Are you and your people back in the office? Is the work from home (WFH) setup working well for you? Is your company taking a hybrid approach? While some companies are revising their employee attendance policies and regrouping into physical office spaces again—with people remembering the joys of a takeaway coffee on the daily commute—others are embracing a more flexible approach.

Whatever your decision, when organizations change their attendance requirements,  it’s not unusual for questions (and challenges) to arise. A clear employee attendance policy—based on a comprehensive employee policy template—can help.

Download this free employee attendance policy template

What is an employee attendance policy?

An employee attendance policy document sets out company expectations for work attendance and absences. Think of it as a set of boundaries or ground rules that help everyone in the business work together without conflict.

It outlines, in writing, the overview of when people are expected to be available—whether that means they’re in the office or free to jump on a video call from home.

An employee attendance policy also clarifies how your company defines and calculates absences. This empowers your people by making it easy to manage their time at work and their time off.

The attendance policy can also outline your company’s definitions around the problems that can arise with tardiness and absenteeism—and explain how you’ll manage unforeseen absences. You may also want to include an explanation of what good behavior looks like.

Finally, you can use your employee attendance policy to highlight managerial responsibilities around attendance and the standards the company expects managers to hold people to.

In general, your company’s employee attendance policy is there to offer helpful guidance to your managers and employees. It should apply to all team members regardless of their position or type of employment.

Why you should have an employee attendance policy

Every company is different, and there’s no right way to do HR or create individual policies. Still, by setting your expectations from the start with an employee attendance policy, you can improve your employee utilization rate and help everyone understand their role and contribution to the company—as well as what they can expect from their colleagues.

Here are some reasons why an employee attendance policy can be helpful—if not invaluable—for your company:

You can introduce the company culture on day one

Including your attendance policy in your employee handbook can be a great way to ensure all new hires know what the company expects of them regarding their attendance and time off. It’s also a great way to introduce your company culture and help people understand your values from day one.

You can nurture a positive working environment

Developing a robust employee attendance policy can help nurture a positive, respectful, and productive environment across your organization, improving the employee experience.

It creates the foundation for a professional space where people can rely on each other, where everyone pulls their weight, and where people work together for the collective good.

You can reduce stress for employees and managers

Life happens. Most employers understand that. But sometimes, it can happen more dramatically than we’d all like, like in the event of an accident or a severe illness. Your employee attendance policy can help avoid some of the stress around events like these.

When creating your policy, be sure to clearly define what constitutes an excused absence and provide details of who to contact to ensure someone at work knows what is happening. Generous employee attendance policies also include details about benefits like paid sick days, caregiver leave, and parental leave.

You can make life simple

Your attendance policy sets clear ground rules. It’s not there to act as Big Brother or make people feel they’re being policed. Instead, it outlines the clear and agreed-upon expectations your company has of its people.

It’s there to make people’s lives easier. With detailed definitions of time off and absences, for example, people can easily arrange a dentist trip, get the morning off to attend a school event, or book a vacation in the sun.

You can prevent problems from escalating

A company attendance policy can prevent problems like tardiness and absenteeism from escalating into written warnings or disciplinary action. Reminding someone of the agreed policy can help them remember what’s expected of them—while quietly highlighting that their actions have been noticed.

You can preserve employee morale

When people don’t show up for work regularly, it’s understandable that feelings of frustration, unhappiness, and resentment can quickly spread among those who are there and working hard.

After all, they’re the people who may need to deal with the impact of missed collective deadlines or take on heavier, unplanned workloads. And this can have a detrimental effect on their mental health. A clear reminder of the agreed attendance policy can help prevent such situations.

You can improve productivity and efficiency

When you combine flexible and fair attendance policies with a happy and satisfied workforce, you can see less individual turnover. When professionals can work on their own terms, it increases their efficiency and they are more likely to cover their shifts.

An attendance policy can help you encourage professionals to be present and engaged, fostering a positive work environment. Plus, consistent attendance can also encourage teamwork and collaboration.

You can avoid tardiness

Tardiness is when a team member consistently arrives late to work, takes unarranged breaks, or leaves early without asking permission. It might look like coming back late from lunch or disappearing to do personal errands during working hours. Whatever the reason, it’s disruptive and can cause unhappiness in the broader team, potentially impacting productivity levels.

If you need confirmation that a tardiness problem needs your attention, try introducing time and attendance management software. The software makes it easy to see who’s working and when, shows unexpected absences, and provides accurate, actionable data you can use to follow up and address the issue.

You can avoid absenteeism

Sometimes, it can take a while to notice people’s behavior. By this point, you may find yourself having to deal with an established issue. Problems like absenteeism occur when people regularly fail to show up to work when expected—or take excessive leave without being able to show a sick note when asked.

Absenteeism can escalate into job abandonment, where a person misses work without authorization, fails to show up for a specified number of days, or fails to communicate any reason for their absence.

