Episode 304: Points-Based Attendance Policies

Points-based attendance policies… we get it. Sometimes, you want to immediately “punish” employees that are late or call out with no notice. So, you give them half a point or sometimes even a full point, letting them know that once they reach a certain amount, they’ve lost their job. That’ll teach them…! (Can you tell we’re kidding?) Paul Edwards sits down with Senior Solution Center Advisor Michelle Richard to discuss why these types of attendance systems are not a good idea, and how easy it can be to land yourself in hot water if you use one.


Voice Over: You’re about to listen to another episode of What The Hell Just Happened?! Join Paul Edwards and his guests as they discuss and sometimes even solve some interesting HR problems. 

Paul: And… I’m gonna go off the rails sometimes and talk about whatever I want. 

Michelle: Hi, Paul. How are you doing?

Paul: I’m doing good, Michelle.

Michelle: Thanks for having me back.

Paul: I’m glad to have you back. I know you’re super busy right now. 

Michelle: Oh, extra. 

Paul: Yeah, the whole expert team over there in the solution center is just- you guys are- you’re just killing it right now.

Michelle: Oh, well, thank you. We appreciate that.

Paul: People have questions, and I have a feeling that you have a question that those people have been asking for me…

Michelle: Coming up with content is the least of our worries. We- this is the easy part. So let’s let’s talk today… I was thinking about points-based attendance systems. 

Paul: Uh-huh. 

Michelle: And for those of you listening, you’ve probably heard of this before.

Paul: Anybody who is manned the fryer at McDonald’s knows exactly what you’re talking about.

[Michelle laughs]

Michelle: Exactly. You’ve worked at a call center, know someone who works at a call center… Lots of corporations do points based attendance systems That’s why it’s pretty commonplace for some larger companies. And we really want to- I want to talk a little bit about them in detail today. So let me start by asking you a question, Paul. 

Paul: Yes?

Michelle: Do we at CEDR recommend point based attendance systems? Why or why not?

Paul: The answer is a hard no. And we were formed in 2006. And from that moment forward, we immediately said, drop your point systems. So as employers do, many of us do, when we fire up a, you know, a new business and we have employees as we look to what other businesses are doing or were doing and we say, “OK, we’re going to do it that way”, and it’s not always a bad thing.

But point systems were kind of prevalent at the time. And- and it’s one of the first things that we learned was not a good idea. It’s not something that we want in place with the businesses that we work with in the way that we work with them.

Michelle: And for those of you that have never heard of points-based systems, I mean, there was a first time I had heard about it…

Paul: Its a strike system.

Michelle: Right. Yeah, exactly. It’s you’re you’re tardy. You maybe get half a point. You’re absent you get a full point, and then you go on and on until you reach a certain number of points. Certain number of points equals disciplinary action or termination.

Paul: Right. 

Michelle: And so that’s that’s for those of you that haven’t heard of it and might hear about it now because you have your ear to the ground. That’s what that is. And I understand when I’m on the phone with a member, I understand why they’re interested in this. It brings some level of consistency. It’s appealing.

Paul: And it’s easy. “We’ll just keep track of the points”. 

Michelle: Yeah. 

Paul: And then when you’ve got too many of them will do something to you.

Michelle: Exactly. And, you know, I think we need to dig in just a little bit as to why don’t we recommend it? You know, do you want to give a little, little insight into why we don’t?

Paul: Well, I’m- I prefer to work with adults. So that’s one of them. I think that when you put mindless systems in place, you get mindless outcomes. I think that even, you know, for many years, I think you’re managing people, not robots that would respond to a point system. I think if it makes your life better and the employee’s life better, it’s a good thing… But if it makes your life simpler, that’s not necessarily better. I have a metaphor running in the back of my head right now, and, you know, I love them.

Michelle: Please share.

Paul: Oh, “please share this”, Michelle.

Michelle: I’m always interested to hear what he came up with! 

[Paul and Michelle laugh]

Paul: Okay, so a point system is a little bit like a map. And so imagine that you went to Google Maps and they- and you said, “how do I get from point A to point B?” And Google Maps says “there’s 17 turns and this is how you get there. And on the 14th turn, the bridge is no longer there”. And they just drive you right off into the Grand Canyon. 

Michelle: Yeah. 

Paul: And that’s a point system. If you just follow one point to point to point, they’re just little waypoints. You just drive right off the cliff. So the- I know the counter to that is “well we have exceptions to the point system”.

Michelle: There you go, Paul! OK, so you hit on the main cultural aspects and just realities of why this, why this isn’t a great idea. There’s also the legal risk and, you know, we want to be the bearer of bad news, but we we have to address that, right? Because this is your business and it’s important that, you know what what risk it poses. So points policies often conflict with a worker’s rights.

Paul: How?

Michelle: So, great question. Well, the most straightforward example I can give is when a state has a paid sick leave law. So you definitely shouldn’t be counting points-

Paul: No so those should be excluded. That’s an exception so let’s write a paragraph for that.

