If you run a business, you know that every day brings its own set of challenges, more so if you lack a process for employee attendance. The majority of these challenges is typically related to the product you sell or service you offer. However, there are also bound to be people challenges… and one challenge that comes up at each and every place of business often is attendance. How do you get your employees to respect the boundaries of attendance you set, and how do you deal with a chronically late employee?

On the practical side, we have all been there. That time your alarm didn’t go off or your kids missed the bus or your transportation to work was late… so it does happen. But there is another type of employee we are talking about… those employees who do this habitually and do not seem to understand its impact on their work environment and those around them.

As a business owner, nearly every employee you have will be late once in a while, but you need to ensure you are managing the exceptions to this rule aggressively so as to minimize its impact on your work environment. While most employers keep track of tardiness and attendance on a case-by-case basis, you need to do more to nip these instances in the bud to keep your business on track.

Does your business have a process?

First and foremost, make sure that your business has a process for employee attendance (attendance policy) in place, a policy that all employees are aware of and have signed off on, ideally as a part of your employee handbook. This allows you to set your expectations up front.

Assuming you have a set attendance policy in place, making sure that you keep track of and address attendance or tardiness infractions is critical. This approach is done through a progressive disciplinary process, starting with a verbal warning to the employee after their first occurrence, and following up each and every time the employee does not meet expectations. After the first verbal warning, you should progress to written warning and set expectations that continued infractions could lead to termination.

Often when this approach is handled correctly, the employee’s attendance issues improve. However, as often as attendance issues dissipate over time, there are those instances where an employee continues in the same pattern of improving temporarily and then coming back to the same old tendencies. This is why documentation is so critical. If documented correctly from the moment the issue begins, if you decide to terminate the employee, you will save protect if the employee files suit.

Process for Employee AttendanceSo setting a clear policy through a process for employee attendance, and documenting infractions are critical to dealing with absenteeism problems in the workplace. But what if you have an employee that offers an excuse of childcare issues or illness? Should your approach be different? While you still need to address the attendance or tardiness issue in these instances, you also need to pay attention to what else may be impacting your employee’s ability to get to work on time or consistently be at work as expected.

If an employee offers a childcare issue, you want to give them an opportunity to address this quickly. Engage them in the discussion so that they are involved in the solution. That said, ensure that you communicate that the employee’s first priority is their job during working hours; there is nothing wrong with setting expectations on when you expect them at work, and for how long.

Other potential pitfalls

What about the employee who is chronically ill? Again, you need to exercise a reasonable, but business-minded approach to the illness. If it is short term, perhaps the employee can use vacation or sick days to cover the absence or tardiness. The employee should take steps to notify you in advance of their plans so that you can cover their absence(s) ahead of time. If the illness goes beyond a reasonable time, then you need to take steps to address it in line with your attendance policy.

However, disciplining or terminating such an employee can be tricky. A variety of factors should be looked at before providing discipline. First and foremost, know your obligations under FMLA.

If an employee meets the criteria for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, federal law protects the employee as well as his/her job. FMLA is easily overlooked because so many employers misunderstand the various obligations. It is not the employee’s obligation to ask for or even mention FMLA leave, but instead the employer’s obligation in certain circumstances.

Secondly, the employee may request a leave under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). An employee may apply for a flexible schedule under ADA and as the business owner, you will need to review the request for consideration. Whether or not such a request is granted depends on many factors and you should review each case on its own merits.

With any and all employee related issues or policies, it is your role to address the situation quickly and appropriately. When you discuss your employee’s tardiness or attendance issue, maintain a calm, professional demeanor. And remember that you will get better results when you involve your tardy employee in developing a workable solution. Consistently bring your discussions back to how their tardiness or absenteeism affects your business, other employees and your customers.