ridiculously rigid attendance policy

A reader writes:

I work in a medical billing office. The attendance policy is very strict. You need to give 24 hours notice for anything that alters your schedule or points are assessed. Literally, 23.5 hours notice will not be acceptable.

There are no exceptions. Getting a call that a family member died and you have to go, gets you a point. Having a heart attack and getting carted off gets you a point. Bottom line, not working your exact hours gives you a point. 

You are allowed 10 points and then you are fired. I know it seems like a lot, but when death, major illness, and even a minute late from lunch is factored in it can add up, as well as trying to get the point off.

You have 60 days to remove a point and if you get even a half point within that time, all “time served” to get rid of the first point is erased and you start fresh from that last point. You then have 4 months to erase 2 points. And it keeps accumulating as you get more points. One minute late on an ice storm day can mess it all up for you.

Our work is not dependent on the particular hours we work. The 8 hour job can be done between 6 am & 7 pm. A minute late once in a while will have no impact on getting the work done. A small amount of the office are on the phones for patients.  The rest of us call insurance companies as needed but are not attached to the phones, bascially listen to Ipods, and do our work. I am not suggesting that because of that we can come and go as we please. I just want to give you an idea of the jobs we do.

The end result is high turnover, as well as people simply not going to work. Even if you come in early, go to an appointment, come back and work 8 hours, you still get a point. So, people don’t go to work. It boggles my mind why the company would view no productivity as an option as opposed to working with an employee and getting a full 8 hours of work.

There are no incentives for good attendance. A manager once asked us in a meeting why we worry about it, “It is not like you get a million dollars if you have no points.” That was an unprofessional and pretty pathetic statement. We worry about it because of YOUR policies regarding it. We worry because you just said we’d be fired for getting points.

What am I missing with this policy? I am not advocating that employees can come and go as they please, but I just don’t get the assessing of a point when someone dies type of thing or the half a point for a rare late punch in.

It’s ridiculous. They’re treating you like wayward teens who can’t be trusted to get your work done any other way.

People who manage like this don’t know how to do it any better. They don’t trust that they can treat people like professional adults and still get the work they need done. They don’t know how to allow for judgment calls and shades of grey while still being fair overall. And they don’t know how to effectively handle employees who have a real attendance or punctuality problem.

So they devise ridiculously rigid, punitive schemes like this … which ensure that any good employee who gets an opportunity to leave will take it.

I’m going to guess that the rest of their practices aren’t exactly models of effective management either. You don’t get policies like this in places that are well run.

You can read an update to this post here.

{ 117 comments… read them below }

  1. Malissa*

    I would think this kind of policy would encourage an employee showing up sick and puking in the boss’s office just to make a point. I hope the OP can find a better job soon!

  2. Anonymous*

    That is awfully rigid, but employee attendance can be a serious problem.

    Years ago, I had a group of employees who had never worked a full 40 hours ever, and our time clock broke. We sent it to be fixed and all the employees magically worked 40 hours that week. Incredible!

    I have had to fire people who were habitually late. Even people I really liked, but as a manager if you don’t discipline one employee for that kind of thing you ultimately can’t discipline the others. And we had working hours. We depended on scheduled employees being there to serve customers.

      1. Anonymous*

        They all marked on their time cards by hand as if they somehow were there on time, which with the clock recording it they couldn’t.

        So even though someone had been 10 minutes late every other day for a year, somehow *no one* was late that week.

        We paid by 6 minute increments, so 10 minutes late you lost 1/10 hour.

          1. Anonymous*

            I didn’t often fire people for being late, but when the business is supposed to open and nobody but me was there, that was awkward for me and for customers who came in.

            So that was a problem that had to be solved, I *couldn’t* allow an employee who was supposed to open to be habitually late. I remember the incident well, a girl I really liked, salt of the earth type. Late every day, and I had to open the business alone. I had to fire her. It was a sad day since I really liked her.

            I agree the example cited by the OP sounds draconian, but I wonder how many people who are one second late actually get any repercussions for that. Few, I would guess. But we don’t know what kind of business that is, and they might have hundreds of employees. They have to maintain control. Or they would be accused of discriminating.

            I know one retail store that had an electronic timeclock system. If you were late at all you had to get your manager to put in a code to let you clock in. That served as a deterrent, I would say. “Just don’t be late”.

        1. WallE*

          They couldn’t have stayed an extra 10 minutes? This would have made up the time, hence the 40 hours…

          BTW, REALLY? Worried about 1/10th of an hour? Next time don’t schedule an employee’s start time to commence at the same the doors open to customers. (15-30 min staggering of schedules inestead.)

          1. Liz in a Library*

            I don’t think this is necessarily the case in the original scenario, but this is something that drives me batty in the workplace. If your doors open to customers at 8, your employees should not be scheduled to start at 8. Even in the smallest business, it takes real time to prep for opening.

            In the past, I worked at a place where I always had to arrive at least 30-45 minutes early for my shift just to make sure we are opened on time (and I was always the only one opening, so it really did take that long). It wouldn’t be such a big deal to do now that I’m non-exempt (hey, I enjoy a little quiet time at work before my colleagues show up ;), but I was hourly then. I’m not sure what the alternative was though: turn the lights on while people are milling around in the dark, unlock everything while leaving the information desk unmanned, and say sorry, the ancient computers won’t be booted and ready for you to use for 15 minutes? We always had a line at the door at open, and no matter how many times I brought it up to the boss, he absolutely refused to budge.

            /end hijack

    1. Elizabeth*

      “if you don’t discipline one employee for that kind of thing you ultimately can’t discipline the others.”

      I agree that people who break the rules in the same way should have the same consequences, but it seems draconian to me to have the same consequence for a chronically late employee, a usually-punctual employee who got a flat tire on the way to work, and an employee whose mother collapsed with a heart attack with less than 24 hours’ notice. It’s like a “zero tolerance” drug policy in school that results in the same suspension for the girl who’s selling LSD and the boy who has two Advil in his backpack.

      1. Jamie*

        “It’s like a “zero tolerance” drug policy in school that results in the same suspension for the girl who’s selling LSD and the boy who has two Advil in his backpack.”

        Perfect example. This is what happens when you take the critical thinking portion out of policy.

