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Poor Attendance

Q. Can I fire an employee for a poor work attendance record and still avoid paying unemployment?

A. Let's say you have an employee with a work attendance record which looks something like this, for the past 12 months:

  • Called in sick at least once a week, usually on a Monday or Friday.

  • Left work for illness on 12 other days.

  • Missed work on two days because of a car breakdown.

  • Missed work five other days because he or she was unable to get a babysitter.

Simply firing the employee for excessive absence from work will not keep the person from drawing unemployment on your account.

How do you handle this type of situation to prevent abuse and terminate the employee if abuse continues?

To help prevent abuse: Have work attendance rules in writing so employees know them. Begin disciplinary measures immediately when absences begin. But to prevent the employee from drawing unemployment, once he or she is terminated you must be able to prove the poor work attendance record was willful. In the example above, the employee could argue the repeated absences were beyond his or her control. Therefore, they were not willful.

Strategy: Meet with the employee. Tell the individual briefly, clearly, and to the point what the attendance and approved absence requirements are for continued employment. Tell the employee if these requirements are not met -- beginning immediately -- he or she will be terminated.

Then monitor the employee's work attendance closely. At the first instance of an unexcused absence for which the employee has no justifiable excuse, terminate the individual. At any fact-finding interviews or hearings which might follow, limit your justification for termination to the immediate instance which caused the termination. Do not recite a long history of absences which the employee could argue were beyond his or her control.

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