Absenteeism is a significant issue in Canadian workplaces. Although the following stats are a few years old, they’ll provide some context into the size of the problem for Canadian employers. In 2012, workplace absenteeism cost the Canadian economy $16.6 billion. In 2011, the average number of days absent per full-time employee was 9.3 – of this, the public sector rate was 12.9 days, while the private sector rate was 8.2 days. As well, the absenteeism rate for unionized employees was 13.2 days, while that of non-unionized employees was 7.5 days (The Conference Board of Canada). While most absences are valid, there are also instances of individuals choosing not to go to work for non-valid reasons. As such, there is what is known as innocent absenteeism and culpable (non-innocent) absenteeism. Innocent absenteeism is when an employee is unable to attend work due to circumstances beyond their control. For example, the employee may have the flu or they may be the primary caregiver for an elderly parent (and an issue may arise whereby the parent cannot be left alone). Culpable absenteeism is when an employee fails to attend work without a reasonable explanation. An example of culpable absenteeism is when an employee calls into work sick, but in actuality is not ill and is choosing to stay home in order to build their deck. In other words, the employee ought to have known better than to be absent from work for this purpose.

One way for employers to address workplace absenteeism is by implementing an Attendance Management policy. A policy will provide clear direction for both managers and employees when it comes to absenteeism.

Depending on the particular situation, potential solutions to absenteeism include:

• Modified work
An individual may be missing work due to a chronic health issue. For example, an employee with a shoulder injury may miss work on days following heaving lifting on the job. The employer may have the ability to accommodate the employee so that they do not have to do heavy lifting that will have an adverse effect on their shoulder. In this situation, the employee would be provided with alternate tasks that do not involve heavy lifting. The likely result will be more regular work attendance.

• Flexible work arrangement
A worker may be constantly showing up late for work because they need to assist their child in meeting the school bus in the morning. Potentially, the employer will be able to accommodate a flexible work schedule which will allow the employee to meet their family obligations and also to make it to work on time. For example, instead of working 8:00 am – 4:00 pm, it may be more ideal for the individual to work from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm.

• Addiction assistance
The employee may disclose that they are missing work due to an alcohol or drug addiction. The employer can work with the individual to get them the assistance that they require – for example, access to counselling services – to hopefully overcome their addiction.

• Discipline
It may be determined that an individual is misusing sick time in order to stay home and play video games. This is culpable behaviour, and needs to be addressed in a disciplinary manner.

Absenteeism is an issue that many employers grapple with. Having a clear Attendance Management policy will ideally assist employees in attending work on a regular basis. When meeting with employees, managers should go into the initial conversation assuming that the absenteeism is non-culpable. (However, further investigating may prove otherwise). As well, it is useful to show employees a visual of days absent or late. For example, a colour-coded calendar is beneficial in these situations.

Overall, healthy employees will likely be happier employees, which creates a win-win for everyone. Of course, absenteeism will also be reduced if employees feel engaged in their work – this topic will be explored in an upcoming post!

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