      2. Esra*

        Excellent points here. Part of being a good manager or employer is being able to look at the big picture and assess the consequences to figure out what would most benefit your org.

    2. Katie*

      The thing is, attendance *can* be a pretty serious problem for any company. Most companies don’t devise policies like this, though, as a response, because they realize that policies like this punish and ultimately drive away good employees for completely legitimate absences, and often does little to stop undesirable absences from those who aren’t conscientious employees in the first place. If you like having high turnover and a resentful staff, by all means, institute a policy like this to solve your attendance issues. A good manager, though, can deal with those who have a *legitimate* attendance problem without punishing good employees who miss work for totally normal and acceptable reasons.

      I just feel like if you can’t come up with a better way to handle attendance issues in your office than a draconian policy like this, maybe you should get out of management.

  3. Anonymous*

    I worked in a place with a similar policy. At the beginning of the year, you started out with an annual bonus amount, say $3000. Any time you did something that any Manager (not just your own – ANY manager in the company) deemed wrong (a waste of time, resources, etc….basically any mistake) you got a point. Each point was worth 5% – 10% of your bonus.

    If you were late for work, you got a point. They tracked this using your computer log in time, so if you logged into your computer after 830 am, you were late. One person while I was working there was less than 1 second late logging into his computer, and he got a point.

    We live in a very snowy climate where flash storms happen overnight and your drive to work can be horrendous without notice. That didn’t matter. Flat tire? Doesn’t matter. Flood in the basement? Doesn’t matter.

    We were allowed to call in sick though so what started happening is people would call at 815 and say they were sick so they were taken off of the tracking sheet…then they’d just show up at 9. Well they caught onto this so then they made a policy that if you were calling in sick, you had to call the Receptionist. She would mark down what time you called in sick and what time you showed up in the morning. If they decided you were trying to get around the system, you got a point.

    Most people didn’t get their bonus, because really once you are late 5 times (by 5 milliseconds) you’re losing a huge chunk of your bonus anyway so why bother anymore?

    This is the same company that laid out very specific, measurable goals for your Performance Bonus but refused to give 100%….so if your goal for your bonus was “increase performance review on-time to 80%” and you increased it to 85%, you wouldn’t get 100% of your performance bonus.

    They have problems…..and INSANE turnover. INSANE I tell you. I was there for just over a year and I was there the longest out of anyone in the department at that time.

      1. Anonymous*

        It was terrible. This place was so negative, everyone was grumpy and tired, you would get SCREAMED at (not yelled at, screamed at) for doing things wrong. You basically lived in a state of fear of screwing up.

        1. Esra*

          Well, from how arbitrary and horrible this place sounds, I could see Hufflepuff randomly getting punished for a Weasley’s indiscretions.

    1. Kate*

      Can’t help but suspect that management was probably trying to cover up the fact that the company wasn’t in a financial position/too stingy to pay bonuses. Bet they never did budget for $3k per employee in the first place!

      1. Anonymous*

        That’s the thing – the company does VERY well….however their upper management makes ridiculous money and everyone else makes nothing. They have to pay their upper level managers so much to keep them there and to keep their mouth shut about other things….platinum handcuffs.

        What this did allow them to do, especially to young, entry-level folks like myself is falsely inflate your total compensation.

        “Yes, your base salary is only $26,000 but you get this great $4000 bonus so really it’s $30,000! Isn’t that great?!”

  4. Kyle*

    I disagree a little AM.

    I think there is something to be said for consistency across teams. The OP referenced that they are not “on the phones” which implies to me her job is close to a contact center job, something I’m very familiar with… I firmly believe you need structure and consistency in that environment, where you can have hundreds of people with similar jobs and dozens of managers who need to be doing things consistently.

    I also think the OP is being a little overly dramatic on the death and heart attack examples. You are allowed 10 of these points… Even if you have 5 close family members die at separate times, you can still be sick 4 more times. (I also question whether death’s really do count at all, usually these would be a separate type of absence.) Bottom line, 10 days is a lot… I bet your company has separate policies for Short Term Disability or FMLA and maybe even for consecutive days (i.e., if 5 days for the death of a close family member is taken, would it count as 5 points?) so it’s really more than reasonable. Now, if you call in and say your mother died and the manager starts talking about points, that would be ridiculous!

    This said, I do agree that there is some degree of manager discretion. If I have an employee approach or reach our occurrence limit (which is very similar to the points described by the OP) I have a conversation with him or her, explain the impact, discuss the reason for it, discuss if STD or FMLA is appropriate, and if necessary take the appropriate action. The policy should be a guide and a tool to help a good manager facilitate the conversation with bad employees. I don’t think It would cause problems for either good manager nor good employees.

    I’d be surprised if high turn over (if there is really high turn-over, the OP may not have anything to compare it to) is really driven by the attendance policy. This company may well have other problems, but I can’t imagine a good employee leaving because they’d get fired for calling out sick 10 times in a year.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To me, the issue is the rigidity, the absence of any buffer for real life, and the lack of room for shades of grey. It’s a problem that one minute late is treated the same as an hour late. And you get a point for notifying them at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday that you’ll be in late tomorrow, when you wouldn’t have gotten that point if you’d told them 30 minutes earlier? It just lacks room for any kind of judgment or recognition that we’re all adults.

    2. KellyK*

      Kyle, I think you need to read the OP’s post a little more closely. It’s not 10 *unscheduled absences.* It’s ten times that you are off your scheduled hours by so much as a minute without 24 hours notice. So, if someone takes three sick days all year, loses another two days for a family emergency, and is five minutes late another five times, they’re fired.

      As far as being “overdramatic,” you may be right that it would take a lot of deaths in the family to use up all your “points” on that, but why would any decent manager penalize anyone for having a family member die? Even if it’s only a point that becomes meaningless if your attendance is perfect for the next two months. What benefit could that possibly have to morale or productivity?

    3. jmkenrick*

      As someone who is not a manager, for me the issue is two-fold:

      First, this policy offers me an incentive to miss the whole day if I’m going to be late. When I had a flat tire unexpectedly last year, I called my manager and showed up 1.5 hours late, and then worked the remainder of the 8 hours. (Plus a little extra the next day.)

