At many companies, asking for time off from your boss can feel a lot like asking your grade school teacher for permission to leave the classroom. You make a passive approach to your boss's desk, maybe give her the awkward wave 'hello,' and then you stammer through your laundry list of reasons of why you deserve to take one day off next week. Feels a bit juvenile, right?

As an employee, you should feel entitled to the personal time you have earned, and you shouldn't have to battle the pressures of approval when wanting to use it. However, according to Oxford Economics, six out of 10 Americans claim their employers don't support them taking time off. This creates tension in the workplace as employees develop the expectation that management doesn't care about their personal lives.

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As an employer, you certainly want to empower your employees to attain a healthy work-life balance, but the logistics of handling time off requests across an entire company may pose as a continuous roadblock if you aren't properly equipped to do so. Creating a company-wide employee attendance policy can help your team better manage these requests to ensure all your employees are being fairly accounted for.

Your attendance policy is an important part of your overall corporate culture, and how you approach this policy will determine how employees prioritize between their careers and their personal lives. Since each employee may have their own perspective for requesting time off, an employee attendance policy provides a clear baseline for both the employer and employee to reference when clarifying confusing or sensitive time off requests. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, absenteeism cost U.S. employers over $200 billion in 2015, so having this document handy can help ensure you are getting maximum productivity from your workforce while still meeting their requests for time off.

Wondering where to begin? Check out this template outline we made for an employee attendance policy:

Employee Attendance Policy Template

1. Overview of Employee Attendance Policy

Begin with an overview of your new policy. You're about to make a big change to your company's internal culture, so it is important to highlight the key takeaways to your employees. This should include:

  1. Intent of the policy: Summarize in a short paragraph why you've decided to implement this new policy.
  2. Benefits to the employee: Briefly highlight the general benefits this will create for employees. This can include stabilizing work-life balance, reducing time off request pressures, increasing request fairness, etc.
  3. Benefits to the employer: We covered a few reasons above, but be transparent about how this policy works in the company's favor. Whether it's to reduce understaffing or save costs for the company, make the reason clear to your employees.
  4. How this change will affect the current policy: This should include when the new policy will take effect, as well as how it will affect employees under the current policy.

2. Expectations of Time Off Submissions

Next, define clear expectations for requesting time off. Be sure to be as specific as possible when describing this process and be sure to answer the following questions:

  1. How you define attendance: Absent vs. being tardy? Scheduled vs. unscheduled absence? What is considered a 'sick' day?
  2. How far in advance requests should be submitted: More time off will typically require a more advance notice. Make it clear on when employees should be notifying you on absences, so you can avoid overlapping requests in the future.
  3. How often time can be requested off: Is there a limit? Can time off be requested in individual hours?
  4. Who needs to be notified: This may be dependent on the length and context of the request, but it certainly helps to have a system or scheduling software that can acknowledge these requests.
  5. When time off cannot be requested: Holidays? Company-wide events? Be sure to clearly state these dates to avoid conflicts over highly-requested days off.

3. Limitations and Exceptions to the Policy

To ensure employees follow this new initiative, you'll want to specify the disciplinary actions that will incur should the policy be violated. If you want your policy to be truly fair to all employees, then the repercussions for non-adherence need to be made prior to enactment of the policy, as well as consistently enforced when applicable. One place to start here is to consider adopting a no fault attendance policy.

In this section, you will also want to clarify any exceptions that would exonerate an employee who has broken this policy. Unique circumstances do come up, and sometimes hard-working employees need special accommodations to help them through a difficult or demanding personal situation. Here are the two most common you may want to consider including in your policy (for U.S. companies at least):

  1. Maternity Leave: In accordance with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), at least 12 weeks of leave must be allotted to an employee that is having or adopting a child. This law also requires time off be permitted for employees who need to care for their spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition.
  2. Disability: The 12 weeks outlined in FMLA also accounts for if the employee has a serious health condition that prevents them from performing their job. Aside from that, The Americans With Disabilities Act requires employers to make reasonable work accommodations to a qualified applicant or employee with a known disability.

While these exemptions may seem like they would be implied, it is important to actively align your company with this legislation by acknowledging them in your employee attendance policy.

4. Explanation of How Time-Off is Calculated

To maintain transparency in your policy, the last section should include how time off is calculated for each employee. In many companies, this number is determined by the employee's length of service at the organization. Another option is to use the number of hours worked by an employee during a given year, or everyone can be allotted the same exact time regardless of tenure. Whatever way you decide to go, it's important to communicate this system to your employees so they know how much time they can plan for.

This section should also cover how prioritization will be made in cases where there are overlapping requests. Too many employees absent can leave your business understaffed, but when the holidays come rolling around you also don't want to end up looking like a modern-day Scrooge. Many organizations use a tenure-based or "first come, first serve" system to help them process these requests in a fair way.

Still in need of some inspiration for your employee attendance policy? Check out this example we came up with here that you can copy and adapt to your company's policy.

Attendance Policy Examples

Since every company is different, your approach to an employee attendance policy may vary in order to fit your specific needs. Creating an attractive attendance policy can be a great leverage point when recruiting new employees or shaping corporate culture, but you need to make sure these benefits do not put the company's productivity at risk. It's a balancing act, but if done right, it can end up paying off your company with happy employees and eager applicants. If you are looking to spice up your policy a bit, look at how these companies handle their attendance policies:

1. Netflix

In 2004, Netflix rolled out a policy to its employees which grants them unlimited vacation and sick days. This creates a high level of accountability for the employee to complete their required duties and requires a level of trust with their employer that they are spending enough time to do so. Employees are expected to keep their managers in the loop regarding their weekly plans, but overall usage of time off is completely up to their discretion. Netflix hasn't lost any productivity from this move either and has even grown its market cap to over $51 billion since enacting this policy.

2. IKEA

The Swedish furniture giant boasts one of the best employee attendance policies as ranked by Glassdoor this year. In its report which ranked the top 25 companies in the world specifically by their time off policies, IKEA was rated a 4.5 out of 5 and was listed third on the report. At IKEA, both full and part-time employees receive time off benefits, beginning with three weeks per year at the start of their employment.

3. Moz

This Seattle-based software company starts its employees with a three-week paid vacation. In addition, each employee is given up to $3,000 a year to spend on vacation-related expenses, such as airfare, gas, and hotels. Angela Cherry, Moz's director of communications, says this policy was enacted to "incent employees to unplug from the day-to-day and take time away to recharge and refresh."

4. HubSpot

Am I biased? Yes, but for good reason. HubSpot matches Netflix's unlimited vacation and sick day policy. On top of that, HubSpot rewards their employees with a one-month sabbatical after working for the company for five years. HubSpot also encourages its employees to work remotely, which reduces the stress of commuting. As one of those employees with a 90-minute commute, being encouraged to work from home is a pretty sweet perk.

Get some help with keeping track of your time off requests by learning about the tools we recommend using in this next post discussing the best employee scheduling software of 2018.

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Originally published Dec 5, 2018 8:00:00 AM, updated December 05 2018