Employee Absence

Case Analysis Report - Case Study: Employee Absence by Stephen Adams


Key Stakeholders in the Case and How the Operational/Ethical Issues Affect the Stakeholders

Employee absenteeism for many corporations has become a widespread problem. Consequently, company policies were established to curb employee absenteeism. In the case of Employee Absence by Stephen Adams, what appears is a case that appears to be straightforward. A close analysis of the case brings the reader to one central question: is the case straightforward? Who are the stakeholders of the company and what do they represent? Stakeholders are defined as whoever (person or group) has “a stake or claim in some aspect of a company's products, operations, markets, industry and outcomes” (Ferrell, Fraedrich, & Ferrell, 2008, p. 30). As the case develops, the stakeholders can be inferred from the case as the: 1) employee(s), 2) customers, and 3) governmental regulatory agencies (p. 35).

How do the ethical issues influence the stakeholders when it comes to employee absenteeism? It affects employees because when one or more employees miss work, in addition to the work employees are already scheduled to complete, they have to complete the work of the absent employee also. It affects customers, especially in the retail/service industry because if the workforce is “short handed” (checkout personnel, customer service representatives, et al), the service delivered to the customer is not the same. In some cases, customers will have to wait longer for their product or service; or in extreme cases, will have to seek their product or service elsewhere. It affects governmental regulatory agencies, because they will have to ensure companies such as Great American Market are adhering to the wage & hour laws, and to specific initiatives such as the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If an employee files a suit or claim against their employer for violating local or federal attendance laws, he or she would have a substantiated claim because Great American did not comply with federal law.

Legal Analysis - Key Ethical Issues/Perspectives - Demonstration of Ethically Sound Behavior

Here are the facts of this case. Adams (2003) indicated that supermarket employee Joan was placed on a written warning for absences. Soon after the issuance of this warning, Joan's babysitter reported out. Joan later reported out as an unexcused absence in order to take care of her child. Supervisor suspended the employee immediately after the incident for a period of fifteen days. A hearing was later held to discuss the facts surrounding this case. Joan indicated that it was out of her control that the babysitter reported out; thus, she stated she had no other option. Supervisor maintains that attempts were not initiated to rectify the situation and that not having a sitter to care for a child is not an acceptable reason for Joan's absence.

The main issues that resulted in this conflict are prior unexcused \absences, which can be inferred from the case. In retrospect, what are the unknown, possibly underlying issues? Why do those issues exist? Coupled with the unexcused absences and the unforeseen babysitter absence, a possible underlying issue is perhaps Joan could have called her employer to report another absence simply because she did not want to report in to work that day. The case does not suggest a discord between the supervisor and the employee prior to the initial employee absence reports. What is known is that the employee and the supervisor disagreed on the fact that a lack of a babysitter at the employee's home was a valid reason for reporting out from work.

`Now that the surface and deep conflicts have both been identified, what actions should be taken to recover from this dilemma now? What is known is that Joan did act responsibly. She took the time to notify her employer of her extenuating circumstances. As an adult, she is solely responsible for her work attendance as far as contacting the employer immediately upon any occurrence. Based on the facts provided in the case, she acted with integrity. At the same time, there are continual “what ifs” in the case. To put it differently, the case purposely does not provide with specifics. In essence, as odd as the idea may sound, how would the employer know if Joan was lying or not about her reported absence? It is interesting to note that the most common reasons for employee absenteeism are “personal and/or family illness, poor overall management, poor craft supervision, travel distance, excessive rework and unsafe working conditions” (The Business Roundtable, 1982).

There are more working mothers in corporate America than ever before. It is time for more employers to provide additional benefits to this facet of workers. When you are in management, sometimes decisions have to be made that are considered unpopular. Essentially, every employee is not treated the same. Employees all have different circumstances and different lifestyles. Ethically, management should be responsible for handling employee cases individually on a case by case basis.

The first theory of ethical thought applicable to the employee absenteeism case is the deontological view. Kubasek, et al (2009, p. 224), judges actions in this view based on whether or not the act is good or bad. Based on the case, Joan's action was bad, regardless of the reason for the absence. Even though she received multiple warnings regarding her unexcused absences, Joan felt it necessary to report out again. She had the free will to make her own decision regarding whether or not to show up for work. She elected to call out, which would be unethical behavior. The ethical behavior demonstrated by the supervisor involved the corrective action of providing a suspension to Joan for 15 days (Adams, 2003).

