Showing Up: Free Attendance Policy Template for Small Businesses

People miss work for all kinds of reasons: a missed bus, a flat tire, a power outage, and even a phone accidentally set to silent. But when the success of your small business hinges on reliable staffing, you need a reliable team who will show up for shifts—on time.

Enter your attendance policy (and our free attendance policy template). If you’re running a small business, this tool can help communicate attendance expectations to your team members—and what happens when they don’t meet them.

An attendance policy can make the difference between a team full of stragglers and a fully staffed business, so we’re here to help you put your attendance policy to work. Below, we talk about what to include in your attendance policy and how to make it your own.

And just to show we’re serious, we’ve even put together a free attendance policy template and made it downloadable and customizable to get you started. Just keep scrolling!

Ready? Steady? Timely? Go!

What is an attendance policy?

An attendance policy is a document issued by the employer outlining the expectations for employee attendance. Ideally, an attendance policy outlines some, if not all, of the following:

  • Company rules and procedures around shifts and attending work
  • What’s considered absenteeism (missing shifts)
  • Consequences or disciplinary action (including dismissal) around consistently arriving late or missing work without notice or a reasonable justification
  • What to do in extraordinary circumstances (e.g., emergencies, public transit strikes, natural disasters, etc.)
  • Sick policies and protocols
  • Getting shifts covered: do’s and don’ts

Basically, an attendance policy gives your team a clear understanding of how to proceed when something comes up. And with worker absenteeism on the rise, it’s becoming more important than ever to express your expectations for attendance to your team.

Life happens—we get it. A good attendance policy sets expectations for how to deal with missing work for the totally normal reasons we all encounter day-to-day. Even a business’s most dedicated employees, including yourself, are sometimes late for a shift or have to miss work altogether. Acknowledge that!

The best attendance policies are understanding and even flexible while also laying down a clear framework. With really clear outlines, a solid policy can and should become part of your business’s guiding principles and onboarding. It should be easy-to-use, understandable, and take both employee welfare and business needs into consideration. 

Struggling to know what to include? Read on—and don’t miss our free attendance policy template below.

How do you write an attendance policy?

Creating and enforcing a formal attendance policy may depend on the size of your business. If you’re a small business starting out, there may be a few non-negotiables you ask of your employees when it comes to work attendance or time off (or even shift swapping). This can include:

  • The expectation to contact you as soon as possible if something unexpected comes up (and how best to do that)
  • Shift covering protocols
  • Advance notice for non-essential shift swapping
  • Disciplinary measures for no-shows

If your business is growing and you’re onboarding more and more employees, putting something official in place is all the more essential. It gives you and your team something to refer to when figuring out unusual situations. It can also contribute to a sense of equality and fairness among all members of your team to know everyone’s treated on the same terms.

At its core, an attendance policy template should help keep your team protected as much as it protects you. Your business operations need to run as smoothly as possible—but hiccups happen! Making it clear that employees won’t be fired for unexpected events can be as important as making the consequences for unexcused absences clear.

Still not sure where to start when writing your attendance policy? We’ve detailed a few considerations to keep in mind when starting out. Don’t forget to scroll down and download our free attendance policy template to follow along!

Make it easy to understand.

An attendance policy doesn’t need to be lengthy or written in confusing language. Define parts of the attendance policy—like tardiness or no-call, no-shows—in plain language.

Use an attendance policy template.

You don’t have to start from scratch. An attendance policy template (like the one we include below) is a great place to start to make sure you’re not forgetting to include key information.

Specify your business’s needs.

No one knows your business better than you. Your business’s goals and strategies can be as important as its basic staffing needs. If having employees on-site or available online is vital to running your business effectively and smoothly, that matters to scheduling and attendance. Operational needs and productivity goals, including daily sales goals, are other important staffing factors.

You want to be considerate of your team members and unexpected occurrences. That means understanding their circumstances—and helping them understand yours. When you’re clear about what the business needs to stay open, you’re communicating a goal for your team to meet. After all, your business’s health matters to their paycheck and employment!

Explain your attendance policy’s benefits—for everyone.

