Creating an Absence Policy

Should you have a formal attendance policy? You may want to develop a policy for your own use, so that you can be sure you're treating employees fairly and similarly from incident to incident. However, we don't recommend that you put your policy in writing and give it to your employees, unless you have a large number of employees and absences have historically been a significant problem in your business. By putting a policy in writing, you can unwittingly create a contract between you and your employees.

On the other hand, a formal, detailed policy that addresses absences, tardiness, failure to call in, and leaving early can serve to prevent misconceptions about acceptable behavior, inconsistent discipline, complaints of favoritism, morale problems, and charges of illegal discrimination. General statements that excessive absenteeism will be a cause for discipline may be insufficient and may lead to problems.

What kind of policy? There are two basic kinds of absenteeism policies traditional policies and "no-fault" policies. Traditional absenteeism policies distinguish between excused and unexcused absences. Unexcused absences can result in progressive discipline.

A "no-fault" system permits a specified number of absences either days or occurrences annually. You do not require or inquire as to a reason. The no-fault system is easier to administer, but some employees may believe that the system is not flexible enough.


Kaye's employer has a traditional absenteeism policy and is allotted five sick days per year and 10 vacation days. Kaye missed 12 days between September and December because she caught the flu twice and her baby-sitter quit without notice.

In a traditional absenteeism policy, Kaye's first five absences would have been counted as sick days. The remaining seven days would either have had to be charged to Kaye's vacation time or would be leave without pay.

Now picture the same circumstances, except that Kaye's employer has a no-fault absenteeism policy that allows Kay 15 days off, no questions asked.

In this situation, Kaye charges the 12 days and still has three days left to use, either as vacation, personal, or sick time.

Some no-fault plans avoid the problems inherent in the second example above by counting multiple days of continuous absence as a single occurrence.

Include in any no-fault policy an adequate warning system so that employees know when they are getting close to the limit. And, be sure to specify what happens in the event that an employee's absences exceed the allowable number of days or occurrences.

Business Tools

Among the Business Tools is a sample no-fault absence policy that you can adapt to your use if you decide to have such a policy.