How to support employees who are regularly sick or late

One of the most common reasons given for wanting to terminate an employee is that the employee is “always late, and takes sick days two or three times per month.” There’s no question that employee absence and tardiness can be disruptive, and even prohibitive, to running your business, but how can you manage this common workplace issue?

Step one: setting the tone

The first and most important point to realize is that you set the tone in your workplace. This means that, more often than not, employees will follow your lead. Part of “setting the tone” means establishing workplace rules, policies and procedures. Having an attendance and sick day policy in place creates clear expectations for when an employee is absent or sick. A good workplace attendance/sick policy addresses:

  • Notification process
    • How long before a shift must an employee give notice of being late or absent?
    •  In what manner should they provide this notice: phone call, email, text, calendar?
    • Who should they notify?
  • Administration process
    • Is the employee required to bring a doctor’s note to excuse illness?
    • Sick days are not required to be paid by law, but will your firm offer any paid sick days?
    • How will sick days been tracked? Will the employee have access to these records?

People get sick. Here’s how to deal with it. Yes, there are times when an employee calling in “sick” is questionable: the Friday of a long weekend, the day after their birthday, etc., but the reality is that some people really do get sick… a lot. In cases like this, it can be difficult to know how to manage the issue. On one hand, we need our employees to work, in order to run the business, on the other hand, if they come to work sick, and get everyone else sick, now we have a real problem on our hands. 

Employers are not required to pay for hours not worked by employee, regardless of whether the employee is hourly or salary. If an employee is frequently sick, but is a good employee when they are at work, you may want to look at “work from home” options for days when they shouldn’t be coming in, but are still well enough to work. It is okay to get creative with work scenarios to manage this, as long as the employee agrees (in writing). Lastly, due to potential human rights and privacy issues, employers cannot ask about the specific nature of an illness, however, you can ask how you may be able to help your employee in improving their attendance at work.

What about being late all the time?

There’s no way to sugarcoat it, chronic lateness is irritating. Not only that, whether it is accidental or not, it is also time theft. However, rather than assuming that an employee who struggles with timeliness is inconsiderate or dishonest, give them the benefit of the doubt, at first. 

While it is important to set clear expectations and guidelines surrounding the start and end of shifts, sometimes it may also be beneficial to approach the issue in a position of caring and support. For instance, maybe your employee is a single parent who needs to get his kids to school at a certain time, or maybe she is a teen who lives with and takes care of her ailing grandpa. 

When addressing chronic lateness with your employee, ask what you can do to support them getting to work on time, for instance, perhaps you can begin their shift 30 minutes later. It can be hard to look beyond one frustrating aspect of an employee’s performance, however, making a small change, and establishing a clear set of expectations, may just reveal the employee that you’ve always wanted.