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By:  Dan Cohen – 4/15/14

Do you want the good news first or the bad news?  Since I like to end on a positive note, I will start with the bad news.  A study in 2008 showed that 1 in 10 Kindergarten and First Graders missed the equivalent of 30 days of school during the school year.  Of course, the catch is twofold: (1) kids tend to reflect the attitudes and often the values of their parents, or to put it more bluntly: “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree;” and (2) this is our workforce of tomorrow.  If young kids are missing so much school, my guess is their parents aren’t receiving many perfect attendance bonuses at work.  Of course, I am probably preaching to the choir on this since so many businesses experience attendance problems.

Now for the good news: It’s not too late to address lackluster attendance or to change your corporate culture to ready yourself for tomorrow’s workforce.  While there are a variety of ways to address and improve attendance, my clients and many other businesses have had success by implementing paid time off (PTO) policies, perfect attendance bonuses and by tightening up their reporting and FMLA guidelines.  In extreme cases, you might want to use “truant officers.”

PTO Policies come in many sizes and shapes and are very effective for curbing an attendance problem.  The premise is that eligible employees have an allotment or bank of paid days off during the measuring period, typically a calendar or fiscal year.  Most PTO policies combine vacation, personal and sick days.  Thus, an employee might have three weeks of paid time off during the year to be used for his/her vacation, personal and sick time.  Then, whenever, the employee is absent, the paid time must be used.  An employee, who likes to call off work for most any reason or for no good reason, now must make a decision whether he or she wants to forfeit paid vacation time to cover the absence. 

Perfect Attendance Bonuses are now back in play for businesses as a result of the revised FMLA regulations.  Some of you will recall that the original FMLA regulations provided that time off for FMLA-qualifying reasons could not be used to disqualify an employee from a perfect attendance award.  This really limited the usefulness of perfect attendance bonuses because employees could offer up an excuse that triggered FMLA protection and exempted them from disqualification.  With the 2008 revisions to the FMLA regulations, employers can deny perfect attendance bonuses for even FMLA-qualifying absences as long as they also deny perfect attendance bonuses for all other absences too. 29 CFR §825.215(c).     

Reporting Requirements and FMLA Rules can make a huge difference in your overall attendance.  The 2008 revisions to the FMLA regulations tightened up the employee’s notice obligations by requiring them to follow their employer’s usual call-off rules, including rules that require reporting of absences prior to the start of the shift, or even two hours before the start of the shift, or that require calling a specific call off number. If an employee fails to follow the call-off rules, FMLA can be delayed or even denied in the case of an unforeseeable leave. 29 CFR §825.303(c).  Employers also have the right to force employees to use their available paid time off at the front end of their FMLA-qualifying leave.  Of course, this won’t matter to the employee who truly needs FMLA, but might deter an employee from using the FMLA as an excuse for taking time off work with job security.

The introduction dangles the extreme prospect of utilizing a “truant officer.”  In principle, a company could create such a position, if it steered around a few statutes and common law concepts.  However, there is enough material to consider, that we will devote a separate blog to the subject.  So, keep your eyes on this space.