount of leave taken.

In one example, an employee who works 30 hours per week would use a third of a week of FMLA leave if they only worked 20 hours. As long as the FMLA calculation used provides a fair reflection of the employee’s true workweek, the employer can convert the usage into work hours for payroll and benefit purposes.

If an employee isn’t scheduled to work, that time can’t be counted as FMLA leave. Examples include scheduled time off or non-business hours in which no employees are expected to report for work. If a holiday falls during a week in which an employee is on FMLA leave, the holiday is counted as part of the leave if the employee is taking the full week off. If the employee is taking only part of the week off, the holiday does not count toward FMLA leave unless the employee was scheduled to work on that day and did not report due to taking FMLA leave.

Mandatory overtime can create challenges among employees who qualify for FMLA leave. If an employee is on leave and does not work required overtime hours, this time can be counted toward their leave. However, voluntary overtime hours that an employee doesn’t work cannot be counted toward FMLA leave.

Unique situations can make it more difficult to calculate FMLA eligibility. The Department of Labor offers detailed guidance in Fact Sheet #281: Calculation of Leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Consult this document to determine how to calculate more complex employee situations.

FMLA eligibility checklist

In order to comply with the FMLA, an employer must meet certain requirements. When an employee requests to take FMLA leave, make sure to follow this FMLA eligibility checklist to maintain compliance:

  • Assess whether the employee is eligible for FMLA leave (worked for the company for at least 12 months, worked at least 1,250 hours during that 12-month period, and worked at a location with 50+ employees within a 75-mile radius)
  • Inform the employee of their eligibility to take FMLA leave
  • Provide a Notice of Eligibility and Rights & Responsibilities to all employees (can be posted in a centrally accessible location within the workplace)
  • Determine whether an employee needs to obtain a medical certification for the leave and inform them if they do
  • Approve or deny the request and provide a Designation Notice
  • Ensure the employee maintains any health benefits for which they are eligible for the duration of the leave
  • Maintain detailed records and notes throughout the leave

Upon return, you must reinstate the employee to the same position or one that’s equivalent in pay, benefits eligibility, etc.

If you suspect that your company may be in violation of the rules around FMLA, it may make sense to conduct an FMLA audit. This FMLA compliance checklist is a useful tool as well.

What is a PTO Policy?

A paid time off or personal time off (PTO) policy outlines how an employee can use the paid time off provided by their employer. PTO is a benefit often given to full-time employees that allows them to spend time away from work while receiving their standard wages for that time.

A PTO policy outlines the following:

  • How employees will earn time off (front-loaded at the start of the benefits year vs. accrued in each pay period)
  • How to request time off
  • When an employee can take time off
  • What the paid hours can be used for (such as vacation time, sick leave, or personal needs)

Some employers split the types of PTO into different buckets. For example, an employee might receive 200 hours of paid time off per calendar year, but only 160 of those hours are allotted to vacation or personal needs. The other 40 hours might be allotted to sick leave.

Unlimited PTO is another option that some companies have included in their benefits offerings. If a company offers unlimited PTO, it’s still important to implement a policy that details how to use the time and when a request for PTO might not be approved.

Some of the other components in a PTO policy include:

  • Who qualifies to receive PTO as a benefit (full-time vs. part-time employees)
  • When employees can start using their PTO
  • Whether accrued PTO carries over to the following benefit year
  • Whether PTO is paid out when an employee leaves their position
  • Any details around local- or state-mandated sick leave regulations

In order to ensure compliance with all applicable laws around paid time off and employee leave, implementing a PTO tracker is a must. Tracking how much time an employee has taken away from work can ensure more accurate payroll while affording the company legal protection.

PTO Management

Managing PTO is another essential aspect of a successful absence management policy. Most businesses offer paid time off to employees as a benefit, but it’s vital to keep close track of the time accrued and taken for compliance and consistency purposes.

PTO tracking in accordance with PTO policy

Your business needs a consistent method for tracking PTO that aligns with the policy for providing and taking time off work.

What is a PTO tracker?

A PTO tracker is a tool used by many organizations to manage accruals and deduct the time used from an employee’s balance. It can also be useful as a planning tool, allowing other members of the team to see when an employee has requested PTO or is taking time off.

PTO management for remote and hybrid workers

When your organization has remote employees or individuals working a hybrid schedule, it can be challenging to know who is taking time away from work. Without being physically present in the office, employees may forget who is off, potentially creating staffing issues or increasing the risk of projects falling through the cracks. PTO management is equally, if not more, important for organizations with remote and hybrid workforces.

