Everyone occasionally misses work, whether for a scheduled vacation or an unexpected medical event. Whether being away from work is stressful or relaxing, it typically isn’t cause for concern. However, absences can add up quickly, and in some cases, employers must take action if absenteeism becomes a problem.
Under these circumstances, there are right and wrong ways to address this issue. Employers choosing the latter approach could be violating an employee’s rights.
What employers should not do
Some of the missteps employers make include:
- Treating all absences the same: Missing work takes a toll on productivity, profits and performance. However, not all absences are the same. For instance, an employee missing work because of their child’s medical issues is not the same as someone who frequently misses work because they don’t feel like working. Employers who do not consider this can wind up causing morale issues and punishing workers unfairly.
- Deciding to terminate the worker prematurely: An employee’s excessive absenteeism can certainly present a challenge for employers and other workers. However, being too hasty with firing the worker can be problematic and ultimately lead to legal action.
- Failing to accurately track absences: Inexact or unreliable recordkeeping can be a huge problem for properly addressing absenteeism. If an employer doesn’t have a way to track when an employee is absent accurately and for what reason, they may not be on the same page as the employee, triggering confusion and conflict.
- Being completely inflexible: Taking the same steps against excessive absenteeism for every worker without regard to individual circumstances can seem like the best way to avoid the appearance of discrimination. However, this approach can wind up unfairly impacting certain workers, such as parents and people with disabilities.
- Failing to provide sufficient time off: Applicable federal and provincial laws may dictate how much time workers should have off, from paid medical leave to vacation and sick days. Employers who do not provide this time off can face serious consequences.
These mistakes can lead to claims of rights violations, problems with employee retention and a workplace culture of dishonesty.
What employers should do instead
Avoiding these in the first place is crucial. Employers should start by having clear, lawful policies regarding attendance. If an employee’s attendance becomes a problem, more appropriate steps to address the issue can include:
- Speaking with the employee directly
- Requesting supporting documentation, such as notes from a doctor
- Creating a performance management plan that reflects an individual’s unique circumstances
Employers who fail to take these measures can and should be liable for any damages their actions cause to an employee. We encourage employers with questions about absenteeism to speak with an experienced employment lawyer about their obligations.