• Retention

  April 4, 2023

Managing ‘At-Fault’ Absenteeism

At-fault (or “culpable”) absenteeism refers to when an employee is able to work scheduled shifts, but chooses not to. Most commonly, this is when a staff member calls in sick but is not actually ill. Frequently arriving late is also a type of at-fault absenteeism.

3 min read

For the most part, at-fault absences can be attributed to employee disengagement or low morale. Employees who are not committed to your organization’s goals will feel little personal responsibility to help get the job done. They don’t consider the impact their absence has on your company, your customers or other staff.

This article addresses how to manage existing absenteeism problems, as well as how to prevent them in the first place by keeping employee morale high.


If you are faced with an individual case of absenteeism, discuss it immediately with the employee. It’s important you act quickly to talk about the situation. To manage absenteeism successfully, you must address issues as they arise. Failure to do so will appear to staff as indifference on your part. If you allow this, additional absenteeism will soon follow.

When discussing the problem, you’ll want to cover the following points:

  • Summarize the employee’s absences.
  • Refer to the attendance policy and the impact absences are having on your clients, guests and other team members. Explain the severity of the problem.
  • Remember to request any necessary documentation, such as a doctor’s note, to appropriately record the reason for absence.
  • Get the employee to accept the information you are presenting: that there is a problem and an immediate need for change.
  • Listen to the employee’s side of the story. There may be personal problems preventing them from coming to work or arriving on time that could be resolved through listening and should be dealt with sensitively.
  • Develop a plan to address the problem that works for both you and the employee. Record and sign off on the plan so that future improvements and/or incidents can be dealt with little confusion and immediate action.
  • Set a date and time by which you will be following up and looking for improvement.
  • Explain that you expect immediate change and that failure to do so could result in disciplinary action.

If things improve after your discussion, acknowledge the efforts the employee has made and encourage them to keep it up. However, if after discussions regarding their absenteeism there is no change, you may choose to apply progressive disciplinary measures in an attempt to correct the behaviour. The discipline you apply should be consistent with that applied for any other performance-related concern. These steps might include an initial spoken warning, additional written warnings, suspension and finally, dismissal.


Hopefully you will not have to go the above course to get your employees to come to work. There are many things you can do to prevent absenteeism from occurring in the first place. These actions will improve employee engagement and your attendance records:

  • Hire the right people: Hire people who have a connection to what your business is trying to achieve. People with a genuine interest in what you do will be motivated to help you succeed.
  • Communicate attendance expectations: Make sure staff understand the impact on clients and co-workers if they are late or do not show up. Have an attendance policy that defines absences and their impact on your organization.
  • Document attendance: Track absences and their causes. Look for patterns. Are staff always absent before scheduled days off, or just before a long weekend? This information will help your awareness of whether employees might be abusing the attendance policy.
  • Engage employees: Ensure staff are fulfilled in the roles you hire them to perform. Don’t allow them to be bored in their jobs. Work with them to identify their goals and interests, and consider providing cross-training opportunities or additional roles for experienced staff.
  • Balance workload and resources: Make sure staff have the right tools to do the job and that workloads are manageable.
  • Assess physical conditions: Make sure work areas are well ventilated and have appropriate lighting. Ensure any staff uniforms are comfortable and meet functional needs—especially if working outside in sun, rain or snow!
  • Apply fairness and equity: Be consistent about how you address absentee situations. Having a policy will help you to be fair and equitable about discipline.

Other than when legitimate medical conditions exist, either low staff involvement or morale or having hired the wrong staff are the root causes of at-fault absenteeism. Hire people who are passionate about what you do, treat them with respect, and communicate your expectations clearly. In return, staff will deliver on what you are trying to achieve.