Subsequently, the second theory of ethical thought used for the employee absenteeism case is the utilitarianism, or consequential view. This view asserts that based on the act's desired outcome, the act can be evaluated as good or bad (Kubasek, Brennan, & Browne, 2009, p. 234). Here is where a gray area exists. The act of Joan calling out to care for a child even though she was on a written warning is considered a good or ethical act based on a sub school of thought entitled act utilitarianism; in contrast, this same act would be considered unethical based on another sub school of thought entitled rule utilitarianism (2009, pp. 234 235). With act utilitarianism, if committing the act makes the person happy overall, it would be considered ethical. If not, it is advised not to commit the act (pp. 235). Rule utilitarianism indicates that if these acts were “the general rule, would it bring net happiness?” (2009, p. 235). Based on rule utilitarianism, Joan's act would be considered unethical because it would not bring her happiness overall. Even though she was rectifying an emergency, it would bring her unhappiness as it brought her to the step in disciplinary action after a written warning. Under rule utilitarianism, the employer's act of disciplining the employee for another absence is considered ethical. Based on Great American Market's attendance policy, for unprotected absences, “employers can, and should discipline their employees” (Employee Absenteeism and Attendance, 2009).

Finally, the third school of thought used for the employee absenteeism case is the humanist view. An act is considered good or bad if the act helps to enhance “intelligence, wisdom or self restraint” (Kubasek, Brennan, & Browne, 2009, p. 234). Based on this theory and the actions in the case, Joan's act is considered a good act because she thought about the act intelligently and discovered that no babysitter would be available so she elected to stay home to take care of her young child. Her act of babysitting for her child in an emergency is an act of accountability. It is not known if Joan is married or single. It is also not mentioned if the baby's father is assisting Joan with parenting duties, by way of either co parenting or providing money for the baby's needs. What is known is that Joan made her decision out of self sufficiency.

Contributing Factors: Corporate Culture and Corporate Governance/Guidelines

In this case, the corporate culture would have played a great part in assisting Joan with options to consider or use in the event of an emergency. Companies that invest in their employees are going to ensure they have exceptional benefits to boost morale and ensure employee retention. From the case, it can be inferred that Great American Market did not have enough options for the employee to minimize any attendance concerns. Consequently, from a corporate governance standpoint, Great American Market has a responsibility to ensure that employees know their ethical responsibility. Ferrell, et al (2009, p. 41) illustrates corporate governance as practices within a corporation that affects the way the business is run. These practices represent “accountability, oversight and control” (Ferrell, 2009, pp. 41). The market had a responsibility to ensure the attendance guidelines were in place to ensure fairness for all employees.

In reviewing the brief facts of the case, Great American Market did not appear to have a good balance of time options off that would accommodate Joan's emergency request. If the market had provided flexible options for time off, it would have been very unlikely that Joan would have called out as an unexcused absence. The stakeholders of Great American Market, including the executive officers and the customers, are affected by how employees manage their time off. When there are excessive amounts of absences, particularly in one day, it affects the customer traffic into the store. Customers are more likely to be agitated at checkout when there are not enough workers to service them while waiting in line to pay for groceries; in extreme cases, they may not patronize the store and may go elsewhere for grocery shopping. In addition, from an employee perspective, with excessive employee absences come employees who are expected to carry the load of one to two people in addition to his or her own tasks. It may tire out some workers who amiably work these tasks to ensure business needs are met. No matter how many people call out, the employees are “expected to go on” and complete the work tasks. In Joan's scenario, to determine if Great American's corporate culture contributed to her action, the option of same day shift swap or flex was available to her. It is not known if a same day shift swap may have helped Joan because she may have needed to care for her child by babysitting all day. Thus, Joan elected not to do a shift swap and decided to take an absence instead. There were limited options available at the time for Joan; thus, Great American did directly contribute to the cause of the unethical behavior because of their stringent attendance policy and no enough creative options for Joan to manage her time off. Based on their overall guidelines for attendance, Great American's corporate governance and corporate culture both directly played a role in Joan's decision to call out from work. Many options could have been considered by both parties to determine the best course of action. These options will be outlined in detail in the next two sections.

Business Link seems to suggest that if a worker can begin work later rather than their regularly scheduled start time that that the worker will likely be “not as dependent on childcare arrangements” (Business Link, 2009). This is not necessarily true - some may disagree with this statement. If an employee comes in later, they will still have that worry of childcare regardless. Whether a shift swap will help an employee in this scenario will highly depend on: 1) their new start time and 2) if there will be an arrangement for childcare when the employee starts their shift later.

Ethical Decision Factors to Consider:

In analyzing this case, here are the ethical decision factors to consider:

Options to be Considered - FMLA is a job protected option for intermittent or continuous leave to care for a new child, or a sick family member (Kubasek, et al, 2009, pp.536 539). Wages and Hours Bill of 1938, also known as FLSA or Fair Labor Standards Act is the act in which FMLA is incorporated into (pp. 527 530). California Vacation Law/Labor Law provides options with paid time off options (Tracy, 2009)

In review of the case, the key factors that should be considered are:

1) Does the employee (Joan) have a backup plan when it comes to childcare needs? (From a consequential view - can be seen as good or bad based on whether or not employee has this)
2) If no backup plan available, employee should be allowed to take same day vacation time and have the leadership team make an exception on an emergency basis if no vacation time available
From a deontological view, actions would be considered good since it would prevent progressive disciplinary action.
3) Employee should be allowed to take an emergency short notice day off, or ESN, in which employee can take in hours or increments
From a humanist view - it would promote intelligence and provide a win win situation for both employee and employer.
4) Working mothers should be given consideration to be given time off to care for a child to prevent a “latchkey child” situation (Answers.com, 2006)
With a child being in a home alone, the potential for a child to be exposed to home dangers exists. (Answers.com, 2006)
5) If the child is sick, employee should be provided time off as mandated by law for FMLA. Employee must be eligible to qualify.

