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What Is Considered Excessive Absenteeism?

By Maggie Worth
Updated May 16, 2024
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Excessive absenteeism is a term that describes an employee who is away from work too much. This can include actual absences, such as unauthorized personal days or an excessive number of sick days. It can also include repeated tardiness, frequent long lunches or recurring early departures. The amount of absence considered excessive varies by company, and most large corporations have formal policies that define what they consider to be excessive. Excessive absenteeism can have a severe impact on the job performed by the employee concerned, on his department and on the company as a whole.

A number of issues can arise from excessive absenteeism. These include reduced productivity on the part of the absent employee and, in many cases, customer dissatisfaction. Such absenteeism can also severely affect the morale of other employees, who are often forced to cover the duties of the absent employee and may resent having to work for someone who is repeatedly absent.

There are no absolute guidelines defining the number of days, hours or absences that create an excessive absenteeism situation. Each company generally sets its own rules in regard to absences. Some companies may quantify a specific number of days or absences that are considered excessive, while others may create less definitive rules. For example, one company could state that 30 days per year is excessive, while another might define excessive as a quantity of absences that significantly affects an employee's job function.

Many companies differentiate between excused absences and unexcused absences. Excused absences include those that are either approved in advance or qualify as excused absences under company policy. These types of absences are often paid under annual leave allowances, but employees may be excused for unpaid leave as well. Examples of excused absences can include bereavement time, pre-approved vacation days, valid sick time and jury duty leave.

Unexcused absences are those that are not considered allowable under company policy. This might include sick time of several consecutive days without a doctor's excuse and unapproved vacation days. In most cases, only unexcused absences can be said to contribute to excessive absenteeism.

Most companies have a disciplinary process for dealing with excessive absenteeism. This can include loss of pay, verbal or written reprimands, demotion and termination. These penalties are usually imposed in a specified order. For example, an employee who is excessively absent may first receive a verbal warning. If the absenteeism continues, a written reprimand may follow the warning and continued absenteeism may result in demotion or termination.

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Discussion Comments
By anon302688 — On Nov 11, 2012

I work with a guy at a box retailer. This guy has been with the company for 13 years and knows how to successfully manipulate sick leave. He has had "back injuries" before. He will come back to work with a back brace but throw concrete bags around without any sign of pain. His pattern is to complain about something the day before (the setup). The next day he comes in and leaves sick after maybe an hour. Then he is out the next two days in a row. Recently, he had his two days off, came in and worked one day. That day he complained that his knee hurt and called in the next day. Over the next two days he came in for almost half a day but left early.

This guy is ruining morale at work because the rest of us have to pick up the slack. I get physically worn down. He must have a hook up because I think he is giving them the doctor note. One time this guy told me he was out of work for three months with an injury. When he works he shaves his time everyday by taking short lunch breaks and coming in early.

By doing this, he leaves early as the week winds down so as not to incur overtime. He spends time on the internet quite often at work. He is the master of successfully abusing sick leave.

By amysamp — On Sep 03, 2011

@geekish - From what I have seen and read school systems do, of course, notice chronic absenteeism and they work at developing interventions for this issue.

Part of the reason for intervention is that school systems regard highly the idea that attendance is one of the most important factors for success (this seems common sense for me though...).

Some of the interventions they employ and one that I particularly like, is that they try to develop an understanding of *why* a student is missing school excessively (which is pre-determined at some level or bureaucracy) and then move forward accordingly.

By geekish — On Sep 02, 2011

@Tomislav - I actually have heard of such and it was in the school system but it was not for employees, rather it was for the actual school students. There actually had to be a bill signed for students, so that documented illness could be taken into account for excessive absenteeism accounts.

I wonder how school systems deal with managing excessive absenteeism that is not illness related considering that such a situation with a younger student would involve managing the parent as well.

By Tomislav — On Sep 02, 2011

I work in a school and I am not sure if there are district-mandated rules about excessive employee absenteeism. However, I have found at my school our staff because it is small and does not change very much is respected by our principal and she tries to work with us.

For example we have an assistant whose husband has brain tumors and each day his status seems to change.

To allow her the freedom to work if her husband has a good week or couple of days our principal has hired a long term substitute assistant that will be flexible to allow the original assistant to come to work on short notice.

I found this amazing and it will affect my decision as far as continuing to work at this school or transferring to other schools!

Do they ever put clauses into excessive absenteeism to cover for such occasions as cancer or other long recovery illnesses whether it is your illness or a family member?

By Perdido — On Sep 01, 2011

I had a coworker who always came in about fifteen minutes late to work. She called in sick a lot, and her lunches usually lasted an hour and a half.

She had grown up spoiled, and she was used to getting everything she wanted by being charming and cute. The boss told her he needed her to be in on time, and she smiled sweetly and told him she would try her best.

He was immune to her sweetness, and he told her, “Don’t try - just do it.” She was taken aback by this. I don’t think anyone had ever been that blunt with her before.

Since her feelings were hurt, she started coming in even later. The boss became angry at her insubordination and fired her.

By kylee07drg — On Sep 01, 2011

@cloudel - That is an awful system! Since he has to work around food, you would think that they wouldn’t want him there while he could spread germs to thousands of people who buy the groceries!

That company needs to learn how to manage excessive absenteeism separately from valid absenteeism. What’s with businesses wanting sick employees to work when they are contagious? Don’t they know that’s counterproductive?

