“Can my employer change its attendance policy any way it wants to?”

Question: I work for a large corporation that has just changed its policy about attendance.

The corporation’s former attendance policy said that you were allowed a certain number of sick days, a certain number of personal days, and a certain number of vacation days. If you took more than you were allowed, you faced disciplinary action; first reprimand, then suspension, then termination.

The corporation’s new attendance policy says that supervisors have a lot of discretion over how they can handle absences by employees. Under the new attendance policy, for example, an employee with three excess absences can be fired, while another employee with ten excess absences can be just reprimanded; it all depends on the supervisor’s discretion and, this is a quote, “The supervisor’s opinion of the employee’s worth to the company.”

I believe the new attendance policy will open the door to discrimination, favoritism “brown nosing,” and other forms of illegal and just plain wrong behaviors.

Can my employer do this?

 J.P.M.
 Orlando, Florida

Answer: J.P.M., employers have almost unlimited freedom to decide the policies by which they operate themselves. That includes their employment policies, in general, and their attendance policies, in particular.

However, an employer cannot establish employment policies that are clearly intended to illegally discriminate, such as a policy that provided time off for new mothers, but did not provide time off for new fathers.

Nor can an employer establish employment policies that, while not intended to illegally discriminate, inevitably result in discriminatory practices. One example of this might be a policy that required every salesperson to make ten telephone new-customer calls per week, and not permit an exception for deaf salespeople.  

Your concern that your employer’s new attendance policy will inevitably result in discrimination is far too speculative to be given credence by the law. Likewise for your concern that it will inevitably result in favoritism and “brown-nosing.” The potential for favoritism and discrimination does increase when supervisors are given discretion, but  “freedom” of every kind includes a possibility of abuse of that freedom.

That being said the new attendance policy seems, in fact, to be very frank and honest, as “the supervisor’s opinion of an employee’s worth to the company” is what decides who is hired, retained, promoted, given a raise, or a bonus in every company I’ve ever seen. Right or wrong, that is the key to your own success at work: your boss’s (or her boss’s) perception of your value. Bear that in mind.

Though perhaps this is not what you were hoping I’d say, I still hope it helps you guide yourself going forward.

Best, Al Sklover

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©  2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.