Human Resources Q & A

This column is sponsored by the Lower Columbia Human Resource Management Association. LCHRMA represents a gathering of Human Resources professionals. Join us each month for a luncheon and training that covers many aspects of employment law and human resources.

• Friday, Sept. 28, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

“Emotional Intelligence” — Deborah Jeffries (HR Answers)

Tongue Point Vista Way Café (Formerly the Bistro),

37573 US-30, Astoria, OR 97103

• Wednesday, Oct. 3, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“Own Your A-Game” — Diane Allen:

Fort George Brewery, 1483 Duane Street Astoria.

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• • •

“I always arrive late at the office, but I make up for it by leaving early.”

—Charles Lamb

Q. Can I fire an employee for excessive tardiness or absenteeism?

A. Yes. The lack of a willingness to show up on time to work is a performance issue. There are a few caveats that a Human Resources professional should be made aware.

As gatekeeper and policer of many complex state and federal rules, the HR professional should attempt to discover why an employee is chronically late or absent. Is it a family-health issue that might qualify the employee for FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) or OFLA (Oregon Family Leave Act)? Is the employee covered under the new Oregon Sick Leave Act? Is there a disability involved? For example, an employee who is taking medication for a disability-related health condition and may be experiencing a difficulty getting up on time or staying awake at work. The above may mitigate a disciplinary or a termination decision. Also keep in mind that an employee who is excessively tardy or absent may not be a qualified individual with a disability because regular attendance is an essential function of virtually every job.

As with many areas of HR, it is important that your organization has policies in place to address absenteeism and tardiness. Any disciplinary action will based on the policy violation so long as the policy is consistently and fairly administered. For instance, (all facts similar) if employee “A” is disciplined for missing five days in a month but employee “B” is allowed to slip by for the same infraction, then HR has a problem.

Q. What is a reasonable “Chronic” or “Excessive” Absenteeism Policy?

A. Although this may vary from industry to industry, a sound policy quantifies a specific number of absences (or late arrivals or early departures to and from work). One policy reads “Chronic or excessive absenteeism is defined as four (4) or more unexcused absences within a 60 day period.” The policy then should define “excused” and “unexcused” absences. For instance:

Excused Absence: Planned and approved use of Paid Time Off (PTO); Prearranged and approved time off with use of PTO 10 days in advance; Includes vacation, civic duty leave; bereavement leave; military leave; short term/long term disability, FMLA, OFLA (family medical leave).

Unexcused Absence: An unexcused absence is typically an absence that disrupts the schedule of the worksite and often disrupts the routines, schedules, workload of others. An unexcused absence is an absence that does not include any of the above. For examples: Calling off sick with less than three hours notice, leaving work early; coming in late, requesting without notice time off the day before or the day after an established holiday.

With a sound policy in place, violations of the policy are actionable as a disciplinary matter. Keep in mind the new employer responsibility related to the Oregon Sick Law that limits certain tracking of absenteeism for the first 40 hours of time off.

Actual excuses for absence or late arrivals to work, from Forbes Magazine:

Employee absence: “I caught my uniform on fire by trying to dry it in the microwave.”

“My partner caught me cheating. I need the day to fish my belongings out of a dumpster.”

“A goat broke into the house and I must wait for the insurance man.”

“I woke up in a good mood and I didn’t want to ruin the day.”

“I accidentally got on a plane.”

Employee tardiness: “I wasn’t late. I just failed to be on time.”

“You didn’t call to wake me up. Perhaps I need more training.”

“Is it Spring forward or Spring back? / Fall back or Fall forward?”

“I thought time was on my side.”

“You should have told me to be here on time.”

Disclaimer: No response to the above queries is intended as legal advice. The answers are general answers based on general questions. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney.

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