Terminating an employee for poor attendance (best practices, FAQs)

by Andy Nguyen
Terminating an employee for poor attendance

As a business owner or manager, if an employee starts showing excessive absences and poor performance, you need to address the issue promptly and carefully.

However, if there’s no improvement even after repeated warnings, the only viable option is to let the employee go. 

But should you be terminating an employee for poor attendance?

Would it be called unfair dismissal

In this article, we’ll answer these questions. 

We’ll cover the impact of excessive absenteeism on an organization and the seven things to do before employee termination for poor attendance. And if it comes down to termination, we’ll explore how to go about it properly.  

We’ll also answer some common questions regarding employee termination.

This article contains:

(Click on the links below to jump to specific sections) 

Let’s begin. 

Why should employers address excessive absenteeism?

While some employers take excessive absences more seriously than others, the issue of absenteeism certainly can’t be ignored.

Here’s why: 

  • Financial loss: When you pay employees for work that they’re not doing, it increases the company’s financial burden. Managers may also need to hire and train temporary replacements to cover these absences, which can be expensive. 
  • Productivity loss: To make up for an employee’s absence, you’ll have to reassign their work to coworkers. It increases their workload, which may lead to burnout and productivity loss. 
  • Increased sickness absence: When coworkers are overworked, it can affect them physically and mentally. They may call in sick more often, resulting in absenteeism becoming a perpetual problem. 
  • Reduced morale: When an employer doesn’t take any action on frequent and unscheduled absences of an employee, it leads to resentment in the coworkers and affects their morale
  • Loss of leadership: When employees in leadership positions are absent, they can’t provide direction and feedback to their team members. As a result, employees can feel disconnected, affecting their job performance. 

Clearly, the impact of excessive absences is hard to ignore for any employer. And if an employee constantly violates the attendance norms, it calls for disciplinary action.

However, you must undertake a few steps before proceeding with the termination of employment due to excessive absenteeism.

7 things to do before terminating an employee for poor attendance

Here’re a couple of steps you can take to prevent excessive employee absences:

1. Have an employee attendance policy

An excellent way of preventing termination due to absenteeism is to have a detailed attendance policy in place. 

It should specify what your company considers tardiness and unscheduled absences. Your policy should also cover any applicable state or local attendance laws. For example, if you’re an American employer, it should cover leaves under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) along with the Disabilities Act, Labor law, and any other state law. 

Your absence policy should clearly state that not following the specified rules could lead to an adverse action or even termination. 

You can provide the attendance policy in writing to every employee and include it in your employment contract or employee handbook. It would help if you also had every employee sign a copy acknowledging that they’ve read and understood the policy. 

Moreover, you need to enforce this policy consistently without exceptions to avoid discrimination. 

2. Have clearly defined job descriptions

Another way to prevent excessive employee absences is to have clearly defined job descriptions. 

If a particular job role requires more regular attendance than others, you can specify it as an “essential job function.” 

You can also enforce a separate attendance policy for such job roles, provided that you stay consistent for all employees who fall under the “essential functions” category. 

3. Maintain daily employee attendance records

It’s best to maintain daily attendance records of every employee to avoid visits to an employment tribunal on the grounds of unlawful termination.

This way, you can quickly review the logs of every employee to see who has exceeded the limit of unexcused absences and take necessary disciplinary action

While maintaining records, you should also note down the absence category for different days of work. It could be: 

  • Vacation leave
  • Approved absence 
  • FMLA Leave 
  • Sick leave
  • Unscheduled absence 

Sure, you can use an Excel spreadsheet template to maintain attendance records — but it’s time-consuming, and the files can easily be tampered with. Keeping employment records for a remote or hybrid team can also be tricky. 

Instead, a smarter way of tracking attendance is by using an attendance tracking tool like Time Doctor

Check out how Time Doctor’s automatic attendance tracking and Work Schedules feature make attendance management effortless.

