How to Create an Employee Attendance Policy

by DP Taylor | Updated Aug. 5, 2022 - First published on May 18, 2022

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Every company needs an employee attendance policy regardless of their corporate culture. This guide will help you draft one that fits your business.

The work landscape has changed quite a bit in recent years, particularly when it comes to remote work. In 2018, a study found that 4.3 million people in the United States are fully remote workers, and that figure is growing rapidly.

This reality certainly complicates things when it comes time to draw up an attendance policy for your company. Should you even have one? What should it look like?

Whether you run a restaurant or remotely manage a team of salespeople, an attendance policy is a must to outline expectations and ensure a good relationship between employer and employee.

Setting a work schedule for your crew is one of the most important HR policies, and it should be handled with care. This handy guide will help you do just that.

Overview: Why do you need an attendance policy?

You need an attendance policy because it communicates expectations, and that is necessary whether you're super strict when it comes to attendance or totally laid back.

If you expect employees to show up every single day and work a specific set of ours, but don't have a policy in place, they may pop in at odd hours or work from home a couple days per week.

On the flip side, even if you generally don't care when people come in, a policy is still good to have. For example, if some of your employees assume that you expect them to work nine-to-five and be in the office five days per week, they might get irritated or bewildered by inconsistent attendance by others.

By spelling out what you expect in terms of attendance at the start, you ensure everyone in your organization is on the same page.

How to create an employee attendance policy

Employee attendance policies don’t have to be super complicated. However, you should take a few steps to ensure your policy covers all the bases.

Step 1: Ask yourself what culture you're going for

Before you begin working on an employee schedule and attendance policy, answer the big question: What kind of company culture do you want to have? Whatever you determine, your attendance policy should reflect that.

If you believe in operating a company that trusts its workers and wants to empower them to be independent, a more relaxed attendance policy probably makes the most sense.

But if you run, say, a restaurant, you may need a stricter attendance policy that requires that people show up at specific times on specific days to work their shifts. In that case, identify some consequences if someone is regularly tardy to work.

Legal note: Regardless of what kind of culture you're going for, all companies are legally required to foster a culture that discourages discrimintation of anyone based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, and other characteristics.

This requirement extends to your attendance policy -- for example, it probably would be ruled discriminatory to require that women show up for five days per week but men only three. That’s an extreme example, but be wary about how your policy could subtly favor some protected groups over others.

Step 2: Consult with your employees

If you want your attendance policy to have the intended effect on your workforce, you need employee buy-in, and you get that by making them feel like part of the process.

Call a meeting to provide your inclinations on what that policy would be and ask for their feedback. Take extensive notes and incorporate their thoughts into the policy. When you finish drafting the policy, call a follow-up meeting and go over it for more tweaks.

This kind of communication strategy will go a long way to creating a happy workplace.

Legal note: Getting feedback from your employees can help you avoid blind spots that could get you into legal trouble. For example, perhaps you had considered instituting a "no-fault" attendance policy in which workers get "points" for an unexcused absence or tardiness that can result in discipline, but an employee points out that people might miss more work than others for protected reasons like disability.

Step 3: Determine normal attendance policy

How many days of the week should employees generally be in the office? Do they have specific hours? Should they clock in, or is that not necessary?

Answer these questions to lay out a basic attendance policy that defines what kind of attendance you expect from an individual employee during a typical week (a week not disrupted by sick days, holidays, or vacation).

Legal note: Some courts have held that an employer handbook is essentially a contract, which means there are consequences if you fail to follow it yourself (such as a wrongful termination suit).

Step 4: Figure out how you’ll handle sick leave

Next, you should figure out what your sick leave policy will look like. Will you give your employees specific sick days they can use?

Will you require a doctor's note in order to use one (probably not a good idea, unless you want your entire office to get sick when an employee decides they'd prefer to come in with a cold)?

Will you simply lump them in with vacation days? Many employers these days opt not to monitor sick days at all, trusting employees not to abuse them.

Legal note: There is no federal legal requirement for paid sick leave, although the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires unpaid sick leave, according to the Department of Labor. You generally must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specific medical situations, unless the employee doesn't meet certain minimum requirements.

However, some states and cities have their own sick pay laws, so consult with a lawyer to ensure your sick leave policy complies with those laws.

Step 5: Lay out a vacation policy

Next, determine how many vacation days you'll offer, and how the employees can use them. Vacation days are an important perk, and the number each employee gets may differ. But the process of requesting vacation days should be uniform for the company.

A common corporate policy on requesting vacation days is to require an employee to do so at least a couple weeks in advance.

Legal note: Federal law doesn't require you to offer any vacation time to your employees. However, there may be wrinkles to state and local laws, and you should ensure you are abiding by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), so consult with a lawyer before implementing a vacation policy.

Step 6: Weigh which holidays to recognize

You must specify which holidays your company will recognize. In the case of, say, a tech company, you may offer most or all federal holidays off.

But if you're a restaurant, New Year's Eve might be one of the biggest nights of the year for your business. It's generally up to you to determine which holidays will mean a day off for your workforce.

Legal note: There's no requirement to provide your employees time off for holidays. Most countries in developed countries have strict laws about these kinds of worker benefits, but America is an exception. As a result, the decision of whether you want to give Bob Cratchit the day off on Christmas is up to you. Still, check with a lawyer first.

Step 7: Set a policy on unscheduled absences

So what do you do if an employee just doesn't show up to work? You'll need a policy for that, too. What are the consequences this employee should face? What actions should you take as a manager? What qualifies as an excused absence?

Should you have a late-for-work policy? By being specific here and ensuring that this is communicated to all employees when they join, you lower the chance of workers skipping out without notice.

Legal note: As previously stated, workers generally don’t have labor protections in America compared to the rest of the developed word. As a result, you can fire an employee for whatever reason you want (provided it isn't for being a member of one of the aforementioned protected classes of race, sex, disability, etc.). You may be able to fire a worker on the basis of an unscheduled absence, but you should always talk to a lawyer first.

Step 8: Write it all down

All of these policies are no good if they're just sitting in your head, so write them down in the employee manual. Be as specific as possible on what is expected and what the consequences will be if your employees don't meet those expectations.

As they say, good fences make good neighbors, and likewise good attendance policies make good employer-employee relationships.

Legal note: All of the information provided above is for informational purposes only. None of it should be construed as legal advice. Consult with an employment lawyer before finalizing any new attendance policy.

Explore time clock software to better track attendance

If you employ hourly labor and therefore must accurately track employee hours so that you are paying them correctly, look into time clock software.

Software generally will do a much better job of ensuring that you are in compliance with payroll laws than you doing it manually via an Excel spreadsheet. (However, if you are a simple operation with just a couple of employees, a spreadsheet may work just fine.)

Also, time clock software can save you time filling out those forms, and just generally make managing your business easier. The Ascent has reviewed many time clock software options that offer free trials, so it's wise to try a few out to see what makes sense for your business.

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