What is Sick Leave?

Sick leave refers to time off granted by an employer for an employee to use when ill. An employer may also allow an employee to take sick leave to care for a sick child or another ill dependent. The two main types are:

  • Paid sick leave
  • Unpaid sick leave

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the creation and enforcement of various sick leave policies on both the federal and state levels. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) required certain employers to provide up to two weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave when an employee was quarantined and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, caring for a child whose childcare provider or school was closed due to reasons related to COVID-19, or caring for an individual subject to quarantine. The act also mandated up to an additional 10 weeks of paid time off at two-thirds the regular rate of pay to care for a child. However, the mandates enacted through this legislation expired on December 31, 2020.

The following states and cities enacted paid sick leave laws:

  • Arizona: Up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least 15 employees) / Up to 24 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with fewer than 15 employees), one hour accrued for every 30 hours worked
  • California: Up to 24 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with one or more employees), one hour accrued for every 30 hours worked (only applies to employees who work 30+ days per year in the state for the same employer)
    • Some cities in California have other laws in place, such as Berkeley, Emeryville, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Santa Monica. Cities and municipalities can enact other laws, as long as they meet or exceed the state-mandated minimum outlined above.
  • Colorado: Up to 48 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least 16 employees), one hour accrued for every 30 hours worked, 48 hours can be carried over each year
  • Connecticut: Up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least 50 employees), one hour accrued for every 40 hours worked
  • Chicago and Cook County, IL: Up to 20 hours of paid sick leave (half of unused, rounded up), one hour earned for every 40 hours worked
  • Maine: Up to 64 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least 10 employees), one hour earned for every 40 hours worked
  • Maryland: one hour earned for every 40 hours worked (for employers with at least 15 employees), one hour earned for every 30 hours worked
    • Montgomery County has its own regulation: Up to 80 hours of paid sick leave per year, one hour earned for every 30 hours worked
  • Massachusetts: Up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least 11 employees), one hour earned for every 30 hours worked, employees can carry over up to 40 hours per year
  • Michigan: Up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least 50 employees), one hour earned for every 35 hours worked
  • Minnesota: No state mandate, although the following cities have policies in place:
    • Duluth: No annual accrual maximum (for employers with at least five employees), one hour earned for every 30 hours worked
    • Minneapolis: Up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least six employees), one hour earned for every 30 hours worked
    • St. Paul: Up to 48 hours of paid sick leave per year, one hour earned for every 30 hours worked, employees can carry over up to 80 hours per year
  • Nevada: Up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least 50 employees and a minimum of two years in business), 0.01923 hours accrued per hour worked
  • New Jersey: Up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year, one hour earned for every 30 hours worked
  • New Mexico: Up to 64 hours of paid sick leave per year (for private employers with at least one employee), one hour earned for every 40 hours worked
    • Unincorporated Bernalillo County: Up to 56 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least two employees), one hour earned for every 32 hours worked, for employees who work at least 56 hours per year for an employer located in the area
  • New York: Up to 56 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least 100 employees) / up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with 5-99 employees), one hour earned for every 30 hours worked
    • New York City: Up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least five employees), one hour earned for every 30 hours worked
    • Westchester County: Up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least five employees), one hour earned for every 30 hours worked
  • Oregon: Up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least 10 employees), one hour earned for every 30 hours worked
  • Pennsylvania: No state mandate, although the following cities/counties have policies in place:
    • Allegheny County: Up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least 26 employees), one hour earned for every 35 hours worked, exemptions include federal and state government employees, seasonal workers, and independent contractors
    • Philadelphia: Up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least 10 employees), one hour earned for every 30 hours worked
    • Pittsburgh: Up to 35 hours of paid sick leave per calendar year (available to employees who work within the city)
  • Rhode Island: Up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least 18 employees), one hour earned for every 35 hours worked
  • Vermont: Up to 40 hours of paid sick leave for employees who work an average of 18+ hours per week during a year, one hour accrued for every 52 hours worked
  • Washington: No annual accrual maximum, one hour accrued for every 40 hours worked
    • Seattle: No annual accrual maximum, one hour accrued for every 40 hours worked (employers with 1-249 full-time equivalent employees) / one hour accrued for every 30 hours worked (employers with 250+ employees)
    • Tacoma: No annual accrual maximum, one hour accrued for every 40 hours worked (employers with 1-249 full-time equivalent employees) / one hour accrued for every 30 hours worked (employers with 250+ employees)
  • Washington, D.C.: Up to seven days of paid sick leave per year (for employers with at least 100 employees) / up to five days of paid sick leave per year (for employers with 25-99 employees) / up to three days of paid sick leave per year (for employers with 24 or fewer employees), one hour accrued for every 37/43/87 hours worked (based on number of employees)

Is sick leave required?