      But, with a policy like that, there would be less encouragement for me to rally and change my tire. The structure of this policy implies that the management doesn’t value my efforts to still get to work even when something goes wrong. (Which can be hard. Have you ever tried to change a flat on the side of an LA freeway without getting your work clothes dirty? Difficult.) If they don’t value that, I guess that’s their prerogative, but then I’m less likely to place value on those efforts as well.

      Secondly, rule-oriented policies like this feel a little like babysitting, which, if you’re putting in your hours and trying your best, is very discouraging. I understand that some employees need to be micro-managed – but if you’re micromanaging something that I’m doing well, it’s discouraging, because it implies that you don’t think I’m capable of handling that without close supervision.

      Additionally, I feel like that type of micro-management has the affect of spreading around the responsibility. This is just a theory, but I feel like rigid policies like this can shift the way that workers think about how they’re accomplishing things & getting results. In that case, the management sets up a system where the onus is always on the supervisor to make sure things are getting done.

      That’s a problem, because if the supervisor is every busy, or unavailable, or unexpectedly not at work themselves…well, a system is set up to motivate employees by carefully monitoring their behavior. If you remove that monitoring, you may have a problem. Ideally, there would be a good way to ensure that employee motivation came from results (probably the best way to do that is to hire well!) – that way, the incentive is always there.

      Hopefully I’m making sense. I’ve never managed before, so I’m sure the office is facing challenges I’m not familiar with, but based on the policy in my office and the work that comes out of it, I get the impression that set-ups like these aren’t necessary.

      1. Dawn*

        I agree. Seems to me, too, that this policy would encourage people not to come in at all. If I’m going to get a point whether I’m late or don’t come in at all, why even bother coming in? Why should I work if I’m getting the point anyway?

  5. KellyK*

    The end result is high turnover, as well as people simply not going to work. Even if you come in early, go to an appointment, come back and work 8 hours, you still get a point. So, people don’t go to work. It boggles my mind why the company would view no productivity as an option as opposed to working with an employee and getting a full 8 hours of work.

    I think they’re so busy trying to control everyone’s time down to the nanosecond that they lost their common sense.

    The first question to ask with any reward or any consequence is whether it actually gets the result you want, or whether you’re encouraging people to do things that don’t help you. Like you said, if someone gets a point for being even a minute late, why come in at all on a day where you are running behind? Similarly, if you feel any hint of a cold coming on, call out for the *next* day so that if it gets worse, you’ve given your 24 hours notice.

    1. fposte*

      “The first question to ask with any reward or any consequence is whether it actually gets the result you want.”

      Please let this be enshrined somewhere in all managers’ offices.

      This is a classic “Something must be done. This is something. Therefore it will be done” error.

    2. Anon*

      They do it like my workplace does it – not only do you get a point for being late, but you also have a certain number of hours you can use for the year in unexcused absences before beginning disciplinary actions. There’s more to it, but I would hate to confuse anyone or self-indentify by giving all details to my own draconian policy.

      I would worry about spreading bad ideas, but I feel pretty comfortable saying that most of the people reading this blog are reasonable. ;)

    3. Yup*

      Exactly, KellyK. The only additional outcome I see from a nutbar policy like the OP’s is that employees will nickel and dime the employer right back.

      “Project ABC is on fire, can you stay 15 minutes late tonight to help?” “Sorry, I’ve already completed my 480 minutes for the day. I have to leave right now.”

      Having people at work on time to do their jobs for the paid hours is reasonable. Being insanely rigid and stupidly inflexible about it gets you nowhere.

  6. Joey*

    My view is slightly different. It’s probably because they don’t pay enough to get managers that are worth a crap. I’m guessing they probably promote from within because they have a hard time recruiting managers externally. The result is that the managers don’t know how and therefore can’t be trusted to manage. Hence policies are set up with no subjectivity.

    But really, is it so hard to show up on time with rare exceptions? How many times do deaths and major illnesses come up? And how hard is it to give yourself a little leeway so you’re not coming back late from lunch? And the incentive for good attendance is a paycheck and everything else that comes with having a job.

    Sure the policy is stricter than most, but thats their prerogative. But, you don’t have to worry about it if you show up when you’re supposed to.

      1. Joanna Reichert*

        It’s not an issue of the policy being “stricter than most” – it’s an issue of insanity.

        Since all we have to go on is the OP’s word, we’ll take it at face value. And what they’re saying is that ANY absence that was not pre-approved no later than 24 hours previous – will result in 1 point.

        That means laziness – too much time spent on lunch dessert – or an emergency – mugged in the parking lot or needing to rush home early because your house is on fire – is all one and the same to these crazy people.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Joey, I bet you’re right that they hire crap managers. (And what good manager would agree to enforce these policies?)

      But you get way better employees (higher caliber, more engaged) when you treat them like adults. Of course people should show up for work on time, but if there’s an occasional traffic jam or last-minute doctor’s appointment, responsible adults shouldn’t be penalized for that.

      1. Joey*

        Wait, didnt we agree that the reason for an absence doesn’t matter, only the impact to the business. Now if you argue the punishment is not proportionate to the impact of the absences I would agree.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m definitely arguing that it’s not proportionate. Someone coming in late by one minute just doesn’t have any real impact on the business (given her description of the nature of their work).

          I think where the *reason* for the lateness or absence comes into play in this situation is just to illustrate that in the course of normal life, most people will occasionally need to be late or absent without 24 hours notice. It’s pretty normal. (The issue with the other post that you’re referencing was that it was chronic, which is not normal.)

          1. Joey*

            But, in a point system points aren’t the penalty they’re just a means of documenting. It’s the accumulation of points that’s the penalty. It’s just a more structured system.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But the points are being given out for the wrong things. It’s one thing to say “you’ve been an hour late three times and that’s unacceptable.” But to say “you’ve been one minute late three times” is silliness.

              1. Joey*

                As someone earlier pointed out the big downside to leaving it so subjective is managers can have very different ideas of what’s acceptable. Points systems are an attempt to make the standards more consistent and objective, but it’s very hard to get everyone to agree on exactly where the lines should be drawn.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                It’s true. But an employer could also hire good managers and trust them to act reasonably (and address it with them if they’re not). But if they’re not willing/able to do that, then they need a less draconian system.

              3. Piper*

                A good manager should also be able to (as in have the ability to and be given the power to) make a judgement call based on what is reasonable and acceptable. Managers who need this kind of structure have severely underdeveloped critical thinking skills. This policy doesn’t encourage productivity. It hinders it.