This type of thing just makes me really angry, because my mother lost her job due to missed work. She had to stay in the hospital for a week due to a rare virus, and then she had to miss one more week to recover at home. Her doctor told her not to go back to work right away, because she could make other people very ill. To her employer, this wasn’t a good enough reason to miss only two weeks out of an entire year, and he fired her.

By shell4life — On Aug 31, 2011

A lady who worked at the same company as me and had been there for 30 years got an excessive absenteeism letter when she missed a month for cancer treatment. Everyone who worked there thought this was pretty cruddy. Our company is known for being family oriented, so we were shocked when she was threatened with termination during such a hard time.

Her illness ended up taking a turn for the worse, so she could not have returned to work anyway. She let the boss know that they would not have to fire her, because she would not be coming back. She also told them that she felt betrayed after all the years of hard work she had given them.

By cloudel — On Aug 30, 2011

My husband works in a food distribution center, and they have strict policies regarding excessive absenteeism. What’s bad is that even excused absences count against him.

He only works three days a week, but he works enough hours for it to be a full-time job. Last year, his mother several states away became deathly ill, and he had to take off for a week to go and visit her. Those days counted against him.

During that year, he got strep throat, a stomach virus, and a kidney infection, so he missed several more days. This resulted in them giving him a warning that if he missed one more day, he would be fired. The crazy thing is that he had a doctor’s excuse for all of his absences, but it didn’t matter.

By julies — On Aug 29, 2011

No matter where I have worked, it seems like there is always at least one person who constantly has a reason why they can't be at work.

One company I worked for had a very specific excessive absenteeism policy and I think this was very helpful. Even though some people pushed that policy to the limit, they were aware of what would happen if they crossed the line.

If there are not specific policies in place when it comes to absenteeism, it seems like those people who miss a lot of work continue to get by with it.

This is frustrating for those who work with them and do show up to work and work hard every day. If there aren't any consequences for continually missing work, they will keep doing it as long as they can get by with it.

By LisaLou — On Aug 29, 2011

It can be very frustrating working with someone who is constantly absent. I worked in a small office where there were two of us who handled the administrative work.

The other girl that worked with me was calling in a lot and seemed to have every excuse in the book for why she couldn't be there. It always seemed like the times she said she was sick, she never sounded or looked very sick the next day she made it to work.

At one point she did receive a disciplinary letter regarding her absenteeism, but this didn't seem to change anything. I was so glad when she quit on her own.

Other than the extra work load it put on me, it was much better when she wasn't in the office because she wasn't even a very good employee when she was there.

When someone is continually absent from their job, it not only affects them, but also affects other people who have to pick up the slack for them. This doesn't take long to create some office tension.

By Mae82 — On Aug 28, 2011

@wander - That sounds like a pretty horrible way to have to work. I imagine that employee morale must get pretty low when you're not even allowed to take sick time off. People get ill, you shouldn't have to work. I mean, you could make your students sick too!

I really think that in western countries our excessive absenteeism is just abuse of our system. I think that in general our laws give us a safe place to work, but there will always be people who take advantage of the system. I guess you either have to just fire those that do abuse the absenteeism rules or take them away all together. I think I would rather we have them for when we really need them.

By wander — On Aug 28, 2011

I wonder if excessive absenteeism is more of a problem in western countries where companies are more tolerant and understanding of worker behavior. Whether by law or for compassionate reasons.

I have spent quite a few years teaching in South Korea as an ESL teacher and anyone who misses more than 3 days of work is usually considered a serious liability and is usually fired. While policies vary in the country, most teachers working in private schools get little or no sick time. There are certainly no personal days or chances to recover from a loss.

Foreign workers in Korea pretty much have to be in the hospital, dead, or you work. I once had a boss show up and drag me out of an apartment because I had called in sick. I had a fever of 104 degrees, but by god, I had to go to work.

By burcinc — On Aug 27, 2011

I think how often you can be absent from work also has to do with your position in a company or agency. I interned with a government agency for a while and we had some superiors who were around off and on during the week. You never knew when they would be in their office.

It was not made into a problem though because they were all accessible by email or phone. So I think that if you have a job that allows you to get things done away from the office and your absence doesn't prevent that office from doing its job, some high level positions might be more lenient towards absenteeism.

It's never a good idea for starting positions, junior and new employees though.

By comfyshoes — On Aug 26, 2011

@Crispety - I know that some people have medical reasons for their absences but a lot of companies don’t always accommodate these people because they have the ability to fire the employee at will. For example, in many states in the U.S. a company may fire an employee and not have to give a reason.

I had a cousin that was chronically ill and later died, but he had trouble keeping a job because the employers were able to fire him at will. I know that not all states are like this. For example, in New York and California the employee has a lot more rights over something like this and it is harder to terminate an employee especially if the employee has medical reasons for his absences.

I know that absenteeism in the workplace is a problem, but I think that there should be a clear distinction between someone that is sick and someone that just doesn't feel like coming to work.

By Crispety — On Aug 26, 2011

My sister knew this guy that worked with her that received an excessive absenteeism warning letter and later received an HR termination letter due to his excessive absenteeism.

It seemed that this employee would call in sick on Fridays and Mondays frequently and the human resources department later detected a pattern. It was starting to affect the morale of the other employees because they could not understand how this guy still had a job after call in sick so much.

Even after the warning, he continued and was later terminated. He filed a wrongful termination suit against the company and lost because the company not only had a stated attendance policy in place that he was also aware of it because he signed papers stating that he understood the policy.

He tried to say that he was terminated for age discrimination but the jury didn’t buy it.

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