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How to Write an Employee Attendance Policy

Updated: Nov 27, 2020

‍This article was contributed by Deanna deBara and originally posted on

In a perfect world, every employee would show up to work on time every day. But the truth is, life happens, and no matter how responsible or committed your team may be, there are going to be circumstances—whether that’s a last-minute family emergency, a scheduling miscommunication, or transportation troubles due to inclement weather conditions—when your employees are either running late or can’t make it to work at all.

As a business owner, you want to be flexible and cut your employees slack when unavoidable situations come up that make your employees late or absent from work. But in order for your small business to run effectively, those situations need to be the exception—not the rule.

Having an employee attendance policy will get your entire team on the same page about tardiness and absenteeism—and, in the long run, can save your business from significant costs in lost productivity (according to data from the CDC Organization, productivity losses resulting from absenteeism cost employers a whopping $225.8 billion each year).

But how, exactly, do you write an employee attendance policy? What do you need to include in your policy? And how can you enforce it and make sure your employees are both present and punctual—while still allowing flexibility for when situations out of their control keep them from work?

What is an employee attendance policy?

An employee attendance policy is a company policy that clearly outlines how your business will deal with any issues related to tardiness or absenteeism, including showing up to work late, leaving work early, or excessive absenteeism. The employee attendance policy should also outline things like how to request paid or unpaid time off and different types of employee leave (including medical leave and sick leave).

Your employee attendance policy can be its own business document or it can be a part of your employee handbook, but however you decide to structure it, the policy should be distributed to and signed by every employee and new hire when they start working at your company.

Why an employee attendance policy is important

Clearly outlining your company policy on employee absence or tardiness is important because it sets the expectation from the get-go on how your business will deal with attendance issues. By clearly outlining your stance on employees being absent, tardy, or missing work hours, you can avoid any absence-related miscommunications in the future (for example, an employee claiming they didn’t know the proper steps to take to call in sick).

Having a written and signed employee attendance policy can also protect you from any potential retribution if you have to take disciplinary action against an employee for violating your policy. Employee attendance policies also ensure consistency; when there are clear guidelines on how to deal with employee absences, tardiness, and other attendance issues, each employee’s attendance is dealt with using the same guidelines and framework, which helps to keep your policy consistent (and ensures human resources or management isn’t accused of favoritism).

What does an employee attendance policy need to include?

Your employee attendance policy should include clear guidelines on any and all issues related to attendance, absenteeism, and tardiness that your employees might face while working for your business.

Some of the key components you’ll want to include in your policy include:

  • Definition of tardiness and absenteeism. What, exactly, qualifies as tardy or absent? For example, if someone clocks in five minutes after their shift start time, does that qualify as tardiness under your employee attendance policy?

  • Tardiness policy. What happens when your employees show up late? If an employee knows they’re going to be late, who should they call? Is there a buffer before an employee is considered tardy (for example, 10 minutes past their scheduled clock in time)?

  • Approved absence policy. What are considered approved absences under your attendance policy? Do your employees need to provide any documentation (for example, a doctor’s note) for approved absences?

  • Procedures for requesting time off. If an employee needs to request time off, what procedures do they need to follow? For example, who do they need to submit their time off request to—and how far in advance does the request need to be submitted?

  • Sick leave policy. What should an employee do if they need to call in sick? How about if they need to come in late or leave early to attend a doctor’s appointment? How much paid sick time do they have?

  • Medical leave policy. If an employee has to take medical leave (FMLA), what channels do they need to go through to notify human resources? What documentation is required?

  • Unexcused absence/unscheduled absence policy. What is considered an unexcused or unscheduled absence? What happens if an employee is a no call, no show? What if they decide to take a day off before getting it approved by a manager or supervisor?

  • Procedures for requesting time off. If an employee needs to request time off, what procedures do they need to follow? For example, who do they need to submit their time off request to—and how far in advance does the request need to be submitted?

  • Disciplinary action. What disciplinary action will your employees face if they don’t comply with your company’s attendance policy (for example, a written warning)? Will they face progressive discipline if they show continued non-compliance (for example, not showing up for work three times in a one-month period)—and, if so, what will those consequences be?

  • Definition of job abandonment. Under your employee attendance policy, what qualifies as job abandonment? For example, if an employee fails to show up for work three days in a row without notifying the company, will it be considered job abandonment and be cause for immediate termination?

Essentially, your employee attendance policy should address every attendance management issue that you might face with your employees. In other words, the more comprehensive your employee attendance policy, the better.

How to give your employees flexibility with your attendance policy

Your employee attendance policy should outline how your employees should request time off—and get that time off approved. But again, sometimes, life happens, and you want to make sure your employee attendance policy is fair and allows some wiggle room for last-minute issues (like a broken-down car, an issue with childcare, or a household emergency) that could keep your employees from work.

One way you might want to consider injecting some flexibility into your employee attendance policy is granting a one time penalty-free excuse for tardiness or an unscheduled absence. (No call, no show situations or repeated tardiness or absenteeism don’t apply). That way, if an employee who typically has a good attendance record has an unforeseen situation that makes them late or absent, they won’t immediately find themselves facing disciplinary action.

Whether you give your employees any leeway with your attendance policy is ultimately up to you—but it can be a good way to show your employees you understand things come up they might not have planned for, and as long as they have a good attendance record, you’re willing to work with them.

Write your employee attendance policy

A comprehensive employee attendance policy is a must if you want to get your team on the same page, lower tardiness and absenteeism, and minimize lost productivity. And now that you know exactly what to include in your policy, all that’s left to do? Write your employee attendance policy, pass it to your team, and get everyone on board!

This article was contributed by Deanna deBara and originally posted on

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