At first glance, your team may resent the need for an attendance policy. After all, is it really necessary? But including the ways the attendance policy benefits employees can encourage both adoption and mutual respect. Before using just any old template, make sure your attendance policy template includes:

  • Guidelines for unexpected events. A panicking employee may not know how to handle themselves in the event of a broken-down car or weather event. If your team knows what to do when something comes up, filling the shift will go all the more smoothly. Less panic for everyone can only be a good thing.
  • Clear expectations for conduct. Especially if lateness or absenteeism is starting to emerge as a trend, codifying attendance expectations can refresh your team on what’s expected of them.
  • Understanding consequences—and benefits. When your team member arrives late, their pay may be docked and the business runs less smoothly. When they arrive on time, they become a trusted figure in the business and may even enjoy future opportunities for growth. Writing it all down reminds them of what’s on the line—positive and negative.
  • Protections and flexibility your business offers. Whether your employee has the flu, more complex medical needs, or simply young children, an attendance policy can help your team navigate the realities of life more easily. When you give your team options for how to handle the inconveniences we all deal with, you’re likely to reduce employee turnover and build trust with your team.

Keep it simple.

An attendance policy doesn’t need to be overly complicated. Keep the format tight and simplify when possible. It’s important to communicate, but shaving your policy down to brass tacks ensures it’s more likely to be read and better understood.

Let your team know about time tracking policies.

Does your business use a time card or time attendance software? If so, your team should be aware of how it works and the role it plays in how you evaluate attendance.

Note that tracking employee time is one easy way to learn when your team members are late, absent, or just not clocking in when they should be. It’s especially useful for noticing patterns over time. This kind of software can be a tough sell on employees, but clear communication—especially to address a key problem in your business—can make the difference in adoption.

Bonus tip: Tired of buddy punching? Look for a time-tracking app that provides every team member with their own log ins to make sure your team is where they’re supposed to be.

Adjust your policy and templates as needed.

Your attendance policy should be a living document. Outdated practices and older versions of attendance policy templates don’t do anyone any favors. Today’s workforce values flexibility highly, and we know how quickly the circumstances of your business can change. If you can offer ways to prioritize your team’s physical or mental health, update the policy and watch employee retention soar.

Laws and regulations for employee attendance.

When it comes to employee attendance, there’s no Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulation. That means there are no hard and fast rules to determine and execute disciplinary action. But proper records of time worked—and paid—is mandated by the FLSA. These regulations include how to round time up to the nearest five minute mark or quarter of an hour for time worked and payroll.

When crafting your attendance policy, you may want to integrate clauses for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Your team is legally entitled to certain protections under these acts that you—and they—should be aware of.

Other federal laws keep workers with extraordinary circumstances or different lived experiences protected in their employment. Stay aware of the labor regulations in your state and be sure your attendance policy is compliant with them.

What to include in your employee attendance policy (+ free template).

The specifics of the policy may change from business to business. The clauses that apply can depend on business size and number of employees. Think of this a general guide on the important aspects to include in your employee attendance policy.

Overview of the policy.

A summary of your policy’s provisos should appear at the top. These should explicitly and succinctly detail the expectations for your team’s attendance at work. It can also allude to other aspects of the policy, like tardiness, absenteeism, or job abandonment, and consequences for these.

Expectations for work attendance.

This needs to be specific to your business needs. Do you require your employees on-site or in-store whenever they’re scheduled? Is there a remote or hybrid offering, particularly for roles like managers or part-time team members like accountants or HR reps?

Set clear expectations on how your employees show up and when. For example, you may want to write that a shift starts at a certain time, but it’s expected employees arrive at least 10 minutes beforehand to prepare and clock in on time. (Check your state’s legislation to ensure you’re paying for that early time if required!) Is there a grace period for when someone starts, or is it by the minute? This section of the policy might also include expectations around breaks, like paid lunches. 

How to report absences.

No matter how hard you encourage your team to plan ahead and request time off, late arrivals and absences—both explained and unexplained—can and will happen. Emergencies happen! Your policy should clearly indicate how far in advance an employee should try to notify you before their shift starts. That way, you can quickly find someone else to work the shift, or find another solution. 

Employees will also take personal time off (PTO) for vacations, medical issues, family matters, appointments, and everything in between. Your policy should outline the procedures for requesting this time off in advance.

Finally, this policy should detail number of sick days, including how they accrue and how many of them are paid.

Clock in and clock out policy.

