Employee with attendance problem must be held accountable

I have an employee working for me that has the worst attendance I have ever witnessed. She started eight months ago, and during that time has had two negative performance reviews because of her attendance. 

As an example, in the last three weeks she has missed 10 days! 

I’ve been so permissive because she does well in all other areas and we’ve never had an easy time with this position. (It’s entry level and part-time, which attracts a lot of flaky students and people with other priorities). And I do sympathize with her family problems that are causing her absences (at least that’s what she tells me). 

I probably already know the answer, but do you see any way out of this other than just letting her go? I keep thinking her situation will stabilize, but now I just feel like both sides are waiting for the inevitable. 

And if that is the case, do I have the responsibility of giving her notice that I am looking for another person, or simply let her go as soon as I find a replacement, since I have warned her too many as times as it is? Thanks in advance for any advice you have. 


You do know the answer and it’s not what you want to hear. If she is going to do this during the first year of employment, it will only get worse. And if two negative performance reviews haven’t gotten her attention, a third won’t do much either…or a fourth. 

Unfortunately, you have fallen into a trap a lot of managers slip into: enabling her because you sympathize with her excuses. Like the husband who beats his wife when he’s drunk: she shouldn’t accept his behavior because he was drunk—his excuse doesn’t matter.  

In your employee’s case, she may have family problems, car problems, a sick cat, a leaky sink….it doesn’t matter. She is still missing work. She is not fulfilling her commitment to you, her team or her company. The deal is: a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work—not when she feels like working. 

Although she may have some significant problems at home, she hasn’t earned the privilege of more flexibility during a personal crisis. If she had been a good employee for several years, you might be willing to give her a little slack. Under the circumstances—only eight months of employment—she has never proved her worth or commitment to the company, so the company isn’t compelled to give her situation any special consideration. 

If a manager forgives attendance problems because the employee has a “good excuse” that employee will quickly figure out that the better the excuse, the more likely she will be able to get away with inappropriate behavior. The result? That employee is rewarded for being a creative liar. Some of these employees can spin stories that could win Oscars.

What should you do instead? Listen empathetically to an employee’s reason and then say, “I can understand how difficult it must be to be in that situation but I need you here at work. When you aren’t here, your co-workers pick up your share (or customers’ problems aren’t solved, etc.).” 

If she says, “Yes, but you know I’m a good worker!” You reply, “Yes, you are a good worker and you have a lot of potential. That’s why I would hate to lose you. So I hope you don’t force me into that position. But if your absences continue, I feel it’s only fair to tell you that you could lose your job.” 

Then she may say, “But I do more than half the people around here!” You reply, “Yes, you do a lot of work when you’re here. The problem is that you aren’t here enough. I can’t look the other way for you and then enforce the policy for everyone else. A lot of people have personal problems and if they all could come and go as they please, we would be unable to run the business. I have to be fair to everyone.


Because you have spoken to her several times, it’s time she hears the consequences of her continued behavior. Up to now, you’ve not held her accountable. She hasn’t seen any reason to change her behavior. I suspect she is rationalizing that her performance is good, so you will let her continue to get away with absenteeism.


You do not owe her an explanation if you start looking for her replacement. In fact, I would not tell her. That kind of scare tactic is disrespectful and threatening. However, I would give her a final warning, in which you spell out the consequences and then put it in writing. I would also insist on six months of perfect attendance. You can say, “It will give you an opportunity to prove to me that you are reliable and dependable.” Otherwise, you may end up chasing her for months, as she may only conform for short periods of time.


Hopefully, she will get the message and decide she wants to keep her job. Often, I find that people like this don’t change until they have this kind of “consequences meeting”.


If she does have perfect attendance for six months and then starts into her old routine, call her in again and reiterate that consistency is what is expected and this yoyo attendance issue is unacceptable. You can set the expectation that long-term consistency is crucial and required.  If you have to continue to chase her on this issue, she needs to be given the opportunity to change or lose her job. You simply shouldn’t have to spend this much time or energy pushing someone to conform to the rules she agreed to when she was hired.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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