With summer coming up shortly, it’s perhaps time to address a HR problem that often arises during warmer weather: Absenteeism.

Data from Statistics Canada shows that the average Canadian worker is away from work 9.3 days in a year. The estimated direct cost of absenteeism to the Canadian economy was $16.6 billion in 2012.

Most businesses have trouble managing absenteeism because they don’t properly document and track absences. We recommend a 5 step process to make sure you and your employees are clear on what attendance standards are in place, and more importantly, what possible consequences are for excessive absenteeism.

1. Have an absenteeism policy

The first step is to have an official Absenteeism or Attendance Policy. Normally this is included in an employee handbook or manual that each employee should be given when they start. The policy should define what is expected of them in regards to attendance. Including what is considered an acceptable absence, how they should report absences, whether they will be compensated, documentation required, what is considered excessive absenteeism and associated disciplinary action. View a sample attendance policy here

2. Remind staff about the policy

Even if it’s in the employee handbook, it’s always best practice to periodically remind employees of attendance standards. As we face Summer in a few months, now is a good time to review leave policies with staff and remind them of the process they need to follow.

3. Monitor and document absenteeism

Make sure absences and tardiness are recorded appropriately. Make sure to note the reason for the absence and ask for any supporting documentation if necessary (ie doctor’s certificate). It’s important to note the differences between a culpable absence vs a non-culpable absence. For example, sleeping through an alarm clock is a culpable absence, whereas genuine illness or injury is a non-culpable absence.

4. Identify any trends in absenteeism

Monitor absenteeism for any trends and identify any employees who have excessive absences according to your Absenteeism Policy.  For example, are absences happening on a certain day of the week? In a certain department? At a particular time of year?

5. Take disciplinary action if necessary

The first step in addressing excessive absenteeism should be a non-threatening meeting with the employee. Try to establish the reason for the absences and what can be done to improve the situation. During the conversation you should re-iterate company policy and the attendance standard expected of employees. Continue to monitor absenteeism and take further disciplinary action if necessary (ie official warnings, termination). Be sure to fully document any disciplinary meetings for company records.

A note on morale

It has been widely documented that there is a strong link between absenteeism and low employee morale. Absenteeism doesn’t necessarily end with employee discipline. Chronic absenteeism could be a sign of bigger problems within your company. That’s why it’s so important to have open conversations with your employees and identify any issues that should be addressed internally.