Attendance Management

Attendance Management Programs

As employees we all have a legal and contractural  obligation to our employers to attend work on a regular basis, whether or not there is an actual, signed contract of employment. This expectation is based upon the premise that in exchange for pay and benefits offered by the employer, the employee agrees to attend work on a regular, reliable basis. In the event an employee is unable to fulfill this fundamental obligation the employer may, once certain legal standards have been met, terminate that person's employment. This can happen even if the absences are due to medical reasons.

There are times when an employee, through no fault of his/her own, is unable to attend work as scheduled. This may be due to a personal illness or injury or in certain specified instances, to attend to an illness of a close family member. Such absences are categorized as "non-culpable" as the reasons are beyond the employee's control.For these absences employees are entitled to access their income protection credits as per Article 23 of the Collective Agreement to the extent they have accumulated same.

The other category of absence is "culpable" absenteeism where an employee is absent for reasons not provided for under the Collective Agreement which are within his/her control. This might include calling in sick when not truly ill, failure to provide proper notification of a sick absence or obtain authorization to be away from the workplace, or late arrivals to or early departures from work without approval. Such instances would typically be dealt with under the disciplinary article of the Collective Agreement.

Because of this fundamental obligation to attend work, and because of the direct and indirect costs of sick time, many employers have implemented attendance management programs in order to address this issue. One such program is called the Attendance Support and Assistance Program (ASAP).

An Attendance Management program is designed for the employers to work with employees who are having difficulty attending work on a regular basis with an emphasis on developing strategies to assist the employee in reducing absenteeism. Involvement in an attendance management program is triggered when an employee's sick leave usage exceeds an established standard ( often called the comparator rate). This differs from employer to employer ( typically around 3-6 percent ). It is often based on the current average sick leave usage within the facility or may be based on the industry average.

Once it has been identified that an employee's sick leave usage exceeds the standards for the organization, the attendance record for that employee will likely be subject to closer review. That review will invlove assessing the reasons, frequency, duration and pattern of recent absences with a view to  reducing same in the future. The outcome of this initial review will determine whether formal attendance management will be initiated.

It is found that an employee who has normally attended work at an acceptible level in the past, but was required to be off work due to surgery and a period of recuperation and will likely make a full recovery, such an event would not typically result in the employee being required to participate in an attendance management. That's be cause the absence was the result of a clearly defined incident that will likely not be repeated.

However an employee with a history of high sick time, which cannot be attributed to a single non-recurring incident and where same continues above the established standard, will likely be required to participate in an attendance management program such as ASAP.

ASAP 101
Lets talk specifically about ASAP, recognize that other programs out there which may differ in certain ways however the key components ought to be the same. ASAP consists of four distinct steps applied sequentially  for the management of absenteeism. At the initial step the employer meets with the employee in a somewhat informal setting to advise that her/his attendance is a concern and to provide the individual with information about the program. The specific process may be different from one employer to another particularly as it relates to the persons involved. The initial meeting may be with just the manager, or the Union and/or Human Resources may also be involved from the outset.

The employee must be advised that they are being placed on the program and will be asked to share the reeasons for their recent absences. There will be discussion of strategies to assist the individual in improving her/his attendance as that is the ultimate goal of the ASAP. Strategies might involve personal or lifestyle changes, alterations to the current working arrangements, that are supported by medical information.

For example, an employee who engages in physically demanding activities outside the workplace, that have often resulted in injury which causes her/him to miss work, might be encouraged to forego those activities which are not conducive to regular attendance.

Lessening the current demands of the job through temporary and voluntary reduction in EFT for a specified period of time is another example of an effective strategy to improve attendance. Recent arbitrations have established that such a measure, similar to others like prohibition of working additional available shifts or overtime, can only be imposed with the employee's agreement and not unilaterally or arbitrarily by the employer. However an employee having difficulty attending work on a regular basis may agree to these measures in order to demonstate improvement in attendance and reliability.