If you find people taking advantage of your company’s more flexible working situation like this, you can schedule a meeting with them, refer to the expectations outlined in the attendance policy, and try to address the behavior with them in person. This can lead to easier planning, more cost savings, and less downtime for your business.

You can identify and rectify attendance problems quickly

Being proactive and referring people who are repeatedly late to your employee attendance policy can help to nip things in the bud. This also prevents poor attendance records that can lead to performance plans—or even a parting of ways.

Introducing an employee attendance policy can help you improve your team members’ productivity, reduce absenteeism, and set clear and consistent expectations for all your team members—leading to a happier and healthier workplace.

Download this free employee attendance policy template

<<Download this free employee attendance policy template.>>

What to include in your employee attendance policy

Whether you’re implementing a new employee attendance policy to tackle ongoing attendance issues or you’re a new start-up—developing an employee attendance policy to include in your handbook helps you clarify what you expect of your team members.

Your company’s employee attendance policy will be unique to your culture and business needs, but, in general, it should include:

Include a policy scope stating the overall purpose of your attendance policy and who it applies to. For example: “This [organization’s name] attendance policy aims to streamline operations and foster a supportive work environment by encouraging regular attendance for all team members.”

1. The company’s employee attendance policy scope

Include a policy scope stating the overall purpose of your attendance policy and who it applies to. For example: “This [organization’s name] attendance policy aims to streamline operations and foster a supportive work environment by encouraging regular attendance for all team members.”

2. Definition of standard employee attendance terms

Clearly define team member’s attendance terms, including:

  • Absence: An absence refers to any occasion when a team member does not report for their scheduled hours.
  • Excused absences: Excused absences are when an individual is absent but has notified HR or their manager in advance. It covers maternity and paternity leave, Paid Time Off (PTO), and time off in lieu (TOIL).
  • Unexcused or unauthorized absences: This refers to instances when someone fails to report to work and does not have an acceptable justification or prior approval for their absence.
  • Absenteeism: If an individual is consistently absent from work without prior approval, it’s considered chronic or excessive absenteeism.
  • Job abandonment: This is a situation in which a team member fails to report to work for a consecutive number of days without notice, often without intending to return.
  • Tardiness: This happens when a team member arrives later than their scheduled work shift or returns late from a break.
  • Sick days: Sick days are paid or unpaid days off that team members can take when they are unable to work due to illness or injury. The provisioning and use of sick days may be impacted by labor laws or collective bargaining agreements.
  • Early departure: Early departure refers to a person clocking out of a shift before the end of the workday shift.
  • Leave of absence: A leave of absence is an extended period of time off work granted by a company. Leaves of absence can be paid or unpaid.
  • No-Call, No-Show: This is when a team member fails to show up for work without informing a manager.

Use simple and clear language that leaves no room for confusion in your attendance policy.

3. Work attendance expectations

Communicate the number of hours professionals are expected to work in a day and a week. Specify whether there’s a standard work time (9 am-5 pm) or whether professionals can decide when to start and finish their workday as long as they meet the required hours. Make sure to define what is considered tardiness, an excused or unexcused absence, early departures, and any other of the attendance terms that are organization-specific.

Then, explain how you track time and attendance, including manual time tracking, time clocks, time tracking software, timesheets, or GPS clock-in.

4. A clear procedure for reporting unplanned time off

Unplanned time off leads to understaffing and downtime. This can impact a business’s bottom line and adds unexpected work to team members’ plates.

To minimize incidences where management is unaware of an absence before it’s too late, include a clear procedure for reporting unplanned time off. Specify the time frame for professionals to report to their manager and the channel to communicate the message.

5. A clear procedure for requesting planned time off or leave

You should also set a structured process for individuals to request planned time off or leave. Professionals should know how to fill out requests, who to submit them to, and how many days in advance they need to inform HR or management.

The easiest way for team members to manage time off is with best-in-class employee management software. Team members can send requests via apps or platforms and HR and line managers can approve them within minutes.

6. Realistic consequences of not following the attendance policy

To ensure compliance with the guidelines in your attendance policy, disciplinary actions should be realistic and match the attendance issue. For example, it wouldn’t be fair to fire an individual for being an hour late once.

Disciplinary actions should also be nuanced and consider special factors like previous individual attendance records and on-the-job performance.

Some consequences for consistent unexcused lateness, leave, and absences may be:

  • Verbal or written warnings
  • Performance improvement plans
  • Deduction of PTO
  • Disciplinary meetings with HR
  • Temporary suspension or demotion

In extreme cases, unexcused absences or tardies may even lead to termination without severance pay.

The first step before taking disciplinary action is to speak with team members and determine the reason for multiple absences. Are they dealing with personal issues? Is it confusing for them to report absences? Supporting your people shows that you care about them and are willing to help them comply with the attendance policy.

