Managing Absenteeism


Chronic absenteeism is one of the most common and frustrating issues faced by employers. According to Statistics Canada, in 2012, the average Canadian worker was away from work for 9.3 days – the equivalent of almost 2 weeks. Almost 80% of those absences were considered “casual” and not supported by any sort of doctor’s note.

While all employers recognize that sometimes absences are unavoidable, poor attendance can negatively impact productivity, work quality, revenue, morale, customer service and customer satisfaction. Despite the toll absenteeism can take in the workplace, the good news is there are steps you can take to reduce absenteeism and its impact.

First let’s look at the things that can influence absenteeism. Work related causes might include on-the-job accidents, lack of job satisfaction, poor working conditions, work-related stress, or problems with supervisors or co-workers. Non-work related causes might include the employee’s attitude, underlying medical conditions, family or domestic problems, poor health, etc.

As an employer, if you are experiencing above average absenteeism, it may be time to do an assessment of your workplace to see if some of the causes can be mitigated and addressed.

Employers need to be proactive in their approach and put strategies in place that focus on prevention and early identification of those at risk. This allows employers to better support employees who may be dealing with issues at the root of casual absences and hopefully address these issues before they lead to excessive absenteeism or a long term disability claim.

The first step in managing absenteeism is to have a clear policy and procedure that outlines exactly what the expectations and reporting procedures are, including when a doctor’s note may be required. Ensure this policy is communicated to all employees, including managers and supervisors. Implement the policy fairly and consistently across the organization; and clearly identify the consequences for non-compliance.

Implement a good system for tracking and recording absences. If you don’t track it, it is difficult to address the problem.

Keep accurate records and documentation. Thorough record keeping practices become critical in situations involving employee relations issues and legal proceeding, for example if a wrongful dismissal or discrimination claim is made. This includes putting the proper precautions in place to ensure confidentiality and privacy.

One of the most important things an organization can do is to properly train your front-line managers and supervisors on these protocols, as they have the relationship with the employee and are generally the key point of contact. To be effective, Managers need to be trained on what to do and when, what not to do, and what their responsibilities are. Managers also need to know that it’s not just about a policy or process; there are other factors at play. An attendance issue is not necessarily a performance issue. A manager must be able to look beyond the absenteeism and consider the reason for the absences. Management training can help them guide that discussion with their employees.

Furthermore, if the employee’s absences are related to an illness or disability, the employer has an obligation under Human Rights law not to discriminate against the employee and to accommodate the employee’s disability, including disability-related absences, up to the point of undue hardship.

Fostering a safe and healthy workplace and culture can also go a long way in helping to reduce absenteeism. Some of the ways organizations are doing this is through offering paid sick days, flextime and/or personal days; offering a flexible working schedule or the ability to work from home; implementing health and wellness programs; applying good hiring practices which address things like punctuality and absenteeism at the interview and/or reference check stage; implementing a strong Health & Safety program; and making the workplace an attractive place to be.


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