  7. AGirlNamedMe*

    My guesses are..
    * they had a really bad problem with attendance, tardiness, lies about dead relatives and felt that the pendulum had to swing the other way
    * the upper management are out of touch with what is the “norm” for today in terms of flexible schedules, management, and the value of decreased turnover

    The OP’s questions was, “What am I missing with this policy?” Nothing – it seems pretty straight forward in a really bad way. You could…

    * work to change the policy
    * plan to leave because it’s too much of a pain to deal with it/them
    * live with it

  8. Kelly O*

    I’d argue the point with those who say ten days is not a lot. (And I realize when I start saying “my daughter” I’m going to automatically draw ire from some, but it’s simply the fact of the matter.)

    I have an almost 14 month old daughter. We have our morning routine down pat at this point and it’s not a huge problem. However, one “interesting” diaper can mean we both have to change clothes, and that almost always happens right as we’re about to head out the door. Or, I could get to daycare and her teacher needs to talk with me about an issue (since we have someone different in the mornings and evenings.)

    Heck, where I live, if I’m five minutes late walking out the door, it could mean the difference between breezing through the lights and having to sit through three just to make a turn.

    That’s just some simple, everyday issues that come with having one kid. I can’t image people with more than one, or who have a particularly sick child. We’re lucky; Sarah has not been sick that much, but I can’t exactly plan when she’s going to catch something. I mean, I would LOVE 24 hours notice, but unfortunately God did not see fit to give me a child with a warning light. I’m considering asking for a refund.

    I wonder what happens in this office if you’re a minute late coming back from lunch. Or what happens if you need to leave five minutes early to make an after-work appointment?

    My office is fairly rigid and I think this OP works in a pretty awful place. I don’t think I’d last either. I could get that many points in a fairly short period of time with all the best intentions to show up on time.

    1. Jamie*

      This. Now the OP’s employer with the point system will drive out the slackers who routinely come in late/leave early and take long lunches. That’s great – but the cost is it would also drive out people like Kelly who don’t need to be monitored to the minute.

      In my case I don’t have set hours per se. I routinely start any time between 7:30 and 8:30 am. If someone started giving me demerits if I was one minute late, you bet I would be darn sure I wouldn’t be one minute late clocking out.

      A system like that would make many people a lot less generous with their unpaid OT and working through lunch.

      It may not apply, but I’m curious if the OP’s employer holds themselves to the same standard. Do you get 24 hours notice if you have to work OT?

      And I didn’t understand how points are taken off – do you do this by working extra? And for the sake of discussion does this point system apply to both exempt and hourly personnel?

      1. jmkenrick*

        That’s a great point. I often stay a little late to finish things up, but with this kind of set-up, I would probably just clock out as soon as I could. And you can bet that I wouldn’t be checking my e-mail on weekends or after-hours.

      2. Anon in the UK*

        I go to work by train, and a few times a year there will be disruption for signal failure, trespass, broken-down train, fatality, etc. With my employers, I can phone up and explain the situation (which they could easily check on the local news if they had any doubts about me), then take a shorter lunch or something.

        This kind of thing? On hearing the travel news just after waking up , I’d already know I was going to be late, so I might as well just go back to bed.

    2. Joy*

      Kelly, I don’t want to be too harsh, but if you frequently have these things pop up while attempting to get to work, you may need to start your routine a few minutes earlier. Having children does make it more difficult to get anywhere on time, so it’s your responsibility to give yourself enough time. It’s one of those blessings that comes with parenthood.

      1. Kelly O*

        Joy, just to clarify, it’s not frequently, but it’s those things that happen. I’m also not willing to drop my daughter off at an ungodly hour at daycare “just in case” – we have a perfectly reasonable time for leaving.

        It also doesn’t help with mornings that she may be sick. I can sometimes get her in to see the doctor early on those days. In this system I would have no flexibility to work extra time to make up for that, and would have very little incentive to come in and finish the day (other than my own personal work ethic.)

        I just wish employers focused more on results and less on what appear to be rules for rules’ sake. I’m a very substantial proponent of just telling someone if they’re having an issue. I’m sure at some point, this office had someone who was late consistently and this was decided upon as a way to “fix” the problem, rather than just dealing with the person or people who were late.

  9. Jamie*

    When it comes to hours I’m usually in favor of enforcing policy. Only because I’ve seen too many times five minutes late once in a while turn into 15-20 minutes late a couple of times a week for certain people.

    However, without exception, every one of the employees I’ve seen take advantage of lenient attendance/tardy policies have always been problems in other areas. Fwiw.

    But, taking the letter at face value, this is ridiculous on two fronts. One, if I have a death in the family and you give me a “point” – I want out on principle because you can’t even pretend to treat me like a human being (as opposed to a work machine) even in the extreme scenarios.

    Secondly, as has been mentioned – it’s just bad business because it’s treating non-issues (one minute late, etc.) the same as it treats the very real business problem of tardiness/absenteeism.

    It’s actually the lack of logic which bothers me the most. If my co-worker starts feeling crummy Monday afternoon and has the full blown flu by the next morning, I sure don’t want her coming in just to avoid a point because her germs weren’t organized enough to give her 24 hours notice.

    I love rules, but you can’t forget that employees are still human beings – as inconvenient as that may be.

    1. Adam V*

      > without exception, every one of the employees I’ve seen take advantage of lenient attendance/tardy policies have always been problems in other areas

      Jamie – that’s actually perfect; you can use “takes advantage of lenient policies” as an easy way to determine whether or not someone requires closer scrutiny, and you actually use “fails to complete required goals” as the reason for sanctions / termination. The employees who only have occasional problems are less anxious about being late, and the chronic ones eventually find their way out the door (or shape up).

      1. Katie*

        Granted, this really depends on what field you work in and whether the job someone is doing is time sensitive, BUT. In my opinion, a person’s ability to adhere to an attendance policy and a person’s ability to do their job are two very different things. If I have an otherwise stellar employee who shows up 10 minutes late every day–and their lateness in no way impacts our customers or their general productivity–I’m not going to hassle them over their failure to comply with the attendance policy. (I’ve actually had an employee who was like this, so for me, this isn’t just a hypothetical situation.) Unless their ability to adhere to the attendance policy in some tangible way impacts their job performance, it’s a metric that doesn’t really tell me anything about their actual job performance.