7. Optional elements of an employee attendance policy

To enrich your employee attendance policy with more information than standard policies, you can include details like:

  • What a good attendance record looks like
  • If there are rewards for great attendance
  • A point system (if you offer that)
  • Flexible working options
  • Any attendance exemptions

8. Managerial responsibilities

Including managerial responsibilities in the policy boosts manager accountability and ensures managers know their obligations and what specific actions to take when handling individual attendance-related issues.

Clearly outlining managerial responsibilities instructs managers as to how the organization expects them to monitor attendance and report cases of absenteeism, time off, and other absence concerns. Specifying managerial responsibilities in your policy also ensures managers know when they’re responsible for handling attendance issues on their own and in what circumstances they need to involve other parties, like their human resources business partner (HRBP).

9. Employee sign-off

Include a sign-off at the end of the policy to make sure each team member has agreed to adhere to your organization’s attendance guidelines and procedures. In the future, if there are any disputes about the attendance policy, you can reference the sign-off.

Download this free employee attendance policy template

<<Download this free employee attendance policy template.>>

Best practices for implementing your employee attendance policy

Try implementing these best practices to ensure your employee attendance policy is free of errors or gaps people might take advantage of:

Understand your current company culture

You’ll want to create an attendance policy that aligns with your company’s culture and values.

If your organization has a relaxed culture that prioritizes work-life balance, a more lenient attendance policy with flexible schedules can give team members more autonomy over their time and allow people to work when they feel most productive.

Provide accessibility and accommodations

Provide documentation that helps managers handle special circumstances and exceptions like medical appointments or family emergencies. For example, for employers in the US, the FMLA Fact Sheet #280 specifies who is entitled to take sudden leave if they’re dealing with severe mental health issues.

Including accommodation for special situations helps managers recognize and support their people when health or other sensitive personal issues might affect their attendance and performance.

Offer your people supportive resources

Team members are human–they may be dealing with personal challenges that affect their work performance. Sometimes, people are repeatedly late or absent. They may be dealing with health issues, taking care of a family member, or even living far away because they can’t afford to live closer to the office. Regardless of the reason, offering an employee attendance policy that prioritizes team members’ mental and physical health boosts morale and supports healthy workplace cultures.

Consider offering counseling services or an employee assistance program (EAP). These services give your people access to third-party organizations that provide financial guidance, legal counseling, diet and fitness programs, and therapy to support them through challenging times that may impact their attendance and performance.

Consider employee buy-in

Be open to receiving feedback from team members and use it to tweak your attendance policy. You don’t have to implement every change they suggest, but it’s hard to implement a policy team members don’t support.

Ensure legal compliance

Government labor and employment laws specify attendance management guidelines.

For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles certain individuals to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave while maintaining their health benefits. To avoid legal complications, be sure to craft a policy that complies with local and national labor laws.

Take steps to improve employee attendance

If your team members don’t show up on time and forget to call in, show up late multiple times without a valid reason, or don’t email about absences, you may need to take further steps to improve attendance.

Before jumping straight to warnings or disciplinary action, do your best to find the root causes of people’s attendance issues and work as a team to solve them. You can have meetings, send out surveys, or conduct interviews where you encourage team members to speak honestly about what is affecting their attendance and how you can help.

Learn more about employee attendance policies

Here are a few FAQs on employee attendance policies:

What is the acceptable number of absences per year?

All companies and teams are different but as a rule of thumb, the “acceptable” number of absences per year is 1.5 percent of total expected attendance. Anything above this can imply team members are burnt out, stressed, or lack motivation. Absence levels below 1.5 can imply team members are afraid to miss work regardless of their health—which is not good.

These numbers also depend on labor laws and regulations in different jurisdictions.

How many absences are excessive at work?

Excessive absenteeism is when a team member’s absences exceed the acceptable amount defined by the company’s attendance policy.

Every company has its own definition of what constitutes excessive versus healthy absences within specific time frames. For example, using 10 days of annual paid time off (PTO) falls within policy and is considered acceptable standard practice. On the other hand, not showing up for work for three days without warning or regularly calling in 10 minutes before a shift begins can be considered excessive.

Access a free employee attendance policy template

With an effective employee attendance policy, you’ll create a workplace where your people can thrive. Your team members will know when to be at work, when you expect them to be available, and what to do if they’re late—or need to be absent.

One size doesn’t fit all, but with clear conversations and some careful planning and adjustments, you can develop an employee attendance policy that meets your business’s needs. Download the template as a guide to put a clear and simple company attendance policy in place for your team members today.

Once it’s written and agreed upon, include your employee attendance policy in your employee handbook. Ask new and existing team members to sign and date it so you have a record that everyone in the business has read, understood, and agreed to your policy.

<<Download this free employee attendance policy template.>>