Addressing Employee Attendance Issues

Build Your Business

Author: Dan Stout | July 31, 2023

Unexcused absences are a headache for any employer. In a trade like roofing, where employees are reliant on their coworkers for safety and workflow, having a worker not show up when and where they're expected can set back an entire project.

Construction workers wearing masks, hard hats, and ear protection wait in line for instructions
Educate new hires on the impact of absences, from sick days to zero-notice personal days.

If you're concerned about addressing employee attendance issues, here are five tips to get you moving in the right direction.

Measure Twice: Counting Absences

Before you react too strongly to your employee absences, check to see how it compares with the rest of the industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the standard annual rate for absenteeism in the construction industry is 2.5%.

To find your absenteeism rate, count up the number of absences that weren't from vacations, personal days or holidays, then divide by the total possible workdays. For example, if a worker calls in sick five times in a year with two-hundred sixty-two working days, that's 5 ÷ 262, which equals an absentee rate of 1.9%.

Educate Employees

An employer's goal shouldn't be to eliminate all absences. Especially in the age of COVID-19, with many families struggling with homeschooling, sickness and uncertainty, there are many valid reasons why an employee might have to call out unexpectedly. And you absolutely don't want workers on-site when they're contagious.

The real issue are zero-notice absences that leave crews short-handed. Educate new hires on the impact of absences, and task the crew lead (whether that's you or another employee) with reinforcing the importance of communicating any potentially missed days as soon as possible. Not properly preparing new hires for standards like these is a common failure point for small businesses.

Employee education is much easier with a written attendance policy, although writing it can be a daunting task. Your policy should cover everything from illness and personal days to tardiness and military leave, all while complying with federal, state and local laws. Consider hiring an HR consultant or a payroll service that can provide employee handbooks. Think of this added cost like bringing in a subcontractor for a specialty roofing job: The money you spend will pay off in long-lasting, quality work that you could not have accomplished yourself.

Disciplinary Actions and Rewards

Having written policies is only effective if you enforce them consistently. On a small team such as a roofing crew, any unexplained absence will be noticed, and your response will send a clear message to the rest of the employees.

When addressing employee attendance issues through discipline, be clear about what policy has been broken and what the consequences are. Disciplinary actions most often involve documenting the missed time and earning a certain number of "strikes" toward dismissal. Avoid punishments such as docked wages, lost benefits or assigning unpleasant tasks. These can drag you into murky legal waters and create workforce resentment. That said, decisions about raises or promotions can and should be influenced by documented attendance issues.

Besides establishing consequences for absences, reward the employees who do show up every day. Some roofers offer cash bonuses, but a gift card or company-branded work clothes might also be appreciated. Only you know the best motivators for your workers.

Paperwork Matters

Chances are you don't like paperwork. After all, there's a reason you're a roofer and not a file clerk. But, if you're ever accused of unlawful termination or discipline, paperwork can save you in time and legal fees (and even more paperwork).

Remember that your attendance policy and actions must comply with federal laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as any state, county or city regulations. If you have specific questions, talk to other contractors to find an HR pro who understands the roofing industry.

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