        If the problem is, in general, that a person isn’t a very conscientious employee and has a poor work ethic, then that problem is going to show up in other areas. In which case, there should be plenty of other metrics to gauge their poor performance, and their attendance will be irrelevant.

        It bothers me how often attendance is treated as some all-important thing, when usually, the actual concern is productivity. There are far better ways to measure a person’s productivity than using an attendance policy, because an attendance policy only tells you when you have a body occupying a work space–not the quality or quantity of work that body is doing. Furthermore, if you want to boost a person’s productivity, forcing them to follow a strict attendance policy is not going to help you achieve that goal. Unless the job is time sensitive, attendance really doesn’t matter, and there are better ways to get what you want–high quality work in high volumes, with happy clients–than breathing down people’s necks over whether they give 24 hour notice before any absence or show up a few minutes late.

        1. Katya*

          I agree. I have to admit I’m the employee who is often as much as 10 minutes late. But I don’t think this drags down my benefit as an employee. It’s a real team environment though – retail – and I stay late when applicable, help out when I’m not scheduled to be working, etc. I’ve been at the same place off and on seven years and they have taken me back several times so I have to think that they’re not super bothered by it either. I have also worked in two places where we had a time clock; one of them just used it to caluculate pay and didn’t monitor it, but one of them – a coffee shop – was incredibly rigid about it, with some kind of point-based system, and the manager would call you on your cell phone at 3:01 if you were supposed to be there at 3 and weren’t. It (among other things) drove me crazy and I was only there six weeks. I just know that I’m not the kind of person who’s suited for that sort of rigidity, which might be appropriate in some cases (the manufacturing example below), but isn’t in others.
          I do really hate that I am late all the time, know it’s bad for my employers and am constantly trying to work on it.

  10. AJ*

    I’m kind of interested as to what an ideal policy would look like. Do any of you (AAM included) have any examples of a good attendance policy (please don’t say that not having one is ideal, lol)? I’ve worked with some pretty obscure attendance policies before and I’m not sure if I’ve seen one that employees didn’t roll their eyes at.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve always managed in environments where the nature of the work didn’t require rigidity in this area, so I’ve always said, “We expect you to be here reliably and on time. On the rare occasions that you can’t be on time, if you’re going to be more than half an hour late, please let your manager know.” And then if someone is not reliable, their manager (who might or might not be me) would address that with them individually.

      For a position where even just 5 minutes could really matter, like a receptionist, I’ve handled it differently — explaining that the nature of the job makes prompt arrival essential, that we need warning ahead of time if she’s going to be even a little late so that someone can cover for her, etc.

    2. Joey*

      AJ, there’s no generic ideal policy. It’s all about the culture you want to set and what the operations require. Rigid policies can be good in a number of environments like manufacturing where if one person is a minute late it’s a huge deal. Other environments are more flexible and need you to be there during core hours. And others have even more flexibility where only results matter and hours don’t matter at all.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes! It’s about knowing your culture and what the real needs of your business are. (Netflix, for instance, doesn’t have an attendance policy at all — something that obviously wouldn’t work at a lot of other places, but works for them.)

        1. nyxalinth*

          I think that’s because they are very fire-happy in other areas, and they had to have some slack somewhere. :D

          But seriously, the only time I have dealt with such a strict attendance policy is in call centers. In my current one, they have a slightly more relaxed attitude, and understand that “Poo happens”. Even in my training class, when one co-worker couldn’t even begin to get to work because of a big snowstorm and another dealt with a flooded basement, the attitude was “Come in when you can, catch up, life goes on.” Normally missing a day for anything in training means the end of your job.

          Of course they want us to be there and on time, but they know life isn’t perfect and they ask us to use our sick time wisely and do our best to get in on time and ready for calls. Compared to most Draconian call centers, this place is laid back, relaxed, and very compassionate.

      2. Joey*

        Let me add that there are always going to be employees who are going to complain about any attendance policy because they falsely believe that having legitimate excuses for an attendance problem is acceptable.

        1. Mike C.*

          That’s not a false belief. How can you say, “Oh you were hit by a car on your way to work, and you’re in the hospital? Too bad, that’s not acceptable”?

          1. Anonymous*

            I don’t think that’s what he meant by “attendance problem”–but an alarm malfunction one day, a broken cereal bowl another day, a flat tire another day, all in the same week (or even month) would probably qualify. the point is that having an excuse isn’t enough to make an absence “okay” (although for positions where punctuality isn’t related to the work the employee does, I doubt you’re going to get too het up about their attendance unless there are other performance issues at play.)

              1. Joey*

                You would think its an easy concept, but some people have figured out the more excuses you have the more they stop mattering.

    3. Freida*

      The attendance policy at my new company is great! You can arrive any time between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., as long as you then work an 8 hour day (except for the few people who have time-sensitive jobs, like the receptionist). My boss has even said that if you come in at 10:30 on occasion it’s not a big deal, because delays happen. But this is great not just because it accepts that delays happen, but also just because some people might prefer to work from 8-4 and others might work better from 10-6, and if it doesn’t matter which 8 hours you’re working then why not let people work when they are at their best?

      Of course, if it seems like you are abusing the policy and/or not getting your work done, your manager will talk to you, and if after that it continues to be a problem you can be fired. I haven’t been here that long, but my managers at least seem to be effective, reasonable people so the policy works quite well. But the company seems to have an overall attitude of just treating their employees like adults, and if you can’t act like an adult then you’re out of there, rather than treat everyone like children just because a few people can’t get their act together.

  11. De Minimis*

    It would be pretty easy for someone with children and/or elderly parents to use up their points pretty quickly, and that’s not even counting things like weather, and traffic problems. It’s pretty common these days for people to have to balance childcare and eldercare issues along with work.

  12. Esra*

    I would hate to work there and rely on public transit. You’d have to show up almost 30-60 minutes early every day to account for possible delays.

  13. KayDay*

    I think the ultimate reasoning behind the policy was that people who were chronically late would be penalized (they would reach 10 points quickly) and people who were only late very occasionally would get just a few points and it wouldn’t matter. But for all the many, many, many reasons listed above, this policy is a really god-awful way to accomplish that goal.