All eligible employers must provide unpaid sick leave under the FMLA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, businesses with at least 25 employees must provide unpaid sick leave. The FMLA mandates that employers with 50 or more employees must provide unpaid sick leave. However, neither law mandates the provision of paid sick leave to employees.

Certain states and municipalities have sick leave laws in place that mandate how much time off an employer must provide to eligible employees to recover from illnesses. Some employers provide a bucket of paid time off (PTO), which an employee can use for any purpose. Others separate sick leave from vacation or personal time off.

Sick leave policy

It’s important to have a sick leave policy in place that outlines how employees may take time off to recover from illness or care for dependents as they recover. When creating a sick leave policy, make sure to consider the following points:

  • Who will be eligible? Some companies limit sick leave to full-time employees while others provide it to all employees.
  • How will the sick time be accrued? Your organization might offer a set number of hours per year or allow employees to accrue sick leave based on the number of hours worked.
  • When can employees start using sick time? Many organizations offer sick leave to employees from the start of employment, rather than requiring it to be earned after a predetermined length of time.
  • How will the sick time be tracked? Having a time-tracking solution in place makes it easier to assess how much sick time each employee has used during a 12-month period.

What is Leave Management?

Leave management, also called time-off management, includes all the policies and processes associated with managing employee requests for leave. An employee may need to take leave for medical purposes, vacation, or to celebrate a holiday. A strong leave management policy keeps a business running smoothly while ensuring that its workforce can take time away to care for their families, recharge their batteries, or recover from their own illnesses and injuries.

The purpose of a leave management policy is to ensure fairness and accuracy across all departments. Additionally, it exists to manage the time employees take off work and ensure all employees receive the benefits to which they’re entitled.

Managing requests for time off can feel like a juggling act, especially when trying to arrange coverage while adhering to legal regulations. But with the right leave management system in place, it’s easier and more transparent to handle requests.

Benefits of a leave management policy

Providing time off for employees to spend away from work has many benefits for businesses of all sizes and across all industries. According to a study by Project: Time Off, paid time off ranks as the second-most important benefit after healthcare.

Managing that time off properly provides the following benefits:

  • Improved employee retention and satisfaction
  • Fewer management errors
  • Improved efficiency and productivity
  • Compliance with labor regulations
  • Consistent policies across all team members

Leave management challenges

One of the biggest challenges of managing employee leave is tracking. Manual tracking is time-consuming and often fraught with errors. But failing to track at all results in inaccurate enforcement and confusion across the workforce. Managers need to know how much time off is available to their team members, as well as when they’ll be away from work.

Another problem that often comes with improper tracking is payroll mistakes. Time records align closely with accurate payroll processing, so inaccurate leave records lead to inaccurate paychecks. Some leave types are paid while others are taken unpaid, and your payroll processors need to know which employees are taking which types.

Using a time-tracking system that includes leave management tools makes it easier to track and handle time off. The data should flow through the system, allowing employees and supervisors to see how much time off is available and what they’re eligible for in terms of leave.

Minimizing Absenteeism and Presenteeism

Another key aim of an effective absence management policy is to minimize issues with absenteeism and presenteeism.

What is absenteeism?

Absenteeism refers to employees who are chronically and consistently absent from work during their scheduled shifts. This issue can wreak havoc on a workplace. When employees aren’t present and ready to work, others have to pick up their slack and take on their responsibilities. It’s vital to state the aim of minimizing absenteeism in your absence management policy, as well as outline the consequences of excessive absences.

The cost of absenteeism can be measured in lost productivity, declining workplace morale, and employee turnover. It is highly costly for businesses of all size and should be addressed as quickly as possible to prevent the issue from multiplying.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism isn’t talked about as much as absenteeism, but it’s a real problem. This concept refers to those who feel they can’t afford to take time off, whether due to financial concerns or excessive workloads, and come to work when ill, injured, or otherwise unable to perform their duties. Presenteeism leads to lost productivity due to a decline in an employee’s ability to function at full strength. Employees who are always present, even when they ought not to be due to illness or other health concerns, may also make more mistakes or struggle to keep up with their task list.

