Employee Attendance Policy: What It Is and How To Write It

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Liz Strikwerda

Content strategist and corporate blogger (2000+ posts). Her work has been featured on G2's Learning Hub, Human Resources Today, Better Buys and over 500 business websites. She plays bluegrass mandolin and enjoys sailing her catamaran and hiking in the red rock wilderness of southern Utah. Connect with me on LinkedIn

Holding employees accountable is an important reason to implement an attendance policy. Accountability in the workplace can help team members feel more responsible for their actions. This can improve job performance. Workplaces that value responsibility also foster commitment. Committed employees tend to be more satisfied and happy in their roles. You might also notice increased workplace morale and engagement when holding employees accountable.

If your company faces a lawsuit, the attendance policy records can serve as a measure of protection. Every employee’s file should include a signed copy of the attendance policy. By signing the policy, an employee shows they read and agreed to it.

Choose a tracking method that ensures consistency across all employees, regardless of their level in the company. This helps maintain fairness across all departments. A consistent tracking method also ensures that every employee receives the same treatment.

A one-size-fits-all attendance policy may not work for your organization. You might choose to adapt based on the culture or need for employee buy-in. Luckily, employers can choose from a range of policy types including a points system, strikes system or "just-in-case" policy.

Businesses of all sizes rely on employees to perform vital tasks and interact with clients and customers. Employee performance determines the business’s overall success. It’s essential to have policies and procedures that protect and support employees. Employees need to understand company expectations around attendance and performance. Establishing an employee attendance policy can protect your workforce and enforce consistent rules.

What Is an Employee Attendance Policy?

An employee attendance policy outlines an employer’s expectations around employee work attendance. Creating and implementing an effective attendance policy can:

This policy should also describe how the company will handle attendance issues. Issues might include employees who fail to show up at all, arrive late or leave early regularly, or request leave from their jobs.

An effective attendance policy must clearly outline all guidelines and regulations. Rule enforcement practices should be consistent across all departments and workforce levels. For smaller businesses, creating a formal attendance policy can seem like overkill. But the reality is that such a policy is necessary in today’s business world. When your business scales, takes on seasonal workers, or grows rapidly, you’ll be glad you have a policy in place. Be sure to include it in your employee handbook.

Why You Need a Solid Employee Attendance Policy

There are many reasons a solid employee attendance policy can benefit your business.

Job Satisfaction

Two conditions often used by human resources professionals include absenteeism and job satisfaction. The two are inherently linked. Individuals who don’t feel satisfied in their jobs have higher rates of absenteeism, as they likely don’t want to come to work to perform their duties. A high absenteeism rate can indicate lower satisfaction ratings across the workforce.

When employees are absent often, this puts extra strain on those who are present at work. Departments become short-staffed and team members have to pick up extra tasks. Those employees who do show up on time may become less satisfied due to the increasing workload they’re expected to carry.

Accountability

Holding employees accountable is an important reason to implement an attendance policy. Accountability in the workplace can help team members feel more responsible for their actions. This can improve job performance. Workplaces that value responsibility also foster commitment. Committed employees tend to be more satisfied and happy in their roles. You might also notice increased workplace morale and engagement when holding employees accountable.

Protection Against Possible Litigation

The United States is the world’s most litigious society, spending over $300 billion per year on tort litigation. Employees certainly aren’t exempt from this number; many choose to take legal action against their employers. If an employee feels they received unfair treatment while employed, they might file a lawsuit.

Companies must keep clear documentation that:

  • Outlines attendance expectations, and
  • Defines the actions taken against employees who violate the rules.

If your company faces a lawsuit, the attendance policy records can serve as a measure of protection. Every employee’s file should include a signed copy of the attendance policy. By signing the policy, an employee shows they read and agreed to it. The file should also include a detailed outline of any disciplinary actions taken.

Provide a Framework for Discussion and Suggestions

Employees can’t make suggestions or hold discussions without a clear policy in place. Creating and implementing an employee attendance policy encourages open discussion and employee input.

Avoid Time Theft

Dishonest employees may try to steal company time, allowing them to get paid for hours they weren’t at work. An attendance policy outlines the expectations and regulations around timekeeping and hours management. This reduces the risk of time theft.

Employee Attendance Policy Anatomy

Every good employee attendance policy includes a few key elements.

Definition of Attendance

The first component to include in your company’s attendance policy is a clear definition of attendance. The definition should also have detailed descriptions of different violations. You might also outline what proper attendance looks like.