    It sort of reminds me about what happened when my uncle died. My cousin had to bring in the signed (by the priest) funeral program from her own father’s funeral! Apparently, the company had some problems with people abusing the bereavement policy, but that was a bit over the top.

    1. Kat*

      I’ve actually worked at a place that required a copy of the death certificate, or it was considered an unexcused absence. I’m sorry, but if I have just had a family member die, the last thing I want to do it go get a copy of the certificate from the corner or whoever to prove it to my workplace!

      1. KayDay*

        Wow…In that case, I might be tempted to wheel in Dear Uncle Bob, pre-embalming, and have him tell my manager “personally” that he died and I will need to miss work for his funeral. But I’m kinda morbid like that and my Uncle Bob had good sense of humor.

      2. fposte*

        Though to be honest, if you have a family member die, you’re going to want to get several death certificates anyway, so it’s not like otherwise you wouldn’t bother to get one.

        1. class factotum*

          My dad and my two grandmothers have all died in the past 15 years. I attended their funerals, but have never gotten a copy of their death certs. Why on earth would I need one? I’m not the one settling the estate.

          1. fposte*

            Really? Wow, I needed DCs for everything when my dad died last year. Some places would at least accept a copy, or make a copy and send the original back.

        2. Jamie*

          Exactly. And while it may sound morbid, every company I’ve ever worked for has this policy.

          It sucks that it’s necessary, but otherwise it does get abused. Companies that give 3 days paid leave for bereavement which includes immediate family up to grandparents and inlaws could have people with a lot of fictional “relatives” dying to get some paid time off.

          Prove all four of my grandparents and both parents died years ago. That would be 18 days off with pay if I were unethical.

          If people didn’t routinely game the system then these kinds of policies wouldn’t be necessary.

          1. Natalie*

            I work at a place that just loves rules, but oddly they don’t require proof of a death to take bereavement leave. They also don’t specify which family members “count” for bereavement, which I prefer because I think I would want to take time off if a friend died, too. And due to divorce and remarriage, I have 10 grandparents.

            I suppose they might start asking for death certificates from someone who was abusing the leave, but I’ve missed work for 3 funerals in the 3 years I’ve been there and never been asked for any sort of proof.

          2. KellyK*

            I think you would have to have a *lot* of people taking advantage of that policy to make it worth requiring a death certificate. Generally, if someone is that dishonest, they’re pulling multiple fast ones in other areas, which will eventually catch up to them. It’s also a slap in the face to people who aren’t gaming the system, and it makes them more likely to leave. Maybe not all by itself, but if you were considering looking anyway, and you just got asked to prove that your mom really died of cancer, it could certainly be a tipping point.

            So any reasonable cost-benefit analysis of something like that has to determine whether severely demoralizing at least a few employees, creating an overall “We don’t trust you and see you as naughty children who must be monitored” culture, and potentially losing an employee here and there is worth not paying for a few days’ bereavement leave for someone who is probably scamming the company in other ways.

            Also, if you’re suspicious for any reason, you can do some checking on your own without asking everyone for a death certificate. For example, when my grandfather died a couple years ago, the obituary was online and my boss posted condolences from the office in the comments section (which I thought was a very nice gesture). I’m not sure how she even found it, since I didn’t provide them with his name, and we don’t have the same last name. But, without necessarily intending to “check up” on me, she did get independent verification that I was using my bereavement leave legitimately.

            Before asking for a piece of paperwork (that isn’t free, I don’t think) from someone who’s grieving, why not just check when and if it looks suspicious? And obviously, fire anyone who makes up a family member’s death in order to get a day off.

    2. Another Anon*

      I worked with a young woman whose beloved stepfather died. She took a day off for the funeral. The next morning corporate HR called and said, “bring a copy of the obituary or you’re fired.” No “sorry about your loss” or anything. She’d been pretty sad before but after the call she freaked out. She cried hysterically for most of the day. That didn’t do much for anyone’s productivity. And the thing is, she hadn’t done anything wrong and she didn’t have a pattern of poor behavior. Our HR rep arguably did.

  14. Anonymous*

    The thing here that I see is that this draconian system effectively makes managers irrelevant. You could replace them all with trained monkeys that stare at a clock all day and if someone clocks in late they go “oooo ooo aaa aaa” *punches an add-1-point big-red-button*. More seriously, they could replace them with an automated system, because computers are very good at adhering to draconian rules (also known as “code”).

    My point is that if you have thinking humans as managers you don’t NEED a system this draconian, since if the manager is any good she’ll know when discipline is required. If they DON’T, the answer is to get better managers, not a more draconian system.

      1. Joy*

        Joey, I’ve agreed with all your points. I’m thinking maybe punctuality is more important to business in our industries than it is in some of the other posters’…Where I work punctuality is critical, and employees ALWAYS have ‘legitimate excuses’. If one person’s dead battery is excused than everyone’s dead battery is excused. Multiply that by the hundreds of other legitimate excuses and the number of employees working in the department and you can see how things could quickly get out of hand! I no longer accept excuses for tardiness. My staff are allowed to be tardy x amount of times before it becomes an issue for them. As long as they are only tardy when there really is a problem in their life, they should be fine. If tardiness is a way of life for them and their battery dying happens to be the tardy that pushes them over the mark, I am not going to feel too bad calling them into my office.

  15. quix*

    We’ve got the same system at my job, except the firing limit is 5 points and pre-approval doesn’t matter. Any absence gets a point. There’s a suspicion that it’s a way to fire people under contract.

    It’s a union job, which means we’re some of the lucky few to actually have contracts which protect our jobs and working conditions. However, there’s a clause in the latest contract that lets new workers be hired at a lower pay than existing workers.

    It’s the same new contract that has the draconian attendance policy which pretty much guarantees that people will eventually accrue enough points to justify firing.

    My manager is a good guy and tries to shield us as much as he can, but he’s sticking his neck out every time he tries to. It’s a lousy situation.

  16. anon-2*

    Yeah I worked at a place like that once. It was weird.

    Now, managers might pride themselves on their toughness. What it results in, is that people won’t go the “extra mile” when it’s required.

    One of the reasons the labor movement took off and flourished in this country in the 20th century is because of nit-picking like this.

