• Retention

  April 4, 2023

Innocent Absenteeism is Nobody’s Fault, But You Must Address It

By definition, innocent (or “non-culpable”) absenteeism is not your employee’s fault. “Innocent” absences usually relate to illness or injury—legitimate concerns that the employee cannot control. But what about the effect their missed shifts are having on your business? Is there anything you can do to get these absences reduced to a minimum?

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In a word, yes. There are things you can do. Act swiftly and talk with your staff about how the situation affects the company, your customers, and other staff members.

Through communication and counsel, you’ll likely be able to get your employee’s attendance back on track. Use the steps below to ensure you’re doing all you can to minimize no-fault absenteeism.



Don’t take your employees’ health for granted. People need manageable workloads and physically comfortable working conditions to stay in top form. Do your part by providing an environment where your staff can succeed.

Be sure you have proper heating, ventilation and lighting systems. Maintain adequate staffing levels to avoid employee burnout. Educate your staff about stress management techniques and encourage physical fitness and healthy, balanced lifestyles.


Ensure your expectations for attendance are clear. Develop an attendance policy and make sure all employees read it and sign it to ensure understanding. Post the policy where everyone has access to it. Discuss it during new employee orientation and remind employees during staff meetings.


Have a system in place where you record absences and their reasons. Verify attendance records and be sure that it doesn’t just “seem like” a certain person is often late or absent.

Take particular note of absences that regularly fall before scheduled days off or holidays. Occurrences like these that give employees a long weekend may signal feigned illnesses. This is actually “at-fault” absenteeism. For further information on at-fault absenteeism, click here.


If a problem develops, talk about it—without threatening disciplinary action. Because innocent absenteeism is technically “no fault,” you can’t lawfully apply discipline in an attempt to correct the behaviour. In any case, it doesn’t make sense to punish someone for something they can’t control. Instead, what’s required are offers of support and counsel.

In the meeting, point out your attendance policy and the individual employee’s record. Ask why they are so often absent. Get employees to acknowledge the absences are creating a problem in the workplace, both for you and for other staff. While showing your support, get them to accept that they play a role in fixing the situation.

While employee absences are costly and frustrating for you, it’s important in these instances to listen. Understand what the employee’s difficulties are and see if you can help offer a solution.


Be sure to record when your meetings took place and what was discussed during the meeting. When information is recorded, it reduces the opportunity of confusion. Document the specifics regarding the problem with the employee’s current absenteeism, what was agreed upon to solve the problem for the future, and by what date there would be a follow up.


Communicate with employees during long absences or upon return if absences are short but frequent. Show concern for their situation and be attentive of their progress toward recovery.

If the employee’s absences are reduced, by all means acknowledge the improvement. If not, your employee may be dealing with a serious or prolonged illness. A serious or prolonged illness can be considered a disability and legally you have a duty to accommodate a staff member in this situation, to the point of undue hardship. Reasonable accommodation may include offers of a reduced workload or alternate responsibilities. The definition of duty to accommodate is as follows:

The duty to accommodate involves taking reasonable steps to eliminate or change rules, policies, practices and behaviours that have a negative effect based on a protected group characteristic, such as Indigenous identity, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status and disability, and others, as enumerated in human rights legislation. 

If you have taken all the necessary steps to address the absenteeism through discussion, planning, and, if necessary, accommodation then do what is in the best interest of your business and its productivity. Although innocent absenteeism is the direct fault of no one, it is important to address for the well-being of your business.

This article may be republished for non-commercial purposes subject to the provisions of the Website Use Agreement. To republish this article, you must include the following notice along with the article: “Copyright © 2020 go2 Tourism HR Society. All Rights Reserved. Republished under license.”

go2HR is BC’s tourism & hospitality, human resources and health & safety association driving strong workforces and safe workplaces that deliver world class tourism and hospitality experiences in BC. Follow us on LinkedIn or reach out to our team.

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