Recommended Corrective Action:

One recommendation would be to have the supermarket chain invest in an onsite childcare center at selected locations. As part of “best practices”, the Publix supermarket chain is an excellent example of how a company can promote positive morale and employee development. They offer an onsite child care center, so that employees with children can work while their child receives the best day care. According to some longstanding workers at this chain, this supermarket supports “anyone confronted with an illness or personal problem” (Fortune, 2009). The costs for Publix to maintain these childcare centers are just under 500.00 per month. The advantages of having an onsite childcare center are:

• Convenience
• Less stress from management
• Comfort of having your child within close proximity

The disadvantages of having onsite childcare are:

• Costs: More expensive than other day care centers
• More chance for exposure to germs as staff and children increase (Patricelli, 2009)

To prevent potential attendance issues in the future, a semi annual review of the attendance policies should be reviewed with each employee at Great American Market. Covering the expectations with the employees will minimize the chance of them using sick time or unpaid absences to cover babysitting needs. In addition, employees may consider using the backup care service provided by some employers to assist with care of a child. The backup care service is great for employees who sometimes have needs with caring for a young child or an elderly parent. Some employers provide this service as a benefit to employees through the Work Options Group. Advantages of backup care:

• Available 24/7
• Advice and options provided over the phone when employee calls (Princeton, n.d.) (Work Options Group The Backup Care Company, n.d.)
• Caregivers are licensed, bonded and insured

Furthermore, employees can take advantage of the EAP, or Employee Assistance Program. By using the EAP, advice and recommendations can also be provided to the employee. The service is confidential and free. They can also provide self help opportunities and counseling in emergencies like what Joan experienced. Many Fortune 500 and other large corporations provide this service as part of their benefits package. If Joan had called EAP (provided this was a service provided by Great American Market), she would have been provided with a referral to contact the Work Options Group for assistance and the chances of her missing work would have decreased. If she had allowed the caregiver to come over to her home to take care of the child, she still would have been able to go to work. The supervisor may have worked with her to adjust her shift to a later one to accommodate the emergency.

Works Cited

Adams, S. (2003). Case Study: Employee Absence (Utah Valley State College). Retrieved August 1, 2009, from Strayer University Course Law Ethics and Corporate Governance LEG500 007016*200905: http://strayeronline.net
Answers.com. (2006). Working Mothers. Retrieved August 1, 2009, from Working Mothers: Information from Answers.com: http://www.answers.com/topic/working mother
Business Link. (2009). Allowing Time Off Work. Retrieved August 10, 2009, from Managing Your Staff's Time Off: http://www.businesslink.gov.uk/bdotg/action/detail?type=RESOURCES&itemId=1074453633
Ferrell, O., Fraedrich, J., & Ferrell, L. (2008). Business Ethics: Ethical Decision Making and Cases, Seventh Edition. Mason, OH: South Western.
Fortune. (2009). 100 Best Companies To Work For 2008 #91 Publix Supermarkets. Retrieved August 1, 2009, from 100 Best Companies To Work For: Publix Supermarkets: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/bestcompanies/2008/snapshots/91.html
Kubasek, N. K., Brennan, B. A., & Browne, M. N. (2009). The Legal Environment of Business: A Critical Thinking Approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, Inc.
M. Lee Smith Publishers HRhero.com. (2009). Employee Absenteeism and Attendance. Retrieved August 1, 2009, from Employee Absenteeism and Attendance: http://www.hrhero.com/topics/absenteeism.html
Patricelli, K. (2009). Group Child Care Center. Retrieved August 1, 2009, from Group Child Care Center: http://www.mercybehavioral.org/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=6068
Princeton. (n.d.). Backup Care Options Program. Retrieved August 1, 2009, from Backup Care Options Program: http://www.princeton.edu/hr/worklife/backupcare.htm
The Business Roundtable. (1982, June). Absenteeism and Turnover: A Construction Industry Cost Effectiveness Project Report. Retrieved August 1, 2009, from http://www.curt.org/pdf/149.pdf: http://www.curt.org/pdf/149.pdf
Tracy, M. (2009). Got Overtime? Retrieved August 10, 2009, from California Vacation Law: http://www.gotovertime.com/california vacation law.html
Work Options Group The Backup Care Company. (n.d.). Work Options Group. Retrieved August 1, 2009, from Work Options Group: http://www.backupcare.com/