An employee who is ready to work:

  • Shows up on time
  • Is ready to start their shift
  • Remains at work until the end of the shift

Some of the terms to define include:

  • Approved absence: An absence from work approved in advance
  • Unscheduled absence: An absence from work not approved in advance
  • Tardiness: Arriving after the scheduled shift start time
  • Early departure: Departing before the scheduled shift end time
  • No-show: Failing to show up for a scheduled shift and notify the supervisor
  • Sick day: An absence from work because of an illness that prevents the employee from being able to perform their duties
  • Professional leave: An absence to attend professional development-related programs and/or activities. Examples include seminars, conferences, courses, workshops, etc.
  • Job abandonment: Failing to report to work as scheduled with no intention of returning to work and no notification

Leave of Absence Policy

Employees have legal protections when taking time away from work for various purposes. An employee attendance policy must clearly outline its leave of absence policy.

The outline should include definitions and procedures related to the following leave types:

  • Short-term health leave related to illness: A leave of absence from work for an employee to care for their own illness or the illness of a family member. This leave typically lasts no longer than three months.
  • Long-term health leave related to surgery, injury, or major medical diagnosis: A leave of absence from work for an employee to care for their own medical diagnosis, surgery, or injury, or the medical needs of a family member. This leave typically lasts for more than 60 consecutive days.
  • Parental or caregiver leave: A leave of absence granted to parents or caregivers to care for a child or another family member in need of medical care.
  • Sabbatical: A leave of absence granted for various reasons. Examples include education, personal needs, and professional development.
  • Maternity or paternity leave: A leave of absence granted to a mother or father following the birth or adoption of a child.
  • Bereavement: A leave of absence granted to a grieving employee due to the death of a family member. Some employers offer this leave only after the death of immediate family members.
  • Vacation time: A designated number of hours granted to employees to take personal time away from work, typically paid.
  • Unexcused absences: An absence from work that does not have advance approval from the supervisor.

Attendance Expectations

An organization’s attendance policy should clearly outline employee attendance expectations. The policy’s straightforwardness helps employees understand the consequences of breaking the rules. Clearly defining each attendance violation in simple language tells employees when to come. This also helps them know how to notify their supervisor if they need to take time away from work.

Outline of Realistic Disciplinary Action

Your employee attendance policy needs to state what consequences employees will face if they break the rules. These might include:

  • Showing up late
  • Leaving early
  • Failing to notify their supervisor if they can’t come to work

A realistic plan for disciplinary action should outline what happens on each offense. Each action usually becomes more severe than the last.

This example outline of realistic disciplinary action can help you as you make your policy:

  • First offense: Verbal warning
  • Second offense: Written warning
  • Third offense: Completion of a one-hour training session on excessive absenteeism
  • Fourth offense: Grounds for termination

Acceptable Exemptions

Of course, there are situations in which employees need to miss work. A company’s attendance policy must include acceptable exemptions and the process to follow when such a situation arises. When employees are ill, they need to take time away from their duties to rest and recover and avoid infecting other employees in the workplace. If an employee sustains a severe injury, they need to seek medical treatment and undergo the recovery process.

Procedures for Requesting Time Off

An effective attendance policy also outlines how employees can request time off. By outlining the procedure clearly and effectively, employees can maintain consistency. Some companies offer paid time off (PTO). This time is available for employees to use for:

  • Vacation
  • Illness
  • Personal needs

Others separate sick leave from vacation leave. Employees need to know how to request time off, regardless of whether it’s paid or unpaid, and how they accrue it.

How Attendance Will Be Tracked

Another critical element of your attendance policy is how to track employee attendance. For non-exempt employees, attendance tracking often involves clocking in and out. The punches on their timecards show whether they arrived and left on time. They also show whether they worked for the duration of their scheduled shift.

But exempt employees don’t always clock in and out, so it’s harder to track attendance. Supervisors may walk around to see who is in and working at the scheduled time. However, remote workers and employees at different locations can create challenges for tracking. Late timecards can also make it harder to track attendance and hours worked.

Choose a tracking method that ensures consistency across all employees, regardless of their level in the company. This helps maintain fairness across all departments. A consistent tracking method also ensures that every employee receives the same treatment.

