Can You Terminate an Employee for Excessive Absenteeism?

Can You Terminate an Employee for Excessive Absenteeism

If there is something that the past few years have taught us, it’s that we can’t always foresee what life will throw at us. No matter how careful and prepared you are, occasional illnesses and family emergencies happen, and can cause you to miss one or more days of work.

But there is a drastic difference between an occasional unforeseen impairment that prevents you from clocking in and regular, unjustified absences. In the US, habitual employee absenteeism has been on the rise over the past years, reaching an average of 3.2%.

When your employees don’t show up for their shift, your company can suffer severe consequences, including a drop in employee morale, financial damages, and operational inefficiency. So, what can you do about it? Is it possible to terminate an employee for excessive no shows? The answer is yes – but it’s not the only solution. Learn more below!

Note: If you’re an employer that’s looking to improve employee attendance, manual methods will only get you so far. If you really want to make a lasting change, you’re best bet is to look at attendance and scheduling apps such as Buddy Punch to transform your workplace.

What Is Absenteeism?

Before diving into why it’s fair for employers to terminate an employee for excessive missed workdays, let’s look at what absenteeism is.

Generally, your employees can be absent for a range of excused absences, including vacations, holidays, family emergencies, or occasional sick time to restore an employee’s health. These types of absences are largely accepted by business owners due to their benefits for employee mental health and allowing their business to attract highly skilled coworkers. Even though there’s no employment law mandating that businesses provide these paid leaves, it ultimately helps profitability and overall attendance records if they do.

However, if you have noticed your employees missing consecutive days of work for unacceptable reasons or extended periods, you might be dealing with absenteeism. You’ll need to know how to identify this, so you can either make reasonable accommodations to rectify the employee’s behavior, or otherwise deal with the employee before their behavior spreads and impedes team morale.

It is important to note that the U.S. Department of Labor does not have any federal laws that determine what constitutes “excessive” absenteeism – or how many days spent missing work are too many. Setting these standards and guidelines comes down to the employer, who should offer guidelines in the official employee handbook and absence policy.

The Impact of Excessive Employee Absences

The consequences of excessive unexcused absences or low employee attendance rates in your company can be catastrophic. These include:

  • Financial losses deriving from having to pay worker’s compensation to the absent employee
  • Financial losses from having to find a replacement – often with costlier agency workers
  • Increased administrative costs of dealing with absenteeism
  • Reduced operational efficiency and lower quality of products and services
  • Reduced morale across the team, especially if other full-time team members (with good attendance) have to pick up the slack

Reasons for Excessive Absences

Episodes of absenteeism over a number of days – or unscheduled absences – are often intentional and can stem from a range of causes, including:

  • A serious health condition or chronic illness (and accompanying medical appointments)
  • Family member or child care issues
  • Job hunting and attending interviews (even more common during the Great Resignation)
  • Workplace harassment and bullying
  • Heavy workloads and burnout
  • Low morale or disengagement
  • Seasonal illnesses

Can I Be Fired for Excessive Absenteeism?

If you are wondering whether you can be fired for excessive absenteeism, the answer is yes – it is legal for your employer to fire you for a low attendance rate or unsatisfactory performance.

However, a lot depends on:

  • Your attendance rate – your company can go ahead with employee termination as a consequence of lost productivity, low attendance rates, and tardiness. To understand whether your absenteeism is “excessive,” you should review the company policy.
  • The reason for your absences – your company cannot fire you for occasional absences due to illnesses, injuries, and emergencies. However, if you are regularly absent, you will need to have a doctor’s note specifying the reasons for your sick leave.

It is also important to note that an employer or HR professional cannot proceed with employee termination without undergoing other steps. The company’s human resources department might issue several disciplinary actions – like demotion or reduced pay – as well as a final warning before terminating your employment.


Can I Terminate an Employee for Absenteeism?

If you are dealing with an employee who is frequently absent or late, you might be wondering whether you can terminate their employment. The short answer is yes, you can. But there are multiple steps you need to take to avoid wrongful termination and the legal consequences of it.

Firstly, it is essential to introduce an objective absence and time tracker. The right software or app can help you build your case and provide a wealth of evidence to the employee in question – as well as their lawyers.

Additionally, you will need to keep in mind vital federal laws like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If your employees have taken FMLA leave or are absent because of a disability, attempting to terminate their employment might lead to a discrimination claim against your company.

