February 29, 2012

A Shifting Attitude towards Traditional Attendance Policy

checkNearly every organization has well-established attendance policies addressing absences due to illness; especially those absences extended to several consecutive days. Conventional policy generally requires a doctor’s note that specifically explains the cause of the absence. However, a new federal district court case in California may spell the end to attendance policies as we’ve known them for decades.

The case involves a Dillard’s department store employee who missed work for several days. As per corporate attendance policy she obtained a note from her doctor. However, the doctor failed to specifically indicate the cause of the absence. In order to be deemed valid, Dillard’s requires a note discussing “the nature of the absence (such as migraine, high blood pressure, etc.),” and describe the medical condition. Since the note lacked this description, Dillard’s fired the employee when she refused to provide the required information.

The employee then filed an ADA complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC). Dillard’s argued that its policy was “consistent with business necessity.” The judge disagreed and stated that the policy “permitted supervisors to conduct impermissible disability-related inquiries” into the reasons for workers taking sick leave,” and that the policy “invites intrusive question” into private employee matters. The case has now been sent to trial.

The aggressive approach of the EEOC towards the enforcement of the ADA may indicate a need to remake long-standing attendance policies which may no longer be in compliance with modern interpretation of the law. Direction as to how a new attendance policy may be worded came within the judge’s ruling in which he said, “Dillard’s could have required its employees to submit a doctor’s note specifying the date on which the employee was seen, stating that the absence was medically necessary, and stating the date on which (the) employee would be able to return to work.”

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Rachel, writer for Recruiter.com, has graduate level work in literature and currently works in university administration.