Consider: Benefits for Good Attendance

You might create a more positive culture by offering benefits to top-attending employees. Rewarding employees also motivates them to continue to show up on time and remain at work. For example, you could give an extra PTO day to any employee with no unexcused absences during a quarter.

time and attendance policy

What to Consider When Writing Your Employee Attendance Policy

As you write your attendance policy, there are a few factors to consider:

  • Company culture: Your company’s culture affects the type of policy you put into place. It also impacts how supervisors enforce it. When a company’s culture is more laid-back and relaxed, the attendance policy may follow suit. By contrast, a culture with a high focus on attendance may implement a strict policy.
  • Employee buy-in: This refers to the idea that employees buy into a company’s policies. Without the support of your workforce, it will be nearly impossible to create and implement an attendance policy that works. Asking for input can increase buy-in, especially when you incorporate feedback. Employees who feel their voices are heard believe they bring value and can get on board with a policy.
  • Enforcement: Enforcing an attendance policy consistently and fairly is an absolute must. If an employee gets reprimanded for tardiness but another doesn’t, the company morale will decline. Turnover may also increase. Transparency and fairness are essential in an effective attendance policy.
  • Regulation compliance: Employees who qualify for leave policies can take time off for medical and personal needs. Examples include the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As you create your employee attendance policy, discuss how the company will handle FMLA and ADA-related leave.

Common Types of Attendance Policies

A one-size-fits-all attendance policy may not work for your organization. You might choose to adapt based on the culture or need for employee buy-in. Luckily, employers can choose from a range of policy types.

Point System Policies

A point-based attendance policy issues a penalty to an employee who violates attendance rules. Each instance, or occurrence, causes the employee to accrue points. The points usually accrue on a sliding scale based on severity. For example, arriving tardy might incur half a point, while a no-call, no-show absence could incur two points. When employees accrue a certain number of points, they face disciplinary action.

Strike System Policies

In baseball, batters accrue strikes when they swing at the ball and miss or fail to swing on a ball within range. After three strikes, the batter is out, and the team earns one of its three allowed outs for the inning. A strike system attendance policy is similar in that it allows employees to accrue up to three “strikes” or commit up to three violations. After three strikes, they face disciplinary action. For some employers, that action is termination. Others have consequences that vary in severity.

“Just in Case” Policies

A “just in case” policy protects an employer if an employee doesn’t meet attendance expectations. This type of policy is usually minimally enforced. In most cases, this policy doesn’t require enforcement because of positive employee behavior. In an ideal world, an employer wouldn’t need an attendance policy because the members of its workforce would show up on time every day. But we don’t live in an ideal world, so workplace attendance policies and consequences exist.

Start with an Attendance Policy Template

Reviewing an example before creating your own attendance policy is always helpful. Explore this template to determine what’s important to include in your company policy.

[Company Name] Attendance Policy

Objective: This attendance policy’s purpose is to establish [company name]’s procedures regarding employee absences for efficient operation and consistency.

On-time attendance is an important responsibility of working for [company name]. All employees are expected to report to work at their scheduled time and remain at work for the entire shift. Arriving late and leaving early cause major company disruptions to the workforce. Unscheduled absences place unnecessary pressure on other team members.

All outlined absences are subject to disciplinary actions. Reasonable accommodations covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and absences covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are exempt. Absences related to civic duties (jury duty) or military duties are also exempt.

Attendance Occurrences

At [company name], these occurrences apply to all employees:

  • Absence (unexcused): Failing to report to work during a scheduled shift without at least 48 hours’ notice given to the employee’s supervisor. Illness, injury, and emergent situations fall under this category. Employees should notify their supervisor before the start of their shift. 
  • Tardiness: Failing to report to work on time or return from a break on time, based on the employee’s schedule.
  • Early departure: Failing to remain at work for the entire scheduled shift.
  • No-call no-show: Failing to report to work and giving no notice to the employee’s supervisor.

Excused absences do not count as occurrences as long as employees have approval from their supervisors. They also need sufficient PTO to cover the time off or it will be unpaid.

An illness or injury that requires an employee to miss three or more consecutive days of work may require a release from a healthcare provider that indicates their ability to return.

Disciplinary Actions

All unexcused absences will incur one full point. Tardiness and early departures each incur one half-point. No-call, no-show occurrences incur three points.

If an employee accrues five points in 30 days, they will face disciplinary action. At [company name], employees face the following disciplinary action:

  • First offense: Verbal warning
  • Second offense: Written warning
  • Third offense: Completion of online training session regarding excessive absenteeism
  • Fourth offense: Grounds for termination

Job Abandonment

An employee who doesn’t report to work for three consecutive days and provides no notice has voluntarily terminated the employment relationship.

Support Your Attendance Policy with the Right Timekeeping Software

With the right attendance policy in place, you need a solution that ensures accurate and easy tracking across the workforce. Swipeclock offers a range of solutions that simplify time tracking and scheduling to help your business enforce its employee attendance policy. We understand the needs of small businesses, so we provide cost-effective options that put effective time-tracking within reach. Explore our time and attendance systems to find what works for your business and aligns with your attendance policy.

Simplify HR management today.

Simplify HR management today.

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