Skip to content

How to create, implement and enforce a time and attendance policy


A time and attendance policy – the set of rules for your employees on when to show up for work and in what circumstances they can be excused – is essential for running your business successfully.


  • It supports a professional work environment.
  • It encourages productivity.
  • It helps to set expectations for employees and promotes an understanding of what they’ll be held accountable for.
  • It levels the playing field for all employees. Everyone has assurance that their colleagues are held to the same standards and are at work the same amount of time, carrying their own weight.

What happens to your company without a time and attendance policy – or a policy that’s administered haphazardly?

  • Inability of your business to operate without interruption and deliver consistent service
  • Poor customer experience
  • Negative workplace culture rife with resentment and paranoia (employees are convinced others are receiving preferential treatment and not held to the same standards)
  • Difficulties terminating employees for reasons related to tardiness or absenteeism
  • Vulnerability to legal action on behalf of employees

Regardless of what type of business you have, the industry in which you operate or where your office is located, you need a time and attendance policy for your employees.

What about flexible workplaces?

Now, you may ask: But what about flexible workplaces? You may feel that your company isn’t formal and rigid enough to warrant having a time and attendance policy.

And you’d be wrong. This conversation definitely applies to your company as well.

Increasingly, workplaces are becoming more flexible and less formal. Greater numbers of employees work remotely and are distributed across several locations and even different time zones.

Millennials – now the largest group out in the workforce – and Generation Z are the future of the workplace. Employees of these generations tend to expect flexibility.

How so?

  • They have more of a 24/7 mindset in that work doesn’t necessarily have to take place within the traditional 8-to-5 schedule as long as it gets done on time. They’re available beyond typical business hours, frequently checking and responding to emails or texts.
  • They tend to prefer open-ended paid time off (PTO) to allow more time to attend to family obligations, enjoy more travel opportunities and even engage in volunteer activities – with the caveat that as long as work gets done, it’s OK.

This is perfectly acceptable. If your type of business aligns with a flexible approach, this can make you an extremely attractive company to work for and give you an edge in retaining employees for the long term.

However, you still need a time and attendance policy for the purposes of:

  • Establishing basic ground rules
  • Setting expectations for employees
  • Treating all employees fairly
  • Protecting your company from legal action on behalf of employees

Even as workplaces evolve to become more flexible, remote and distributed, you need to have some parameters in place. This is because the potential for abuse of your company is greater. You need to be able to discipline or terminate employees when called for. It’s difficult to do this when your policy is ambiguous and not stated in writing.

Your time and attendance policy can be as detailed and strict, or as high level and relaxed, as you like – but

  • it needs to be clear.
  • It must be published to employees (in an employee handbook or posted in a conspicuous place so employees know it exists).
  • everyone needs to adhere to it.
  • performance standards must to be met.

So how do you go about creating such a policy? What should it address?

Office hours

Your official hours are the days of the week and the length of time each day when you expect employees to be in the office or available for work if they work remotely.

This concerns you if:

  • Your business is open to the public at certain times.
  • Employees interact directly with customers.
  • Your business has any other requirements or work processes that call for employees to be working together at specific times.

Otherwise, if you’re flexible, say so. For example, be clear about if employees are allowed to:

  • Leave the office when they’re done with specified assignments
  • Set their own schedule
  • Work from anywhere

If you expect employees to be available by phone, email or text outside work hours, that needs to be communicated as well. This is particularly important for all hours employees.


This concerns employees who arrive to work late when set office hours exist – without any compelling reason for their behavior.

In your policy, clarify these points:

  • By when you consider employees to be late, and whether there’s any grace period
  • Call-in procedures (i.e. how to seek approval for being late in an emergency situation or pre-planned events like a doctor visit).
  • The disciplinary process


This concerns employees who are constantly out of the office, taking overly long breaks, leaving work early without permission or failing to clock in and out – again, without any compelling reason why – in a work environment with set office hours.

You don’t know where these people are or what they’re working on much of the time.

Excessive absenteeism from any employee is a big problem, because it can kill morale and foster resentment among other employees who feel like they’re picking up the slack.

In your policy, clarify these points:

  • How you define absenteeism
  • The acceptable frequency and duration of breaks
  • The procedure for clocking in and out, or filling out time sheets
  • The disciplinary process

Time off (paid and unpaid)

Explain to employees all the paid time off (PTO) they get, which may include:

Some companies lump vacation and sick time in together to create more flexibility for employees.

Also be sure to explain:

  • The accrual rate for PTO
  • Whether unused PTO carries over into the following calendar year; check state
  • The process for requesting time off, including any deadlines or restrictions (for example, making vacation requests around holidays)
  • Any other permitted leave
  • Any leave that’s unpaid
  • Any required documentation for leaves or time out of the office

Keep in mind that overtime worked can increase the average or expected annual accrual.

Also, check all state laws to ensure compliance. For instance, some states don’t allow a use-it-or-lose-it PTO policy.

Preferred communication methods

Let your employees know how to notify you if they’ll be late or absent. Do you prefer an email, phone call or text?