    And, at one point in time, at the “weird” place, since we were running under that scrutiny anyway – we thought we might just unionize because, hey, they were going to use any excuse to dock pay, slam bonuses, pick your pocket, and so forth.

    The bottom line is = micromanaging ends up costing you more than you’d gain. In a micromanaged environment, you can only get 100 percent out of anyone — if you’re lucky.

    In a non-micromanged environment, you’ll get more — if you have the right people.

    Good managers get results through respect, or as the manager at the weird place I worked called it, “respeck”. Like Rodney Dangerfield, he wondered why he didn’t get any “respeck”.

    That’s because he was a bad manager. Bad managers can only motivate with fear. And not for long.

    1. Anonymous*

      Excellent point. Machiavelli said that ideally you should be feared AND loved, but if you can’t, fear is better than love for controlling people, and it’s true. But he also said that above all else you need to avoid being HATED; so the rules need to be tough, not draconian.

      Reason being, if you make your underlings HATE you enough, then it’s just a matter of time before their hatred of you supersedes their fear of you. At that point you could end up with workplace sabotage, or other such unpleasantness. At the very least, you get very high turnover.

    2. Joey*

      Funny you say that. Every labor organization I’ve ever dealt with prefers an attendance policy that leaves decreases subjectivity as much as possible. They want how to get fired spelled out so employees know exactly what to expect.

      1. Mike C.*

        What’s wrong with clear standards for firing? Just up the thread you talked about how much you like rigorous systems that prevent managers from having wildly different ideas about how to manage issues that come up in the work place.

        Also, don’t clear rules for firing protect an employer from discrimination or unlawful termination claims? Sounds like a win-win to me.

        1. Joey*

          If you keep reading my comments you’ll see that I don’t necessarily subscribe to a particular type of attendance system. I lean towards letting managers you know manage, but there are situations where rigidity is necessary because of the nature of the work.

          By the way nothing protects you from a discrimination or unlawful term claim more than managers that know what they’re doing. The big problem with spelled out rules is that there’s little to no flexibility. And there’s eventually going to be a situation where you need some flexibility.

  17. Anonymous*

    If this was the case, one of my colleagues would be gone within 10 minutes due to the 1 point for being late rule because she’s late more than 10 minutes every time (for shift work in a retail setting)!

  18. OP*

    I am the OP of this. Thanks for all your comments.

    I think the bottom line is they need to manage people not just use a policy to hide behind.

    People will always try to abuse attendance policies. They will evententually screw themselves. The company needs to decipher the difference between the consistant caller in’ers and late person and the few time “offenders.”

    They would rather get NO work and assess a point than work with someone and get mostly likely a 7-8 hour day? So what is really the gain? The company stuck to its policy alright, but 100 claims were not processed as the work just sit until you get back. Yeah right…that makes sense.

    It does not matter as much how many points you get before termination. It matters what they are for. 1 family member who dies in the middle of the day or 3, ice storm or school closing. There has to be some gray area.

    Thanks again. great comments !!

    1. OP*

      One more thing… one poster talked about that extra mile and is right.
      It used to be I would do things for work ( other jobs ) on my off days if needed come in early stay late. Saturdays and Sundays. No problem.

      Now? I won’t give my place a min of my time. Even look at the work on my desk, until I punch in. I will get a 1/2 point for 1 min late from lunch, even if it was once a year? They get nothing from me. I know, bad attitude from me.

      1. KellyK*

        I don’t think that’s a bad attitude so much as a sense of fairness. A company that won’t give you flexibility doesn’t deserve flexibility from you.

  19. Cassie*

    Wow, I would really hate working in a place like that. I’ve pretty much always worked for technical folks who are not so concerned with hours (which is great because I can’t control public transportation, as much as I’d like to). Plus, they would start their work day later than me so they wouldn’t know whether I was on time or not (university setting, no time clocks).

    But the bottom line is that it’s the performance that matters (and that should matter), not physical presence. When my boss calls me on Saturday afternoon because he forgot that he needed slides for a presentation on Sunday, I’ll get him the data he needs.

    Obviously, it does depend on the job – if you’re handling the cash register, you have to be there. But if that’s not the case, and you are going to track my every minute, I’ll be out the door right on the dot and too bad if you need last minute assistance at night or over the weekend.

  20. Org Poster*

    Just a little more info on my company:
    You wondered about other interesting policies or how they handle other areas.

    We are not allowed to ask co-workers for help. So if you have been doing the job for 3 years, a new person is not allowed to ask you nor are you allowed to help. I got an email when I first started telling me that if I did ask and got the wrong answer I would get an error mark. ( they are into error marks, no training to help you not get the marks, just documenting the error.) And nothing like trusting your long term employees huh ?

    At one point, not sure if this is still the way it works, we were assigned days and even times to ask questions. So if you had a question on an account on Tuesday and your assigned day was Thursday you had to wait until Thursday to E-mail the questions. When you’d get an answer was anyone’s guess.

    We were actually told in a meeting that we can expect to wait up to 20 days to get answer. Yes 20 ( twenty days ) and if we did not get an answer, we’d have to email them again.
    Asking questions is a pain in the…… why bother? It was not like there was not any more accounts to work.. only thousands…

    A supervisor actually looked at the time on the computer when asked a question to make sure the employee was asking it at the right time.

    They are micro-managers and obviously that is a bad thing but they are micro-ing in the wrong places. Proving how tough they are by assessing attendance points for stupid reasons and making you wait to ask questions and get answers is just ridiculous.

    I do have some degree of intellegence and I can’t for the life of me figure out what their real goals are.

    We all have gotten to the point ( no pun intended… LOL ) that we know how to work the place. Do your work the best you can, who cares if stuff doesn’t get done and most importantly, don’t ask questions and don’t be late.

    1. Joanna Reichert*

      You’re tougher than I am. I would have run out screaming, yanking my hair, after a week of this garbage.

      Good luck to you regardless – ask Santa for a new job! ; )

      1. Org pster*

        If you have not figured out their turnaround is very high.

        We got new HR last spring and one of the goals is to retain employees. She had several meeting’s with all of us, asking us what the issues were.

        Me and my rather bold I am sick of this crap attitude was not shy at all about stating what I thought were the issue’s. Didn’t care. I was not tactless simply honest.

        I am looking for other employment closer to home and it tough but at least I am trying.