Clocking in and out for a shift is important for attendance—and payroll. Your scheduling and time tracking software holds all employee data of who worked when and for how long. If an employee is on-time but keeps forgetting to clock in at the start of their shift, that may impact how they’re perceived by management and what they get paid.

Tardiness and early departures from work.

Lateness, or tardiness, is imperative to include in your attendance policy. Tardiness includes lateness to work or late arrival back from a break.

Early departures from work include leaving a shift before completion without managerial approval. Just because it’s a slow shift doesn’t always mean it’s okay to duck out early—a supervisor should determine if an employee may leave early or not. Outline procedures for requesting early departure and what happens if that procedure isn’t followed.

Job abandonment.

Sometimes an employee is scheduled for work and doesn’t show. Make it clear in your policy what job abandonment looks like and how many sequential absences equates to job abandonment. 

It’s important to understand that an employee may be in distress, or that something may have happened that makes them unreachable. Take the steps to outline how you’ll reach out to an employee to ensure their safety before determining they’ve abandoned their job. This may include collecting emergency contacts from your team.

Disciplinary actions.

Make it clear to employees what happens when they don’t follow attendance expectations. Think of your document as a contract between you and your employee. Tell them how disciplinary steps will follow from failure to comply.

Make the hierarchy of consequences clear. For tardiness, a verbal or written warning may follow. For a pattern of behavior, disciplinary actions may escalate, which may include job termination. 

Supervisory role and accountability.

Your team members aren’t the only ones accountable—you’re accountable, too! Reiterate your own responsibilities as owner or manager to show your team that you take this as seriously as they do. These can include responsibilities to your team’s attendance needs, including:

  • Helping employees find cover for their shifts when they need it
  • Support and understanding for unforeseen absences
  • Offering flexibility when possible
  • Brainstorming accommodations or alternative ways forward for team members who have certain needs, like recurring medical appointments, childcare needs, or chronic illness

As the owner or manager, you and your other managers (if you have them) also need to enforce your policy. Clearly outline the role of supervisors and managers, especially if these roles are filled by someone other than the business’s owner, so chain of command and delegation is clear.

Employee sign-off.

Get employees to sign off on the document and keep it for your records. Giving them a copy for their own reference ensures that everyone’s on the same page and has the same information. When your team has something to hold you to in kind, it can foster trust and help you retain your team members!

Be inclusive.

Though every member of your team should be offered the same opportunities and expectations, each employee’s needs are different. Attendance is important to every business, but it’s also very important—and good for your business—to treat employees with care and safety.

Incorporating inclusive language, empathy, and opportunities for nuance wherever possible in your attendance policy can go a long way toward showing your team you’re all in this together. They call it a “team” for a reason!

You may have employees with disabilities who rely on a particular form of transportation, and who need more time to get to and from work. Any number of special circumstances may result in the bending or replacement of the attendance policy on a case-by-case basis. Make it clear that any team member is more than welcome to request the accommodations they need without penalty, and that expectations and consequences may be adjusted or waived based on mutual agreement.

Download your free attendance policy template.

Still not sure where to start with writing your business’s attendance policy? Not to worry—we’ve created a attendance policy template to make this process easier on you. 

It’s free, it’s customizable, and it’s ready for you to jump in and make it your own. Start off on the right foot—get it here: Homebase Attendance Policy Template

Change employee attendance for the better.

An attendance policy is just one great resource to keep your small business running the way you need it to. Homebase can make attendance all the easier to manage with time tracking software to keep you and your employees on track. Employees can efficiently clock in and clock out on the Homebase app, and keep track of their hours worked. That makes attendance and payroll a breeze!

Attendance policy FAQs

What is a standard attendance policy?

A standard attendance policy is a contract between employer and employee on specifics of how and when an employee shows up to work.

What is considered a "reasonable" attendance policy?

A reasonable attendance policy includes definitions of what constitutes an absence, disciplinary actions, and nuances and considerations such as emergency or unplanned absence and notes for differently abled folks.

What is considered excessive absence at work?

Excessive absence at work includes frequent, often sequential, shifts or days at work missed. Excessive absences are often determined by the employer. An excessive amount may be three unexplained absences over a month long period.

How can you track an employee's attendance record?

Employers can track employee time and attendance via a time clock app such as Homebase

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