Time Doctor is one of the most popular attendance tracking and performance management software solutions used by major companies, like Verizon and Ericsson, and SMBs, such as Thrive Market.

Here’s how it can make attendance and absence management easier:

  • Interactive time tracking: Tracks time spent by an employee on individual tasks and projects automatically. This is especially helpful when you’re tracking attendance on an hourly basis.
  • Attendance reports: Managers can generate attendance reports to recognize absenteeism and call out any tardy behavior. An employer can also create customized reports to extract specific data like unscheduled absences or sick leaves.
  • Timesheets: Displays the total amount of payable time worked by an employee for a single day, week, or across a range of dates. You can approve timesheets automatically or manually before payroll processing.
  • Work schedules: Lets you manage schedules and shifts for every employee. This way, you can easily monitor which employee was late or absent for a shift.
  • Payroll management: You can customize your payroll for pay periods and currencies. You can also pay employees directly by integrating the app with Gusto, Wise, and PayPal.

Want to know what more you can do with Time Doctor? 

Explore all its features and benefits here.

Here is a list of absence tracking software you may also want to consider for your team.

4. Have a designated point of contact for sick leave approval

While it’s a common employment practice to have an employee’s direct manager approve leaves, it’s better to have a separate point of contact when it comes to sickness absences. 


Direct managers are often unaware of every employment law governing sick leaves. They’re bound to mishandle such requests and land the company in an employment lawsuit. 

Whereas, if you train a designated officer on FMLA law, Disabilities Act, pregnancy accommodations, undue hardship, etc., they can handle such requests as per the employment law and company policy. 

This person can either be from your human resource department or an office manager, essentially anyone who’s not a direct manager. 

5. Implement an early warning system

While you may be tempted to terminate an employee immediately for poor performance, your human resource department should ideally issue warnings first to avoid unfair dismissal. 

Start with verbal counseling. If you’ve recognized excessive absenteeism or tardiness, let the employee know about their attendance issues.  

If there’s no improvement, the next step is to follow up with a written warning. The written warning should clarify that you expect the improvement to be immediate and sustained. 

This helps you document the attendance issues to prevent any future disputes. It also serves as evidence that you addressed the concern with the employee and made them aware of the consequences. The concerned employee should sign this document acknowledging that they’ve received the warning. 

If there’s no noticeable improvement even after the first two attempts, you can issue a final warning, which should be signed and witnessed. This warning could state that the next instance of excessive absenteeism will lead to employment termination. 

6. Create a performance improvement plan 

A Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is quite similar to written counseling. It outlines the performance issues that the employee needs to improve and how. 

Apart from addressing attendance issues, you can also use job performance improvement to address failures to meet specific job goals. 

Remember to ensure that the employee signs an acknowledgment form to confirm that they’ve understood what you expect from them.

7. Document everything

When preparing for employment termination, documentation is key. 

Without accurate records, it’s easy for the terminated employee to claim that the attendance issue never happened. 

So even if documentation is time taking, it can help you defend your decision if an employee charges you for unfair dismissal. It can also help prevent any discrimination claim or severance pay.

Here’re some of the documents you need in the personnel files while addressing attendance issues: 

  • When an employee was on leave and the reason for the absence.
  • Any disciplinary action taken, including verbal and written warnings. 
  • Feedback and complaints from coworkers, managers, or clients.

However, there will be instances where none of the above precautionary steps will help prevent excessive absenteeism. The only option left is to lay off the employee. 

But how do you break the news to the employee?
And are there any legal obligations you need to take care of? 

Let’s find out. 

How to terminate an employee when everything else fails

Let’s face it, laying off an employee is never easy.

But when excessive absences become a chronic problem, termination is the only solution. 

Here’s the right way of terminating an employee for poor attendance: 

A. Prepare all associated documents

A termination meeting can become more amicable if you’re prepared in advance. 

Collect the attendance records, warnings addressing the issue, or any other supporting documents you might need during the meeting. 

Also, if your employee was covered under any group health plan and is eligible for health coverage after termination, you should have the information ready. 

