Ensuring Employees Get the Point of Attendance

Between higher labor costs, lower morale and decreased productivity—absenteeism can take a toll on a company’s bottom line. However, a written attendance policy with points can help. Here’s what you should know.

Anyone who has seen the late John Hughes’ classic comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is likely to remember actor Ben Stein’s portrayal of a high school economics teacher taking attendance at the start of class, repeating in his droning monotone, “Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?”

For generations of school children, knowing that taking attendance was the first thing their teachers did each day served as a powerful deterrent to thoughts of playing hooky. It didn’t always work, but there was a clear policy with specified disciplinary action facing those caught breaking it.

In the working world, many organizations have found that the same principles apply. Attendance issues can drive up labor costs, depress employee morale and hurt productivity—a dangerous HR triple threat.

To avoid this catastrophe, many companies have implemented a point system as part of their attendance policy. Some have even gone to what’s known as a “no-fault” attendance policy: It doesn’t matter whether you’re legitimately sick or just playing hooky like Ferris Bueller—you get a point for not showing up. And if those points accumulate to the policy’s limits, you face disciplinary action up to and including termination.

In developing an attendance policy, there is a balance between allowing the flexibility employees need to take care of urgent personal matters that invariably arise and the staffing levels companies need to maintain to ensure the work gets done efficiently and correctly. And it needs to get done without burdening present workers or resulting in increased labor costs for having to pay overtime or pay temps to do the work for those who are absent.

A point system is simple and straightforward. Everyone plays by the same rules. But if it’s too rigid, it can penalize conscientious workers as well as slackers, depending on the circumstances.

So does implementing a point system do more harm than good? Let’s take a deeper look at both sides of the question.

The Upside of Points

Using a point system to track attendance offers some real advantages. Normally, point values are assigned for any infraction and can be tracked and tabulated automatically with workforce management software. This allows managers to easily identify and address attendance issues, as well as identify trends involving specific departments or groups of employees.

A point system provides uniformity and clarity. It greatly reduces the odds of one employee being penalized harshly for an absence, while another simply gets a slap on the wrist. A point system can even be implemented to take into account different staffing needs for different departments.

Point values are usually assigned for attendance issues such as:

  • Being late. Depending on the organization and nature of the work being done, this can be split into people who are late by a minimal amount of time. For example, if a person is under 20 minutes late they will only receive one point whereas if they are over 20 minutes the points increase.
  • Leaving early. Again, this may be broken down to distinguish between someone who leaves 15 minutes early versus someone who leaves two hours early.
  • An excused absence.
  • An unexcused absence.
  • An absence—excused or unexcused—without calling in to notify a supervisor.

There’s nothing that says a point system has to be purely punitive. Building in rewards for good attendance can be a real morale booster. For example, any employee with perfect attendance or who meets an established minimum of days off in a quarter could receive a bonus day off or other rewards.

In a so-called “no-fault” attendance policy, employees get points whether they are ill, dealing with an emergency or simply don’t show up for work. Employees get a specified number of days leave, often broken down by the quarter or the year. The policy is easy to administer and, in theory, at least, eliminates discrimination because all employees are treated equally – which we’ll dive into a little later.

In a worst-case scenario, if an employee is terminated for violating the company’s written attendance policy, a points system bolsters the defense if the employee brings a claim for unemployment compensation due to wrongful discharge.

The Potential Downside of Points

An overly rigid point system can be seen as unfair and arbitrary, rather than as fair and equitable.

For example, some policies assess a point (or points) for an absence for illness whether an employee has a doctor’s note or not. That’s something that should be carefully considered in writing a points policy. It may be cleaner and simpler to make no distinction but could be seen as disciplining good employees just for getting sick. Any attendance policy should be written specifically to meet the company’s needs. Whatever criteria you choose, make sure it is spelled out clearly in the policy.

While a point system can help lower labor costs and increase productivity by decreasing absenteeism, the impact on morale is also important. If your policy sends a message to dedicated, hard-working employees that the company doesn’t care about illness, nasty weather, traffic jams, car problems, conflicts with schools or child care scheduling, or an array of other everyday things that fall under the general category of “life happens,” it could wind up lowering morale enough to cause good employees to look for another job.

And it likely won’t help the company’s bottom line if you trade lower labor costs for higher turnover.

In addition, “no-fault” attendance policies, in particular, run the added risk of running afoul of federal laws like the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as state laws. So any attendance policy—whether it has points or not—should be reviewed by a lawyer in the field.

The Extra Point

A point system should be flexible enough to not penalize good employees who are usually on time and productive, yet firm enough to discipline employees whose repeated absences are creating problems for the company—and their fellow workers.

So does implementing an attendance policy that includes a point system do more harm than good? It can if it’s done incorrectly, but it certainly doesn’t have to.

The clear advantages of having a written policy that is simple, straightforward, and fair to all, while guarding the company’s bottom line from the added labor costs, low morale and decreased productivity caused by absenteeism are substantial.

With a workforce management software like ScheduleSource, attendance is tracked, points are tabulated, and trends are identified—all automatically.

As a bonus, managers hopefully will never again find themselves plaintively intoning, “Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?”

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