FMLA Leave includes job-protected leaves of absence due to:

  • The birth of a newborn child and for their care (within one year of birth)
  • Placement of a child for adoption or in foster care, or to care for a newly placed child ( for up to one year of placement)
  • Care for an employee’s spouse, child, or spouse who has a serious medical condition
  • A serious health condition that makes an employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job

If you are dealing with an employee who is excessively absent or can no longer perform essential functions within the company, you should partner with an experienced law firm for legal advice to navigate your case before you happen to violate any labor laws or state laws.

Can I Terminate an Employee for Excessive Absenteeism?

Excessive absenteeism can have severe consequences on your company’s well-being and operational stability. However, if you are wondering whether you can terminate an employee for excessive absenteeism, you should keep in mind that both employers and employees have rights.

That is why if you have a robust attendance policy in place and can demonstrate that those excessive absences were not due to Family Medical Leave Act or American Disabilities Act leaves, you might proceed to take disciplinary actions.

Note: In situations like this, making use of a time tracking software that maintains a detailed report on your employees can save time, money, and headache. Our software, Buddy Punch, is one such app that’s helped over 10,000 businesses monitor their employees, improve productivity, and cut down on time theft. If you’re interested in how such an app might help your team members improve their accountability, click here to learn more about Buddy Punch.

Tackling Excessive Absenteeism and Boosting Employee Attendance

Employee termination should always be the last resort for employers dealing with excessive absences, even if they’re plainly violating your sick leave policy. Before settling for this solution, managers should work with the human resources department to outline a strategy to help a concerned employee and boost the overall team morale. Here are some of the steps you should not fail to take:

  • Introduce a robust employee attendance policy both you and your employees can refer to when you first become concerned with their sick day usage (assuming there aren’t real health issues or another pandemic – knock on wood – at play).
  • Create the right workplace culture that makes it easier for concerned, bullied, harassed, or unhappy employees to open up with their employers
  • Boost on-the-job engagement, which can reduce your absenteeism rates by 41%
  • Work with your human resources team to introduce an absence management system, which should include more one-to-one time with each employee, reduced managerial input, and immediate attention to the next instance of absenteeism
  • Help your employees find work-life balance by introducing hybrid work models, which can also reduce absences related to childcare and eldercare.
  • Invest in mental and physical wellness programs. You may want to consult with an employee’s health care provider for their specific circumstances.
  • Provide incentives to engage in the workplace, such as professional and personal development opportunities for your employees.
  • If none of this works, then you can try introducing verbal & written warnings (while making sure you’ve documented your previous efforts to accommodate your team members).

Keeping Track of Employee Absenteeism

Regardless of how you plan to handle absenteeism, you need to make sure you’re keeping an accurate record of it if you want to address it. For some business owners, this might mean manual tracking, such as using spreadsheets and physical records to manage employee attendance. The problem with this approach is that manual methods can be difficult, as well as time-consuming.

This is why most savvy business owners choose to invest in a software that tracks and monitors absence rates, such as Buddy Punch.

Buddy Punch’s simple UI and reporting makes it easy to see when employees clock in (or don’t) to create an accurate log of absenteeism, but it also takes it a step further than that. With features such as Job Codes, OT Calculations, PTO Management, and more – this becomes a powerful option to track not only when your employees are not at work, but what they’re doing while clocked in. From there you can begin to optimize how your team works, and emphasize the aspects of your business that bring the most profit.

Bottom Line: Can You Terminate an Employee for Excessive Absenteeism?

Terminating an employee for excessive absences is certainly an option for most employees – but it should not be their first port of call. Instead, high rates of absenteeism are a telltale sign that your employees are unable to keep up with the workload, feel unsafe at work, or suffer from chronic conditions. Always look at the hidden root causes of absenteeism before you take action.

Introducing the right absence management strategies can help you reduce unplanned absence rates while creating a better workplace for all.

Unsure how? Consider making use of an absence and time tracking app like Buddy Punch. We built our software after struggling to manage 20 employees at 3 different locations, and turned our experience into an all-in-one solution for time, attendance, and project management.

Click here to learn more about how Buddy Punch can overhaul your employees’ accountability, highlight underlying issues in your system, and build a more engaged workforce.

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