A business leader recently called seeking advice about a problem employee. The employee had taken an extensive amount of time off from the company, time that far exceeded the vacation or sick policy. Performance had slipped and feedback was given but was only documented in emails and personal notes versus a corrective action notice as outlined in the employee handbook. The situation had now gotten out of hand and something needed to happen. What action should the company take?

HR Guru Solution

This is a tough situation. Many of you might believe that since you are an at-will employer you can just make a move and terminate employment. Technically yes… but that doesn’t protect the company from further employment action. The issue is that the behavior was allowed to continue and the employee had not received any formal documentation for the excessive absenteeism. The recommendation: detail all of the time taken and include a copy of the signed handbook that outlined the policy for time away from work. This excessive time would constitute a serious warning and further time away would result in disciplinary action up to and including termination. The old saying, “Give it a week and wait,” was true. The employee received the warning, signed it, and then took more time off and was released from the company.

Always inspect what you expect. Define your policy regarding unpaid time away from work—before you know it, an employee can take significant time and all others are watching.  If you have a policy detailing progressive discipline and corrective action, give it when warranted. Use the company form and don’t rely on memos or emails to “soften the blow”. Get your point across and deal with the issue so that it does not further impact morale and productivity issues.