Absenteeism and presenteeism best practices

To reduce absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace, adopt these best practices:

  • Create and enforce a clear and consistent attendance policy that allows employees to take time off when needed
  • Address absences quickly and effectively
  • Enforce consequences for those with excessive absences
  • Foster a collaborative culture that requires the input and participation of all team members
  • Track absences fairly across all departments
  • Offer flexible work options whenever possible
  • Provide paid leave, if possible, to encourage those who are physically or mentally unable to perform their duties to take time off to recover

Managing Tardiness and Schedule Changes

Of course, even the best attendance policy can be overlooked or violated. Employees who are consistently tardy may cause issues with staffing and customer service, which can impact productivity, morale, and even customer loyalty. Explore these tips to manage tardiness, schedule changes, and other concerns.

Know and communicate your attendance policy

Make sure your attendance policy includes what constitutes being tardy, as well as any consequences associated with showing up late to work. All managers and supervisors should have a firm understanding of the policy and enforce it consistently. Additionally, leaders can communicate the policies and procedures outlined in the policy regularly to ensure that every member of the workforce understands what’s expected of them and the consequences they may face.

The best defense is good scheduling

Defend your business against concerns with schedule changes and shifting needs with consistent, strong scheduling practices. Using all the tools at your disposal can help reduce the risk of scheduling employees at times when they’re not available, as well as allow team members to swap when necessary.

What is predictive scheduling?

Predictive scheduling involves providing advance notices of work schedules to employees. When an employer uses this scheduling method, it aims to give a good-faith estimate of work patterns, along with adequate notice of scheduled shifts. Some states and municipalities have enacted laws around predictive scheduling, requiring employers to accommodate their workforces with schedule predictability.

This type of scheduling is especially common in the hospitality and retail industries, where on-call scheduling has previously been the norm. But working on call makes it difficult to anticipate earnings and the number of hours they’ll be scheduled to work in any given week. Additionally, on-call scheduling can open the door to legal concerns, including employee favoritism and other unfair practices. Another issue with a lack of notice is that employees may take on other responsibilities, leaving them unable to take their assigned shifts.

Oregon is currently the only state with predictive scheduling laws that apply statewide, but many other cities have adopted similar regulations. Employers within the state have the right to a 14-day scheduling notice, along with good-faith scheduling estimates when hired and the option to refuse shifts scheduled within 10 hours of one another.

Several cities have also enacted similar laws:

  • Emeryville, CA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • New York, NY
  • Seattle, WA

Whether predictive scheduling is required in your area or simply something your business is considering, it’s important to have a system in place that can handle it. Simplified scheduling is vital in the success of predicting schedules several weeks in advance and providing notice to employees.

Methods for Absence Management

There are several methods used in absence management in the workplace. We outline the most commonly used ones below.

Time and attendance tracking

Tracking employee time and attendance is essential in the workplace, regardless of role or department. If an employee isn’t able to complete their tasks, they should be considered absent and face any associated consequences. But with the rise in remote and hybrid work schedules, it’s not always easy to know when an employee isn’t there. Detailed time-tracking records indicate when employees were on and available, and when they were not.

Using a time and attendance tracking solution also ensures compliance with labor laws and protects your company against any legal action. For example, if a supervisor disciplined an employee for excessive absenteeism, leading to that individual’s termination, it would be important to back up the consequence with records showing the issues with attendance at work. Without time records, the situation would result in one person’s word against another, and it could lead to a legal problem for the business.

Schedule management

Managing schedules is another way to handle absence management while reducing the risk of absenteeism. Some employees may be unavailable during certain times of the day or specific days of the week. With this information, a manager can build a schedule that works for as many employees as possible.

Train managers properly

Every manager needs ongoing training to enforce the attendance policy. Company leaders and HR professionals won’t always know when employees fail to show up or arrive late, which means they won’t be able to enforce the consequences. Managers are the frontline leaders when it comes to attendance, as they know when their team members aren’t present.

Never enforce presenteeism

Another method for managing work absences is offering incentives to those who don’t miss their shifts. Also known as attendance bonuses, these incentive programs come in various forms. Some employers offer cash bonuses to staff members who don’t have excessive absences, while others provide gift cards or other tangible items. Service-based companies tend to offer incentives more often, as they need employees to be present to serve the needs of customers.

Of course, it’s worth considering the potential downside to such a program: presenteeism. If an employee is sick but doesn’t want to miss out on the bonus, they might come to work and risk infecting others. Injured individuals could experience problems when trying to perform their duties. A customized approach may be necessary to solve problems that are unique to departments or businesses.