Another strategy might involve the employer requiring that medical appointments be scheduled outside of work hours where possible in order to reduce absenteeism. This may not always be possible however it should be considered where difficulties with attendance persist. Just as the employer has a responsibility to demonstate it is doing everything it can to assist an employee, the employee must show she/he too is taking steps to address the issue, especially as this process moves along. There are times when it may be in an individual's best interest to request a leave of absence to allow time for her/his physician to diagnose the problem and also to get healthy. The employer will require medical documentation in support of such a request.

Once formally involved in ASAP, the employer will continue to closely monitor employee's attendance. This will typically unvolve a series of meetings to review progress. Under ASAP these meetings occur at approxiamately eight to ten week intervals. If there has been no improvement in attendance during that period of time the individual may be moved to the next step.

This step involves formal attention to the employee's absenteeism where Human Resources and the Union will typically be in attendance at the meeting, although this may differ with each employer. At this step, attendance since last meeting will be  reviewed, the strategies previously discussed may be revisited and the employee must be advised that she/he is being advanced to the second step.

Because this is where the process becomes formalized, a letter summarizing the meetings from this step on will be placed on employee personnel files. It is important to note that if the individual chooses to share specific information about medical issues at the meetings, this confidential information should not be included in such documentation.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this is the point(step2) where an inability to attend work regularly may impact an individual's ability to obtain other positions even within the same organization as most postings indicate a "good work record" as a requirement and so attendance may be considered in that regard.

The ASAP program is meant to be supportive and is non-disciplinary in nature. However when one is called to a formal meeting to discuss her/his attendance, people often express the feeling that they are being held accountable for their absenteeism. Throughout the ASAP process, MNU will ensure that no aspect of discipline is introduced by the employer.

If there is no improvement at the next review the individual may be moved to STEP 3 of ASAP.

In addition to reviewing the strategies discussed at previous meetings, the employee will also be advised that failure to improve her/his attendance may result in termination of employment at some point in the future  ( more about this in step 4). Sounds disciplinary, right? It is called non-disciplinary termination because the employee, through no fault of her/his own, is unable to fullfill her/his obligation under the employment contract and so the employer has the right to terminate on that basis. This differs from the progressive discipline process where one would normally expect some discipline steps prior to termination depending of course on the "offence". The employer cannot discipline the emplyee prior to this for attendance issues-for example, there would not be a written warning or suspension for non-culpable absenteeism. How can someone be disciplined for being sick?

The final level of ASAP, involves the employer assessing the on-going viability of the individual's employment with the organization. There are three factors the employer must consider when looking at terminating ans employee because of attendance:
1) the employee must have demonstrated an inability to attend work over an extended period of time.
2) there must be no medical evidence to suggest the individual's attendance will improve going forward.
3) where evidence of a medical disability exists, the employer must demonstrate that it has accomodated the employee to the point of undue hardship.

If an employee advises that a medical condition/issue exists which impacts her/his ability to attend work regularly the employer will require medical documentation to support this. Keep in mind that you are not required to provide specific information relative to your diagnosis, if you choose not to. Similarly you are not required to share the recommended course of treatment your physician has prescribed. The employer simply needs to know how the medical condition affects your ability to attend work regularly.

One question that often arises is, once an employee is placed on ASAP how quickly should she/he be removed from the program once an improvement in attendance is demonstrated? The employer will make that determination based upon individual circumstances. One of the factors taken into consideration is how long the individual has struggled with absenteeism. Arbitrators have suggested that an employee participating in an attendance management program who has been successful in reducing sick time usage should be removed from the program using the same timelines that were applied in advancing him/her through the various steps. MNU,s expectation is there that the employer should be as quick to recognize improvement in attendance as it was to address concerns regarding absenteeism.

The Union's role in this process is to provide support to its member and to ensure that the employer follows the established process properly. If you are invited to a meeting to discuss your attendance you may request to bring a union representative for support.

If you have a meeting with your employer which you feel is not handled in the manner described herein or if you have questions about your rights and obligations with respect to your employer's attendance management program, please contact your Labour Relations Officer.

As always it is imporatant to remember the timelines outlined in Article 12 of the Collective Agreement (grievance process) when raising these and any other issues with the employer.


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MNU is affiliated with the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions