Survey: Worker absences highest in December

Many employers see a spike in worker sick days in December because of cold weather and holiday stress, but having a strong absence policy can help companies curb abuse, experts said.

Several Dayton-area companies are making changes to their policies for 2014 to better manage worker absences and serve customer needs, local human resources professionals said.

A recent CareerBuilder survey found that in the past year 32 percent of workers called in sick when not actually ill, a slight increase from 30 percent in 2012.

The national survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, found that 30 percent of employers notice an increased number of sick days among workers around the holidays. Nineteen percent said December is the time of year when employees call in sick the most, followed by January (16 percent) and February (15 percent).

Winter weather and holiday season demands can impact absentee rates, CareerBuilder officials said. But employers’ absence policies, such as requiring workers to use their paid sick days before the end of the year or lose them, also could be a factor, experts said.

Piqua-based Hartzell Industries Inc. has “no fault” attendance policy that curbs such behavior, said Stephen Lucas, the manufacturing company’s vice president of human resources.

The policy, implemented earlier this year, gives nonexempt workers 40 unpaid hours in a rolling 12-month period for unscheduled absences. After 40 hours of missed work, employees are put into an attendance improvement plan that requires them to go 60 days without missing work or being late.

“Within that 60-day period, if they miss two additional days, they’re gone,” Lucas said. Workers who successfully complete the program get only 24 hours for unscheduled absences in the next 12 months.

Before making the change, one of Hartzell’s business units had a 5.5 percent absentee rate, compared to the 1 percent national average, Lucas said. Since then, the absentee rate has dropped to 0.59 percent.

“It has significantly reduced our absenteeism,” he said.

Next year, Hartzell, will start requiring workers to use their paid vacation time or lose it, rather than carrying it over from one year to the next, as under the current policy. The change will require the company to manage the process throughout the year, so employees don’t all try to use their vacation time in December.

“We are all in business to serve the needs of our customers and if we don’t have employees that are at work every day, it certainly prohibits us in meeting some of our customer needs,” Lucas said.

Hartzell, which manufactures hardwood, veneer and industrial ventilation products, has 330 employees.

Vandalia-based Lion Apparel doesn’t see excessive absenteeism during December at its local corporate headquarters or Kentucky manufacturing facility. Many workers self-manage their schedules to meet company needs, said Alan Nash, Lion’s vice president of human resources.

For example, Lion’s financial group must meet fiscal year-end deadlines, so those employees work together to schedule time off to avoid staffing shortfalls. “We don’t want the manager to mandate or do a lot of oversight with this,” Nash said.

Lion, a provider of protective clothing for fire and rescue workers, will implement a new absence policy for 2014 at its West Liberty, Ky., manufacturing facility, which employs 320 workers.

Under the new policy, manufacturing workers will accrue points for unscheduled absences, which will lead to disciplinary actions, Nash said. Those workers will get 40 hours of annual, unpaid sick time that can be rolled over to the next year, but is capped at 80 hours.

Nash said the majority of Lion’s workers understand the importance of the company’s mission. “They know that the gear for the firefighters have to be right and have to be delivered when they need them, and they work very hard to accomplish that,” he said.

Lion has 1,000 employees at its operations in North America, Japan and the Netherlands.

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