Embrace remote work and flexible hours

If possible, look for ways to embrace flexibility for your workforce. Of course, not all jobs can be done remotely, but for those that can, look into hybrid or fully remote options. Even if an employee doesn’t work from home regularly, offering it as an option on an as-needed basis when they are unable to physically come to work can reduce the burden while supporting that individual. You could also consider adjusting the schedules of employees who don’t necessarily need to work during normal business hours, helping to accommodate their personal needs.

Make it as easy as possible to communicate time-off needs

Your attendance policy should clearly outline the process for requesting time off, and that process should be accessible and straightforward. If you use a system, make sure every employee receives basic training on how to use it. Include screenshots in the policy to walk people through the process of requesting time off. Answer any questions that come up in a timely manner to ensure that employees can get their time off when they need it.

Try to say “yes” as often as possible

Managers should try to accommodate time-off requests whenever possible. If your business utilizes an accrual system, it’s only fair for an employee to be able to take the time off they’ve earned. And even with an unlimited PTO policy in place, allowing employees to take time away from work has many benefits. Oftentimes, workers will return from periods of time off feeling recharged and ready to take on their responsibilities, boosting productivity and engagement levels.

Gather data for forecasting/planning

Use all the data at your disposal to forecast and plan for future time-off requests. Examples of reports to obtain include:

  • Disability usage patterns
  • Disability claimant status
  • Disability cost
  • FMLA usage patterns
  • FMLA claimant status
  • Integrated disability and FMLA information

Conduct return-to-work interviews

When employees have genuine reasons for needing time off, it’s important to work with them and accommodate those needs. Not only is it legally required for most employers, but it’s also essential in building a supportive and positive culture. Upon return, you may choose to engage in return-to-work interviews with individual employees. This type of interview allows a supervisor to communicate directly with an employee after they have missed time at work.

A return-to-work interview might be suitable after an employee returns from FMLA leave or even takes a few days off to recover from an illness. Whatever your company decides, make sure it’s clearly outlined in the absence management policy in the employee handbook. If you choose to conduct interviews, use the following guidance:

  • Maintain a positive tone. Welcome the employee back and discuss how they are doing after their time away.
  • Provide work updates. If an employee is gone for several weeks or months, they may have missed important updates. Discuss any events or changes that occurred during their absence to help the individual feel included and able to resume their duties.
  • Ask about any adjustments needed. Depending on the nature of the absence, an employee may need accommodations made to their responsibilities. For example, if a team member can’t lift a certain number of pounds for a set amount of time, they might need to offload any related duties during that period.
  • Discuss the absence management policy. It’s worthwhile to review the number of days the employee was absent during this meeting to ensure accuracy in attendance records. If absenteeism is an ongoing issue with an employee, this can be addressed during the interview as well.
  • Answer questions. If the employee has any questions about their return to work or absence policy, this is a good time to discuss them.

Incorporate preventive measures for unplanned absences

Some employers have implemented preventive measures for unplanned absences in an effort to lessen absenteeism. Examples include:

  • Paid sick time: If an employee has a set number of days or hours available to take off when ill, they might be less inclined to abuse the system and take excessive time off. Paid sick leave, paid family leave, and other paid time off boosts workplace culture and encourages team members to take time away when necessary.
  • Flexible scheduling: Absenteeism may occur if an employee struggles to maintain a specific work schedule that conflicts with other needs. For example, single parents may have issues arriving at a specific time if it’s close to when they have to drop off their children at a childcare facility or school. Offering flexible scheduling can promote a positive culture and help employees succeed.
  • Remote or hybrid work: People regularly get sick with minor illnesses, such as the common cold. While they may be able to perform their duties as normal, coming into work may not be a good option. Passing germs to others and disrupting the workplace with coughing, sneezing, nose-blowing, etc., aren’t ideal. But if an employee feels well enough to work, offering the option to do so remotely can cut down on absenteeism.

Consider employee wellness and health programs

Workplace health and wellness programs have been linked to improved employee engagement and better attendance. This is especially true when the programs focus on lifestyle modifications and disease education. If your organization doesn’t have a wellness program in place for its employees, now is the time to consider implementing one.

Employees can explore ways to boost their individual health and well-being. Additionally, a wellness program can provide access to resources to increase the chances of success. Healthier employees take less time off for health concerns, reducing absenteeism issues. As an added bonus, such a program may play a role in lower health care costs and improved employee productivity.