  21. Anonymous*

    wow, I own a fast food restaurant and you have to be strict. The kids say they’re sick then their friends tell you they went to a party. You can’t run a business these days without a strict attendance policy. I have a business to run and need my employees to show up otherwise everyone suffers. The good workers should like the strict policy because they are always picking up the slack for the no showers. A lot of the kids want a job but once they get it they think they should be able to pick their hours and show up when they feel like it…this is a sad truth!

  22. Org poster*

    I understand your point but we are not ” kids ” and the business is not dependent on me being at work at exactly 8. If I am min late during a ice storm nothing will happen. No one picks up my ” slack” as there is no slack to pick up. I can stay an exra min for that time I was late.
    An attendance policy should depends on your type of business. Most employees where I work can do the job from 6 am to 7 pm with the output of the work having no ill effects if someone punched at 7:15 AM or 8:23 am. The company is a sit down work on your accounts job.

    I am not advocating people coming and going as they please by any means. But the company has to pick their fights better. This policy is nothing but control. It has no bearing on the work.

    This place has lost 43 people in 5 months, not including the people the have fired. They need to look at bigger fish to fry like why people can’t stand the place rather than if someone is a min late here and there.

    1. Org poster*

      Just to put things into presepctive on staff, the staff list sits around 155. Over the year and a half I have been there, more than 125 people have come and gone. Fired, quit, walked out. The list when I started was much less. So forthe amount of staff that has been added, at least half are gone.

  23. Anonymous*

    The company I work for has a points system as well which is as follows:
    -.25: 6-15mins
    -.50: 16mins-2hrs
    -.75: more than 2hrs but less than 4hrs
    -1: more than 4hrs
    -1.5: entire day
    -9: no call no show

    I’m not sure if the no call no show of -9 points is accurate still because shortly after I was hired the max of -10 points was changed to -8 and instead of 6 sick days we now only get 5. The reasons the company gave for this were of course to better the company and not for the employees benefit. The points are on a rolling calendar year so if you earned a point today, that point would drop off on the same date the next year. This means the points do not reset at the beginning of the year, so you have to carry past mistakes and/or emergencies that caused you to gain those points for a whole year.

    If you have 1 month of perfect attendance than you can get 1.5 points taken off. We do get a 5min grace period for clocking in since we have to clock in through our computer. However, if you are unable to clock in on time and don’t want the points for it, perhaps you were legitamately on time, then you have to send an e-mail. They will check your badge swipe into the building and if your badge swipe is not at or before your start time they will consider you late and not take away the points. But your badge swipe can be after your start time but if you clock in within the 5min grace period you are not considered late.

    You can use your sick time if you are late or have to leave early unexpectedly and not get points. This still counts towards your month of perfect attendance so even if you use sick time for being late to avoid points you will not be considered as having perfect attendance for that month and will not get the 1.5 points taken off. Also, to be able to use sick time to account for being late, you have to be at least 30mins late. And when work is slow and we are sent home due to no work, they take it out of our PTO!

    Most of our productivity is tracked in the database we work out of. However, if we get up to get something from the printer we have to change our “status” on the clock in system. Same if we have to go to the bathroom or even get coffee and it’s not a scheduled break time. My company claims we are a call center but we’re really not. Some people are inbound taking calls but not everyone. Most people make outbound calls (and not it’s not telemarketing). I am not on the phone at all! So I think it’s quite ridiculous that I can’t just go to the bathroom if need be or get a quick cup of coffee! In fact I usually try not to so that I don’t have to get up from my desk and break focus! I doubt upper management or HR has to do this…

    Occasionally a scolding e-mail gets sent out to the entire company reminding us of these things… then I get all paranoid that if I make one mistake that they will be harping on me!

    1. Rob Bird*

      Who has that much time to be sitting around checking badge swipes? It sounds like someone found an Excel Spreadsheet and needed a reason to use it.

  24. jbeeler*

    this sounds like an extremely reasonable policy compared to my wifes job. She can never be absent. First time she ever misses,or is late for any reason whatsoever,no matter how much an emergency it is…she’s fired. It doesn’t matter how much notice is given,or anything. Trust me,your employer could be so much more strict if they wanted to be.

  25. Rob Bird*

    I had a job where we got a new supervisor. She was a mirco manager and wanted us to keep track, in Excel, of our time during the day. This was to be done in 15 minute intervals. So at 8:15, I would have to put in what I did the previous 15 minutes. At 8:30, the same thing.

    We submitted these every payday, so the first time we submitted them every 15 minute time slot said the same thing; “Filled out stupid time tracking thingy”. Needless to say, it didn’t go over well. So then I cut/pasted my position description in the box for every 15 minute interval. The second time I submitted it, it ended up being 224 pages long.

    I don’t work there any longer :)

    1. roy*

      was it by your choice or did you get terminated over the 244 pages.

      Some managers think their crap doesn’t stink, but I’d be curious to know how many comp days they take so they don’t have to worry about attendance policies

  26. roy*

    Where I work they have a simular attendanc e policy except they’ll let you get to 14 points before they fire you. Being late doesn’t give you a point, but you will get written up even for as little as 1 minute. Someone said something about puking on the manager’s desk, that’s about it or puke on a patient of if you’re driving you could pass out at the wheel and kill lots of people. While attendance policies are needed, I understand that, attendance policies can’t see what the problem is and the people that enforce the policies rarely if ever do the work the policy was made for.
    If you’re a cop, I certainly don’t want you showing up for work taking cold medicine, both for your safety and mine, or an airline pilot feeling he/she has to work to keep their job on pain medication due to a sprained ankle etc.
    It might be ok to show up in the personnel office under those conditions, but in other jobs it’s not.
    Attendance policies were made to keep the chronic abuser at work, but the attendance policy and enforcer don’t seem to see the difference.
    In other words, punish the abusers, and not the persons that are actually sick or injured.

    1. Susie*

      Company I work for has a point system. You Are allowed 14 points in a year anything after that you get a verbal miss again and you get written up. I was hospitalized and now I’m going to be written up and the points won’t drop off for a whole year. This means I can’t transfer to a closer store. Is this really legal is there any other steps I can take. I am still off work due to doctors orders. I have not been there a year So I cannot use FMLA. Is there any other steps I could take really wanting to transfer.

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