Before you toss that employee attendance form, make sure you understand record retention laws
Whatever method you use to track employee attendance (e.g., paper attendance calendars or software), it’s important to document every employee absence or tardiness, including the date, time and reason given for each incident.
This information is a critical part of your employee recordkeeping requirements. You also should keep track of any written notes, emails or documents about the circumstances surrounding each event.
By recording each absence or late arrival, and designating “reason codes,” you can quickly detect when an employee’s absences become problematic. Simple designations such as sick leave, vacation, jury duty or personal days, along with a note indicating whether the absence was preapproved or not, are enough to help you keep track without getting overwhelmed in details.
You also will have all the necessary information at your fingertips to make an appropriate (and legally defensible) decision about disciplinary action. Your records will provide you with details if the dismissed employee files for unemployment or even sues your business for discrimination or other unfair practices.
Absence recordkeeping basics
Make sure your employee files include:
- Basic payroll numbers including rates and basis of pay, daily and weekly hours worked, amounts added to or deducted from wages, and total compensation for the period
- Employee information (including name, address)
- Job titles and responsibilities
- The reasons given for all employee absences
- Whether they are unexcused, excused or otherwise protected by law
- Notes on any troubling patterns (e.g., calling in sick after holidays) you observe
- Notes on the overall impact of repeated absences in terms of “total days/hours missed”
- The dates and reasons for any legally protected time off such as FMLA (see below for more details on FMLA records)
- How each employee attendance record compares with that of other employees (a good attendance calendar might work to track this information)
- Any steps you take to resolve the issue, including meetings, attendance problem discussions, formal warnings, or other disciplinary action
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Employee Recordkeeping
If your company is covered by the FMLA and an employee applies for or uses FMLA leave, there are additional employee attendance records you’ll need to keep the same basic records noted above, plus:
- Dates FMLA is taken and designated as FMLA leave
- Hours of FMLA leave taken in increments of less than a day
- Copies of employee notices of leave, if in writing
- Copies of all general and specific notices given to employees
- Documents describing employee benefits or employer policies on pay and unpaid leave
- Premium payments of employee benefits
- Records of any disputes between you and your employee regarding FMLA leave
All FMLA records and most basic attendance records must be kept for at least three years. Be sure to check with your state to see if any records need to be kept longer. Many of those records are required by law, and other may act as a legal defense if an employee sues for wrongful dismissal, discrimination or violation of a state or federal labor law.