The next document you’ll need is the termination letter

It summarizes the reason for dismissal that you’ll also discuss during the termination meeting. It also contains details about the final wages, severance pay, or any unemployment benefits if applicable. 

Here’re some termination letter templates you can use: 

1. Guidelines & Templates for Performance Management Documentation Elements of a Termination Letter Sample: Termination Letter

2. Termination Letter to Employee Due To Absence 

3. Writing Termination Letter For Absenteeism – Sample & Format

4. Employee Termination Letter Due To Absenteeism

Additionally, have a dismissal checklist ready about all company assets that the employee needs to return, such as ID card, hardware, keys, etc. 

B. Consult your legal counsel and HR department 

It’s always advisable to seek legal advice and consult your human resource department to ensure that your reason for dismissal is justified as per your company policy. 

They can ensure that you’re following the labor law and state-specific employment regulations. 

Moreover, if you have signed an employment contract, your legal attorney can verify its validity and advise you on the termination process. 

C. Schedule a termination meeting

The last part is to schedule a termination meeting

While the conversation is never easy and there’s no good time to break the news, you need to have the meeting as soon as you have all the documents ready. 

Here’re two things you can avoid while having the conversation: 

  • Don’t apologize: Employment termination is a business decision that you’ve taken for the violation of your company policy. Apologizing would not only undermine your position but can also be easily misinterpreted. 
  • Avoid comparison with another employee: An employee should know you’re firing them for not meeting the job requirement and not because someone else could do the job better or faster. Discussing others’ job performance at this point is immaterial and can be considered as discrimination. 

Nonetheless, ensure that the termination process happens privately, and the employee goes through a systematic offboarding process.

Now that you know how to terminate an employee for excessive absences, let’s also look at some FAQs asked by employers. 

2 FAQs on terminating an employee for poor attendance

Here’re answers to some common employee termination questions you might have: 

Q1. Can you fire someone for being sick?

Most employers don’t fire employees for any sickness absence. Instead, they have to let go of people for excessive absenteeism. 

The number of reasonable sickness leaves also varies depending on the nature of the job. 

However, if an employee is absent due to a chronic illness, you’ll have to check if any state law or federal laws apply. 

These include: 

A. Coverage under the Family Medical Leave Act 

The Family Medical Leave Act allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid absence of leave for serious health conditions like cancer, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness, etc. 

However, the following conditions apply:  

  • They should’ve worked at least 1250 hours in 12 months before requesting sick leave.
  • Your company should have 50+ employees.
  • The employee should’ve worked with you for at least 12 months.

B. Protection under the Disabilities Act 

In addition to FMLA leave, you also need to adhere to the Disabilities Act of your country. 

For example, in the USA, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires every employer to provide reasonable accommodation to any qualified individual with a disability as long as they can perform their jobs with the accommodation.

However, even ADA doesn’t require you to tolerate excessive employee absences. 

Additionally, you need to check if your state law provides any additional restrictions or if the employee is subject to some form of collective bargaining procedure that you must comply with. 

Your best bet in such cases is to seek legal advice from a law firm before deciding a course of action. 

Q2. Can you be sued for firing a sick employee?

If you’ve well documented the case of excessive absenteeism and addressed the concern previously, it won’t count as wrongful termination. 

After all, you’re firing an employee for being unreliable and unsatisfactory performance and not for being sick. 

However, if you’re found guilty of wrongful termination based on an illness, the employee can sue you. 

Wrapping up

Clearly, there are several factors to consider before terminating an employee for poor attendance. 

However, the most important point is to document every evidence and action taken to correct certain behaviors. 

Moreover, if you’ve got an effective attendance tracking app and a consistent plan of action for every employee with attendance issues, you can avoid terminating an employee in the first place. 

In the end, you’ll know that you’ve taken all the right steps and will be on solid legal ground. 

View a free demo of Time Doctor

help managers focus on what matters most
time doctor ratings

Related Posts