What Could Go Wrong? It's a Point System

02 February 2015 Labor & Employment Law Perspectives Blog

Managers have difficult jobs, and changes in the legal landscape are generally making things harder. So, it is easy to think that a points-based attendance system is one way to help. It’s objective and sets clear expectations and consequences. However, while it may do all of those things, it can also be an illustration of the principle that nothing is as easy as it looks. Apart from the obvious, i.e., some absences will need to be excused, often based on meeting leave requirements such as with the Family and Medical Leave (FMLA), here are some other potential pitfalls:

  • If the system allows, it makes sense to require employees to monitor their own point totals, be aware of where they stand, and report items that may need correction or different handling (they’re adults, right?). But, something will still get missed or the employee will not follow up because they do not expect to have a serious problem.
  • If you issue progressive discipline, there is a need for review, and an opportunity for the time lag to create issues. Consider this: A final warning is due, but the supervisor calls out. The next day, the employee is late, which normally would mean termination, but they never received notice of being on final warning. Even though the points are correct, it does not feel quite as fair.
  • Or what may result is that the employee is late, and the absence puts them at the threshold for termination. The supervisor gets busy, either neglects to review the report, or simply does not get termination done. Next day, the employee has points roll off and is no longer at the termination threshold. What happens?

What will help?

  • Make sure those responsible to administer the system understand that in order to rely on the clear-cut consequences created by points, they need to do their part helping with consistency and timeliness.
  • Have an opportunity for the employee to contest the discipline or points, and be sure it includes asking if the employee knows of anyone treated differently. Either way, that information helps you. If they identify a situation they claim is comparable, you get to check it out and decide how to proceed. If they do not, it will help defend a disparate treatment claim later.
  • Try to anticipate some of the problems and decide how you will handle in advance, so you can show the decision about consequences was made before you knew who was involved.
  • But you still will not anticipate everything, so carefully evaluate other situations as each is presented. Most of the time, the envelope gets pushed by a chronic offender, so avoid the temptation of deciding how to handle based on that person. Instead, consider what you would do for a long-term employee with a good track record who offered the same “excuse” — handle it that way.

In short, you still have work to do to make a point system work. Remember your high school science and the definition of entropy — left alone a system moves towards chaos. The attendance system will do the same thing.

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