When employees unexpectedly call out of work or take planned leaves of absence for extended periods of time, it can impact their employer in a multitude of ways. Productivity, customer service and workplace safety, to name a few, may suffer. And although absenteeism can’t be eliminated since employees may have a legal right to leave, it can be effectively managed.

What is absence management?

Absence management is how employers govern absenteeism within their organization and support efforts to comply with federal and state leave of absence laws. As part of this process, they may have to create written policies and communicate them effectively to their employees, maintain accurate records, and provide reasonable accommodations for individuals returning to work.

Policies and procedures for managing employee absences

Managing absenteeism begins with setting attendance expectations for employees in official company policy. Such guidelines should comply with federal and state leave laws, be applied fairly and consistently, and cover all the reasons an employee may miss work. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Vacation time
  • Personal days
  • Sick days
  • Maternity or paternity leave
  • Medical leave
  • Caregiver leave
  • Jury duty
  • Military leave
  • Short-term disability
  • Longer-term disability

Enforcing attendance policies

Attendance policies should be written and communicated to employees in ways that ensure the information is understandable and easily accessible. If employees violate the policies, despite being notified, it’s important to track the infractions and the disciplinary actions taken to the extent applicable.

How to create an absence management policy

Absence management policies vary based on the industry, the jurisdiction and individual business needs. There are, however, some basic steps to creating guidelines that may help maintain positive attendance and productivity.

  1. Understand relevant employment laws
    In addition to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), many states have laws that govern employee leave, including paid and unpaid leave and extended leave. Any attendance policies employers create for their business must abide by these regulations or risk penalties.
  2. Quantify absences
    Employees need to know precisely when they’re expected to be at work so they can avoid tardy behavior. An absence management policy should also explain how much time off is available to workers throughout the year.
  3. Choose a method to track absences
    Without a method of monitoring employees who miss work or are on leave, employers may experience issues with managing absences efficiently and accurately. Some employers still use spreadsheets or other manual processes for this purpose, but many today rely on automated solutions to ease administrative burdens. 
  4. Define procedures
    Whom do employees notify when they’re going to be absent and when? How do managers address patterns of unexcused tardy behavior? What is the process for approving or denying employee time off requests? These are just a few of the types of procedural questions that absence management policies may seek to answer.

Best practices for absence management

Employers who manage absenteeism in ways that reduce risk, simplify complexity and improve employee experiences generally follow best practices, such as these:

  • Communicate frequently
    When workers are kept in the know on absence management policies, employee absences can be managed more effectively.
  • Provide managerial training
    Educating managers on not only company policy, but also federal and state regulations, can help them address employee leave requests consistently and accurately.
  • Enhance tracking capabilities
    Software or an outsourced HR solution that’s integrated with payroll can make it much easier to track employee leave requests compared to spreadsheets and other manual processes.
  • Roll out self-service tools
    Empowering employees to apply for leave, view their leave calendar, check job protection and manage their current leave may help support compliance efforts.

Challenges of absence and leave management

Recordkeeping and workflow management are generally the most challenging tasks associated with employee leaves of absence. For example, to comply with the FMLA, employers must track who is eligible and then monitor both continuous and intermittent leaves. Determining full-time status in accordance with the Affordable Care Act also requires accurate records of unpaid leaves, including FMLA leave and jury duty.

Another potential pitfall with absence management is presenteeism, which occurs when employees who are not well come to work anyway. Such a situation can hurt productivity and workplace morale just as much as absenteeism. Good communication is essential so that employees fully understand the company’s absentee policies and know when to come to work and when to stay home.

Lucky for employers many of these challenges can be overcome with comprehensive absentee management technology.

Absence management software

Given the fast-changing regulatory requirements governing employee leave, absentee management software is a welcome option for many businesses. With an automated solution, employers may be able to:

  • View absence and leave histories by employee
  • Run reports for FMLA and leave compliance
  • Identify patterns of unexcused absences or tardy behavior
  • Compare absentee rates to industry benchmarks

Capabilities such as these that simplify data collection and analysis alleviate burdens on HR resources. As a result, employers can focus more time on proactive strategies to curb absenteeism, like wellness programs, in-house medical services, enhanced communication efforts and more precise workforce planning.

Many of today’s absence management solutions are also cloud-based, which improves accessibility and security. This feature is especially ideal for HR departments that are operating in hybrid or remote work environments and need to manage absenteeism from any location.

Frequently asked questions about absence management

What is included in absence management?

Absence management policies differ from business to business, but most typically include:

  • The types of absences that are permitted, i.e., sick days, personal days, etc.
  • The method for requesting time off and the approval process
  • Disciplinary actions for frequent unexcused absences or tardiness
  • Communication preference and frequency during family or medical leave

What is leave management?

Leave management is the process of determining which employees are eligible for FMLA and other types of leave, tracking their leave balance and documenting all related records. In the event of a compliance audit or claim, it may be necessary to present these records.

What are the three types of leave?

Different types of leave may be permitted by federal and state laws. Some of the more common include:

  • Maternity or paternity leave
  • Medical leave
  • Caregiver duty
  • Bereavement
  • Jury duty

This guide is intended to be used as a starting point in analyzing absence management and is not a comprehensive resource of requirements. It offers practical information concerning the subject matter and is provided with the understanding that ADP is not rendering legal or tax advice or other professional services.