Michelle: Exactly. What about just random medical accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act that need to be made?

Paul: OK, so they’re taking time off or they need time off or they need to be late or they are late because there’s a medical related reason. Michelle, can I just say that the way that that one crops up is, is that they don’t have a note from the doctor at the time, but once you use the point system and up and take the adverse action against them and fire them, they then are able to lay their hands on the reasons why they were late. And they are related to bona fide medical issues like, I don’t know, maternity leave.

Michelle: [laughs] Yup! 

Paul: Like “I’m pregnant right now and I’m going on maternity leave and I have doctor’s appointments and things aren’t working out for me or recovering from surgery”. I remember what it was like when I recovered from my surgery like two years ago. I get up in the morning going, everything’s great, and then come in to work on time and then everything wasn’t great.

Michelle: Yeah. And your best employee… 

Paul: Yeah… 

Michelle: So I always ask this question, are you willing to lose your best and most productive to somebody that, oh, they’re amazing. They’re your best either favorite. OK, let’s not play like there are favorites here and there. I mean, you don’t want to lose.

Paul: And for good reason.

Michelle: They produce, they have producers. They’re just wonderful to work with. They add to your team, are you willing to lose them over the points based system?

Paul: Are you going to apply? Are you going to decide every now and then to kind of “we’re not going to put that point on”, aren’t you? Aren’t you going to do that every now and then? Or are you going to do are you going to make that “ehh” decision the same way every single time? Because if I want to look at the record and I’m depositioning or you know, well, I’m not going to deposition anybody, but if someone’s depositioning, then they’re going to ask for the time records and it’s going to show that time and time again you had a certain subset of employees who are late. They got no points. And yet you have another set of employees who happen to be in some kind of protected class and, you weren’t thinking that that’s not why you did it, you were like, “I like this person and I’m going to do things for them, and I don’t know this person and I’m not going to do things for them”. So points for you and no points for them.

Michelle: Right? Yep. So, I mean, here’s what it boils down to. You want to be consistent. Yes. That is at the core of what we talk about in H.R.. That’s part that’s that’s part that’s a huge part. But you also want to make sure that you’re flexible where you need to be flexible, that you give allowance, where there needs to be an allowance made.

Michelle: And that’s what you want to work with experts. Right, who are able to identify “hey, you need to make an exception here. You need to document it this way” and so forth. So, you know, I just wanted to touch on those things mean you’re going to hear a lot about them there’s actually a lot of employers that are had to put pause on their points based point system during COVID. Because they realize, well, there’s a lot of gaps here and we need to either completely rework this or totally trash and come up with a new a new attendance based system. 

Paul: Right. So I want to put one more set of context to this… Most of the time, in my experience, a point system is effective when you are hiring teenagers and you expect turnover and you- it’s OK because you have a set of workers who are recently used to having someone use a stick to get them to do something right.

Michelle: Yeah.

Paul: I mean, it’s a parental- It’s a complete parental approach. You’re getting another point. You’re going to lose your job and now your parents are going to be mad at you because you lost your job. 

Michelle: Flashbacks! [laughs]

Paul: But for most of the people that I work with and that we work with out there, no hitting them with a stick every time that something occurs like this is not the way to do it. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m not saying you can’t hold people accountable and that you should just let people show up when they want to or, whatever that might look like.

But the conversations are adult. They’re much more different. They’re based around people showing up because they love their job. They’re good at it. You’ve figured out how to fit them in, and I’m going to say it again. They are part of your mission. They’re part of your vision. They’re part of running the practice. They’re part of all of your successes. They’re part of all of your failures. And they’re going to be late every now and then.

Michelle: We’re only human, right?

Paul: Yeah. And you got to figure it out. And when they’re late too much, you got to figure it out. Walking in and telling them how many points they have is really not a good way to start with an adult to get them to do something. And if you’ve got somebody that that would be effective with, then you probably shouldn’t have them on your team.

Michelle: There you go. 

Paul: Aright. That- I guess we’ve unequivocally- we’ve made it clear I do not like point systems. And you as an expert don’t like point systems either. So if you’ve got one out there, you adopted one. There are some problems with it. Just be careful, but also be consistent. And and that’s that’s what we have on points. 

Michelle: Yeah. If you’re a member, give us a call. 

Paul: Oh! By the way, Michel. Double extra bonus secret squirrel nut points for you for asking that question. So that takes out five of your points.

Michelle: Oh, yeah.

[Paul and Michelle laugh]

Paul: Thank you!

Michelle: Thank you, Paul!

Voice Over: Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode of What The Hell Just Happened? do Paul a favor; share this with your network. If you have an HR issue or a question, you’d like us to discuss on this show, send it to podcast@WTHjusthappened.com. For more HR advice and insights from Paul and his team of experts, you can also join the private Facebook group, HR Base Camp, or visit HRbasecamp.com. Make sure you tune in next week. And remember: better workplaces make better lives.

Feb 21, 2023

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.
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