Skip to main content

Handling Staff Absenteeism In Your Practice

Practice manager to staff: “Joanie will not be coming in today. She called in early this morning and left me a voice mail.”

Staffer #1: “AGAIN? So, what is it this time? “

Manager: “She didn’t explain, just said she was unable to make it.”

Staffer #2: “Great! Just great! So that means once again, WE must fill in for her absence. Hasn’t she used up her sick days? I mean, she’s been out so much, just this month. How is that fair?” 

It is NOT (fair). 

Dealing with occasional absenteeism is an expected element of any work experience. There are plenty of legitimate reasons people miss work. However, an employee who abuses their time away from work can create an unwelcome trickledown effect in the workplace, both economically and emotionally. 

Employees who do show up face added frustration, stress, and resentment as the expectation becomes that they will take on supplemental duties left unattended; maybe even begrudgingly extending their work hours. But, that is only part of it.

The economic impact to the practice resulting from one team member’s absence is no less damaging. It can lead to unnecessary costs, including overtime, disrupted staff and patient schedules, patient flow backup and resultant cancellations. One must address the situation when absenteeism becomes habitual and an abuse of policy. That is, of course, assuming there is a policy in the first place. If there isn’t, there absolutely should be. 

Documented policy plays a huge role with attendance issues, so let’s start there. First and foremost, it is essential that your employee handbook define “absenteeism;” the failure of an employee to report for work when he or she is scheduled.

A comprehensive policy clarifies all potential absences (excused and unexcused), possible reasons, frequency and protocol to follow. Furthermore, it should detail:

• Protocol for requesting/stating time off, specifying Illness, vacation, emergency, etc.;

• Contact person for these requests/notices; who, when, and how. Give timely notice; 

• Identify paid versus unpaid absences;

• Work entitlements: Who receives benefits; when do they start?;

• Are qualified employees limited to a category (i.e., vacation/sick leave) or does the practice structure a paid time off (PTO) program where employees have a combined number of days to use as they wish?; 

• What days are employees entitled to? Include specific time off for holidays, emergencies (what constitutes an emergency?), bereavement, weather conditions, jury duty and civic responsibility, extended leaves such as parental (formerly maternity) leave, military leave and leave without pay (LWOP); 

• What about tardiness and leaving work early?; and

• Alignment with state and federal guidelines regulating benefits.

Remember, a written policy without required follow up is just a piece of paper. It is critical then, that policy contents are fully discussed, clearly understood and accepted by every employee. Equally important is employee awareness of the warnings and consequence(s) associated with non-compliance and to that end, the employer’s obligation to carry out the associated reprimand. Otherwise, what’s the point?

That brings us to the statement of acknowledgement and acceptance typically found in comprehensive employee manuals. Requiring that all employees sign this document indicates that they have read and understand ALL policies as written. and that they received a copy. In some cases, this takes place after a complete sit-down review of the manual with employees, and doctors will ask employees to initial each page as well to further ensure that each policy was clear.

Discussion at this time should also revolve around avoiding last minute notifications in non-emergent situations; thus eliminating the burden of reassigning co-workers to “fill in.” 

Absenteeism can be a real problem in any workplace. But it doesn’t HAVE to be. Accepting poor behavior creates poor standards and mistrust in management. Lead by example with your own good attendance and punctuality. You might even consider offering staff with perfect attendance an award, a bonus, or extra time off as an added-value incentive. 

My simple time-honored strategy for those who don’t currently honor time is to develop thoughtful policy and adhere to sensible repercussion. 

…and if you can’t be on time, be early! A good rule of thumb for the entire team.

Ms. Homisak is the President of SOS Healthcare Management Solutions in Federal Way, WA.  She completed a Health Coach Training Program from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, and received certification as a Holistic Health Practitioner from the American Association of Drugless Practitioners.

Back to Top