Shiftless, unreliable, chronically late, and responsible for a startling reduction in workplace production and efficiency. No, I’m not referring to a disappointing new hire or an employee whose workplace performance has recently stalled. I’m talking about Hurricane Dorian. Here in Orlando, I’ve been hunkered down since the Friday before Labor Day waiting on Dorian. By midnight Friday, my emergency wine, hurricane snacks, and patience were all in short supply. By Sunday, I had already binge-watched a season of Billions and an embarrassing number of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills episodes, yet I had only begun to wait.

As a native Floridian, I’ve been through over a dozen hurricanes, but it is hard to remember a hurricane as lazy and unpunctual as Dorian. The poor Bahamas have been hammered by Dorian’s refusal to get back on track. I love Jim Cantore as much as the next person, but there are only so many spaghetti models a gal can take before her frustration level is higher than the anticipated storm surge.

Waiting on Dorian to arrive or to skip Florida altogether got me thinking about the HR challenges of dealing with employees who can’t seem to show up on time—or at all. Managing employee attendance problems and preparing for a hurricane share some basic similarities. Namely, they both require careful tracking, advance planning and, in worst-case scenarios, an evacuation route.

Tracking

Have you ever noticed that some employees always seem to call-in sick on Fridays or Mondays or routinely arrive to work late because they forgot that I-4 traffic is a nightmare (or some other lame excuse)? If so, you should make an effort to remind the employee of your company’s attendance policy and start tracking the employee’s attendance issues consistently. In doing so, make sure you track the reason for an employee’s absence to ensure that the absence is not legally protected, such as Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, disability leave, military leave, jury duty, or leave due to a workplace injury. You should also track whether the absence is excused by company policy, such as bereavement, vacation, sick, or personal leave.

I often receive a call from a client who is fed up with an employee’s poor attendance only to learn that the instances have not been sufficiently tracked or addressed with the employee, requiring the client to backtrack in an effort to develop an accurate attendance record or start from scratch. To avoid this scenario, consistent tracking of employee absences is key.

Planning

Once you start tracking employee tardiness or absenteeism, you must develop a plan to address repeat offenders. Although you can and should show compassion and not discipline an employee for every little infraction, if the behavior continues, it is time to move from a friendly reminder to a verbal warning to a corrective action plan in accordance with your progressive disciplinary policy. By the time a corrective action plan is put in place, the employee should have been put on notice of the problem and given an opportunity to bring his or her attendance up to expectations. This is a sound business practice not only due to notions of fundamental fairness but also as a way to protect your business against claims of discriminatory discipline. The truth is, most employees, even employees who work in HR, are tardy or absent from time to time for no valid reason. As a result, it is imperative that employers treat their employees consistently when applying discipline for attendance violations.

Evacuation

Sometimes an employee’s poor attendance record may warrant “evacuating” the employee from your organization. Before terminating an employee for attendance violations, however, make sure you ask yourself these four questions:

  • Do I have sufficient documentation establishing each attendance violation?
  • Can I prove that none of the absences that form the basis of the termination were due to a legally protected reason? [Hint: When in doubt about whether an absence was taken for a protected reason, don’t count it!]
  • Can I show that the company adhered to its progressive disciplinary policy and followed the appropriate steps?
  • Have I ensured that no other employees who work in the disciplined employee’s position and report to the same supervisor have remained employed despite having similar records of poor attendance?

If you can answer each of these questions with a firm “yes,” your evacuation plan can be implemented.

Aftermath

Like hurricanes, employee terminations for attendance issues can bring significant risk. If atmospheric conditions deteriorate and you are threatened with litigation or the employee files a charge of discrimination, call your employment law counsel for help. We’ve weathered these storms before and will guide you to safety. Above all else, remain calm. This, too, shall pass … eventually.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of the Bahamas and others in the wake of Dorian’s destructive path. If you are so inclined, please join me in making a donation to the Red Cross relief effort by following this link: https://www.redcross.org/donate/hurricane-dorian-donations.html/.