As mentioned in the preceding section, you also need to explain the process for requesting PTO or any type of leave. Is there an HR portal or company intranet where employees can do this electronically and independently? Or do you prefer that employees ask you via email, text or an in-person meeting?

Additionally, many companies use online, interactive calendars to help employees easily share with their colleagues when they will be out of the office to better coordinate work schedules.

Disciplinary process

Clearly spell out what happens when an employee violates your time and attendance policy. Your goal is to never have an employee be surprised by any punitive action you take against them.

The typical progressive disciplinary process is as follows:

  • Verbal warning
  • Written warning
  • Final warning
  • Termination

Avoid listing a concrete number of occurrences that need to happen before progressing to the next stage. Employees can be savvy at learning to game your system.

For example, if they know they can be late exactly three times – without incurring negative consequences – before getting a warning, what’s stopping them from coming in late those two initial times? Instead, manage this on a case-by-case basis, factoring in the employee’s role and impact on your business.

You should also maintain a dialogue with your employees about their reasons for tardiness or absenteeism. If their reasons are valid, be fair. You want to be sure you’re accommodating a personal, family or medical issue, possibly in the form of a schedule change.

Each time you deliver a warning to an employee, this should be documented in their personnel file. This is crucial for defending yourself in the event of accusations of unfair treatment.

Policy documentation

Your time and attendance policy is among the many types of HR policies you must properly document.

Your policy should be provided to each employee in writing – either in print or electronically. It should also be included in your employee handbook, if your company has one.

When your employees are given a copy of the policy, you should ask them to sign and date an acknowledgement that they’ve read and understood the policy. The new-hire onboarding process is a convenient time to do this.

Your ability to demonstrate employees’ awareness and acceptance of your time and attendance policy can protect you during legal proceedings.

Policy enforcement

From the beginning, set the expectation that the policy applies to all employees, including leadership.

It’s very important that managers lead by example and enforce the policy from the top down. After all, any behavior from leadership that violates the policy grants unspoken permission for employees to act similarly. It tells them that the company doesn’t really take the policy seriously.

Reviewing data from electronic key cards and time sheets are easy ways that you can monitor employees’ behavior – as well as the shared office calendars mentioned earlier. All these options provide hard evidence that can support your case for disciplining or terminating an employee on the grounds of excessive tardiness or absenteeism.

Encourage managers to walk around the office periodically and casually check in with your team – and see who’s there.

Be careful about micromanaging, though. Don’t make employees feel like you’re always lurking over their shoulder, watching their every move. As a company leader, you do have better things to do. And it’ll undermine morale and make people want to quit.

This is also true for remote employees. For example, if you tell them that they must be logged into company systems for at least X hours per day, that can feel arbitrary and foster resentment. Just because they’re not officially logged in doesn’t mean they’re not working.

Enforcing a time and attendance policy really comes down to trust and respect. Assume your employees will act like the professionals they are.

Save your major surveillance efforts for when work performance declines, other employees share concerns, or you witness a behavior in violation of the policy that puts you on alert.

Laws to watch out for

It’s essential to review your time and attendance policy at least annually to ensure that it’s in compliance with national, state and local employment laws and regulations.

Especially if you have multiple office locations, ignoring the fact that laws can vary by state and municipality can expose you to liability.

The following laws provide opportunities for you to encounter legal issues when creating, implementing and enforcing your time and attendance policy:

Paid sick leave

Multiple states have mandatory paid-sick-leave laws obligating employers to provide a certain number of dedicated sick days for employees.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

If you’re reducing wages for an exempt employee as a punishment for excessive absences or tardiness, you could be at risk of a wage claim.

As the employer, it’s your obligation to maintain accurate timekeeping records for all non-exempt employees.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

FMLA obligates employers with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius to give employees 12 weeks off to deal with a personal health issue or care for another family member, without any form of discipline.

You must hold their job for the duration of the leave. Smaller employers are usually advised to approve such a leave of absence, but they are not required by law to hold the employee’s job.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Employers are obligated to make a good-faith effort to accommodate the disabilities or ongoing health issues of employees that could otherwise impact their ability to perform the primary functions of their jobs.

If one of your employees cites a disability or health issue as a reason or tardiness or absences, you must engage in an interactive dialogue to determine any accommodations that may be necessary to assist the employee.

Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act and Veterans’ Preference

Employees’ military obligations – including overseas deployments – are covered by law. You’re obligated to grant these absences in accordance with the law.

Workers’ Compensation

This law covers injuries sustained by employees at work.

If the medical recommendation is for an employee to take a leave of absence because of their injury, you are obligated to grant the leave.

You should also be aware that some states require employers to grant specific types of leave, including:

  • Voting leave
  • School visitation
  • Jury duty
  • Bereavement leave

Summing it all up

A time and attendance policy is essential, but to make it effective and enforceable it must be:

  • Written down and acknowledged by employees
  • Comprehensive
  • As clear and specific as possible
  • In alignment with your workplace culture, type of business, work processes and industry
  • In compliance with all relevant laws at the national, state and local level
  • Encouraging mutual trust and respect

For more information on HR policies that can protect your company, download our free e-book: 7 most frequent HR mistakes and how to avoid them.