Utilize software

Your absence management policy should be as free from manual processes as possible to minimize the risk of mistakes. But to achieve that goal, you need the right system in place. Modern software solutions built for small business needs can transform the way your team members manage absences, time off, and leave, ensuring fairness and accuracy across the board.

Steps to Creating a Successful Absence Management Program

Follow these steps to create a successful absence management program in your workplace.

1.     Determine how to track absences

The first step is determining how your company will track employee absences. Time and attendance software is essential in this regard, as manual tracking leads to errors. Look for a system that manages processes related to PTO accruals and time-off tracking. Make sure to consider how the policy will work for in-person and remote workers.

2.     Look for problem areas

Are certain departments struggling with employee absences more than others? Do specific employees call in sick more often than others? How does your company’s absenteeism compare to similar companies in size and industry?

Asking these questions can help business leaders identify problem areas. From there, it becomes easier to target those who may be abusing the system and causing issues across the entire workforce. You can also use the answers to set realistic attendance goals. Perfect attendance (where every employee is present 100 percent of the time) isn’t realistic. People get sick, become injured, and have personal situations that require them to take time off.

3.     Open the policy up for discussion

It’s no secret that employees who feel invested in a policy are more likely to follow it. Instead of creating a policy and rolling it out singlehandedly, request feedback from employees of all levels. Talk about the importance of being present at work and how absences impact others on the team. Ask how managers can support the needs of employees while enforcing a positive absence management solution.

If you can get your employees to buy in and support the plan, you’ll probably deal with far less pushback. Additionally, you may notice a decline in absenteeism when teams understand the strain placed on their co-workers in their absences.

When you request feedback, make sure to take it. Simply asking what employees want and keeping the policy exactly the same doesn’t do much for morale. Look for ways to adjust your company policy to align with the needs of the workforce.

4.     Engage your leaders

Managers and supervisors will be on the frontlines of an absence management policy, so their buy-in is also very important. According to Gallup research, managers account for 70 percent more of the variance in team engagement. Additionally, a manager plays a significant role in overall employee well-being.

Offer resources to supervisors to help them understand and enforce the absence management policy. If you have specific teams that are underperforming or excessively absent, consider offering extra training and support to those managers.

5.     Track the results

To determine the success of an absence management policy, you need to look at key performance indicators (KPIs). Consider these practices to track and measure results:

  • Break down absence data by leave type and department to figure out whether the policy is having an impact
  • Try new tactics if the current ones aren’t working
  • Look at employee performance and productivity

Absence management during the holidays

The holiday season, which typically begins in late November and runs through the first of the year, is a popular time of year to take time off work. Employees may travel to visit loved ones or simply want to take time to celebrate holidays in their own ways. One of the challenges of the holiday season is that multiple employees may want to take time off, resulting in a lack of coverage options.

Absence Management Software is the Key

It’s vital to have an absence management policy in place that can handle time-off requests fairly. Some companies alternate which departments or employees get time off during the holidays, while others slow down drastically and allow more team members to request PTO. Communicate the expectations well in advance of the holiday season to avoid frustration among your workforce.

Software that handles absence management is the key to success, as it eliminates manual processes and protects employers. Any company managing leave manually should consider automating with absence management software. Cloud-based time and labor software simplifies administration while lowering the risk of a compliance violation.

The right solution should include the tools and functionality to manage:

  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) compliance
  • Timekeeping for salaried, hourly, remote, mobile, and contract workers
  • Employee vacation requests
  • Manager approvals
  • Time-off policy documentation and training
  • Employee scheduling

Benefits of absence management software

Benefits of incorporating effective absence management software include:

  • Minimize time and resources spent managing absences
  • Easily document and communicate company policies
  • Improve trust, security, and retention among employees
  • Track and manage absences, error-free
  • Gather data and reports for better decision-making and forecasting

WorkforceHub is designed with the needs of small businesses in mind, offering the tools and functionality needed to build and manage absences and leaves. With one user-friendly system that handles everything your small business needs, you can focus on the growth and success of the company. Connect timekeeping, leave management, scheduling, and more, all within a single unified solution that scales with your business. It’s packed with tools that make it easier to manage:

  • Onsite, mobile, and remote time tracking
  • Employee scheduling
  • Time-off accruals
  • Timecard approvals
  • Payroll export
  • Employee and manager notifications
  • Overtime management
  • Meals/breaks tracking
  • Time theft prevention

Plus, it’s built and priced for small business needs. Start your free trial to experience the difference that time-off management software can make in your organization.

Simplify HR management today.

Simplify HR management today.

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