A New Outlook on Attendance Policies

April 07, 2021
Inside HR
Time Away From Work
Read time: 3 mins

In 2020, many employers put attendance policies on hold or adjusted them to be more lenient toward COVID-19 absences. With the introduction of new vaccines, an increased familiarity with safety measures, and a reported drop in COVID-19 cases, employers are wondering if it’s time to transition back to their original attendance policy.

Consider the following options as you explore how to move forward:

  1. Permanent adoption of your modified attendance policy. Although the number of COVID-19 cases may be decreasing and vaccines are available, not everyone is on board with getting vaccinated and new strains are spreading. In addition, voluntary federal paid leave for covered employers will sunset on September 30, 2021. As a result, companies may choose to “let it ride” and make COVID-19-related absences a permanent exception to their policy.


  1. Revert back to your regular attendance policy. Some employers may be struggling to manage attendance issues and suspect abuse. If you are ready to reinstate your original policy, communication will be key. Consider and communicate what will happen to attendance violations currently on record. Will you wipe them clean and start fresh? Or will you continue to add to what exists? If you have an expiration date on attendance infractions, review how that may negatively impact some or potentially play in favor of others.


  1. Start fresh with a brand new attendance policy. If your company has adopted other pandemic policies and procedures, you may want to draw attention to your attendance policy and make updates based on current reality. If so, consider the policy design and how you will transition to the new practice. If your organization has transitioned to a remote workforce or adopted a new flexible schedule model, these transitions may warrant a new attendance policy.


Word of Caution….It remains to be seen how the courts will decide on wrongful termination claims resulting from COVID-19-related absences. It is plausible that the courts may decide that employees who test positive for COVID-19 and are FMLA eligible will be protected by classic FMLA. Therefore, covered employers are encouraged to refrain from taking adverse action against employees who are COVID-19 positive and designate time as FMLA protected to minimize risk.

Regardless of which option you choose, don’t forget to consider “best practices” that still apply when implementing a new policy. Include key stakeholders in the planning process. Input from those who administer the policy is crucial to the success of the plan you choose and for the understanding of all employees.

Policies should continue to accommodate protected leaves of absence, such as military, ADA, and FMLA. Once your plan is finalized, determine an implementation date. Clearly communicate your plan with enough advance notice so employees have time to review and ask questions before the effective date.