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What To Do When Employees Don’t Show Up for Work

Empty office

Absenteeism excuses can run the gamut from legitimate to inexcusable. While hearing these excuses from chronically late or absent employees can get tiresome, you must treat each case individually and with care. It’s not always immediately evident which excuses are legit and which are not.

When employees no-call, no-show, for example, you shouldn’t just assume that they decided to quit their job, even if you’re in a high-turnover field. Accidents happen and you never know when one might actually happen to your employee.

When family members die, the last thing employees are thinking about is calling in to work. If they get into an accident and are holed up in the hospital, calling work may not even be an option. However, when an employee no-calls, no-shows because she went to the lake for the day, that’s another story. This kind of behavior requires discipline.

Create a Policy

Every company should have a policy for absences, especially if there is an abuser within the company. Your policy should address guidelines for requesting time off and how to handle last minute absences. Whether employees should be issued a warning for a no-call, no-show or fired on the spot is up to the company but employees should know what’s expected of them.

Requesting time-off

Employees should have an easy and documented way of requesting time off. Writing little notes and sticking them to the manager’s computer screen the day before vacation probably isn’t a great policy. A good method would be the use of a central calendar in the office or, if the company uses online time tracking, requesting time off right from the timecard is the most handy and accountable method.

Sick time use and abuse

When people get sick we generally have a bit of warning. We feel feverish the night before or wake up early feeling unsettled before heading back to bed. At the onset of sickness employees should inform employers, rather than waiting until their shift actually begins. This should be documented in the policy. Most employees use sick time when they’re sick but sometimes they use it to play hooky. If you suspect employees are using sick time when they’re not sick, you should have a talk with the employee and start asking for doctor’s notes. If the behavior continues and the employee cannot produce doctor’s notes, it is grounds for discipline. These are the types of rules that need to be outlined in the policy.

What to do about a no-call, no-show

I believe that to cover your neck and to be sympathetic to the occasional calamity, employers should always call the employee that doesn’t show up to work, even if the employee has made it clear that they don’t like the job or is generally irresponsible. Just leave a message to the effect of, “Hi, you didn’t make it in for your shift today. Is everything ok? Please call me back and let me know.”

Disciplining Bad Behavior

Taking sick leave when well, no-shows, and exhausting available leave every month are all examples of bad leave-time behaviors. Depending on what you have outlined in your policy, you should issue warnings, reduce benefits, terminate, etc. But make sure you actually do what your policy outlines. If you are lax about the rules, there will inevitably be an employee that abuses time-off privileges.

Do Employers Need to Pay for It?

Some instances of absenteeism must be paid for by the employer, some require discipline, and some should simply be excused. It depends on the type of absence and the classification of the employee.

Hourly employees

Hourly employees that don’t show up for work can either take their accrued sick time, vacation time, or an unpaid day off. This should be laid out in the leave policy. Employers are not required to pay hourly employees for time they are not actually at work (except for sick time in a few cities and states), although it is customary to offer some kind of paid leave.

Exempt employees

Rules for docking exempt employees’ pay can be complicated, like in natural disasters. In general, employers must pay their exempt employees regardless of whether or not they show up to work but it’s not quite that simple. For a personal day or a no-show, employers can deduct that time from the employee’s leave balance.

Jury duty

If an employee has jury duty and the papers to prove it, employers in some states must pay the employee. Many states only require that employees not be discharged because of jury duty but states like Colorado, Georgia, and others do require that employees be paid for all or some portion of the time they serve. Despite the laws, the majority of employers do offer jury duty pay.


  1. joellene
    joellene March 4, 2017

    how long do I have to wait if someone hasn’t showed up to open

    • rob
      rob March 30, 2017

      Every situation is different joellene. I managed a corporate restaurant for 24 years. The best advice is to consult with your company’s human resource manager. They’ll walk you through the steps needed if termination is the correct course of action. HR managers are not only trained in federal laws,they are also well trained in state laws where a franchise is located.

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