Who's responsible for employee attendance?

June 20, 2011
In this edition of In the Trenches, Acme tries to equate plant production with worker attendance.

Bill O’Faire was the supervisor in the electronic assembly department in Acme’s appliance manufacturing plant. Because Bill had been with Acme for about 25 years, he was assigned to be mentor and trainer for Annie Getchurgunn, a recent masters-level college graduate, who elected to go into manufacturing rather than to sit at a computer all day at some high-tech firm. Part of their job involved recording the attendance and hours worked for each of the 35 employees in the electronic assembly department.

Every week they forwarded the personnel data they gathered along with summaries of departmental throughput and various other reports to Jerry Bome, the plant manager. Jerry, in turn, condensed similar information from other manufacturing departments into a plant-wide summary that Acme’s upper management used as a gauge of overall plant operations and profitability. Jerry also included a one-page narrative of the weekly activity highlights. Nearly every week, he mentioned there was an excessive work backlog in the electronic assembly department.

Upper management began asking Jerry why productivity in the electronic assembly department was so much lower than for the rest of the plant. Jerry had to admit that workers there often were absent, arrived late and left early. When asked to explain that assertion in light of the nearly 100% perfect attendance data that appeared in the weekly attendance reports, Jerry had no response.

Acme’s upper management initiated an audit that revealed numerous attendance discrepancies, errors and misrepresentations that were traced to Bill, Annie and Jerry. Upper management ultimately fired Bill and Jerry because it found the attendance records sufficiently unreliable to be essentially worthless. Annie was transferred to a clerical job in Acme’s accounting department.

Bill filed suit, contending that he was a victim of age discrimination. At trial, Acme argued that Bill was terminated because of his failure to maintain accurate attendance records. Bill, on the other hand, claimed the argument was a pretext for blatant age discrimination because he was able to prove that his job involved aggregating the self-reported attendance data the plant-floor workers turned in each week.

A plant engineer says:

This situation could have been prevented if Jerry Bome had done his job. As the plant manager Jerry saw the reports and actually wrote the weekly narrative stating the excessive work backlog in the electronics assembly department. As plant manager Jerry should have found out why workers were absent, arriving late and leaving early in that department. Is that not something every plant manager would want to know about a department not meeting production goals? Jerry should have had a response for upper management when asked why one report shows nearly 100% attendance and Jerry states that workers were often absent or not on the job.

The number of layers of reporting considered appropriate should and will be decided by each company. In this case it would seem that there were at least three sets of eyes looking at the attendance data. I can understand why Bill and Annie may not interpret the data. They may feel that it is only their job to gather and send the data to Jerry. Jerry had all the information and should have looked into the matter well before upper management asked about the situation.

I believe it is very critical to keep track of employee attendance and on-site presence. If for no other reason it is critical for an employer to know who is in the building in case of an emergency. How can you determine if all employees get out of a building that is on fire if you do not know how many employees are in the building. That alone makes it necessary to keep accurate records of who is in the building. Pay is another reason. If an employee is expected to work 35, 40 or some number of hours and they are not, management should know that. I think Acme should have fired only Jerry and left Bill and Annie in their positions with a new leader to guide them.

Jeffrey L. Strasser, Bacova Guild
(540) 863-2656, [email protected]

An academician says:

I assume Bill’s case rests on the fact that he was terminated while Annie was not, and that they both were equally guilty or equally innocent of whatever they were accused of. Given the same level of guilt or innocence, the older worker was fired, while the younger worker was not. That smells of age discrimination.

The question is who had knowledge of the attendance misrepresentations, as well as who was responsible for ensuring that the records were accurate. If Bill knew that the records were erroneous and willfully passed on the phony records as being accurate then I see no reason why he should not have been terminated. Apparently Jerry knew, so one assumes that Bill knew. Could the same be said for Annie? Did she willfully pass on attendance records that she knew were fraudulent? If she did, she probably deserved the same punishment as did Bill.

Certainly there could have been circumstances that would warrant different punishments. For example, Annie might report to Bill and was just following his orders. Or perhaps Bill trained Annie on the task and told her to accept without question whatever attendance records that were sent to her. Acme would need to document this to justify the different actions.

How could the problem have been prevented? First, get rid of phony attendance reporting. Acme is probably losing tons of money on work not done, but paid for. I like periodic audits to keep people on their toes and to root out corrupt practices. Also make it clear who has the responsibility for making sure the reports are accurate. And finally have more than one level of responsibility for ensuring record accuracy. Mistakes happen, and fraud happens, but it can be minimized by a system of checks and rechecks.

Professor Homer H. Johnson, Ph.D., Loyola University Chicago
(312) 915-6682, [email protected]

Reader responses:

No where in the article does it say that erroneous information was forwarded. It only says everyone had the information but did nothing about it. A supervisor (Bill) who had the data to show bad attendance from his/her employees and did not act on it is culpable no matter their age. Someone who supervises 35 people should certainly have had the authority to address attendance issues at his level. The fact that he merely forwarded the info without acting reflects poor job performance on his part. It was not Annie's responsibility, yet she was punished.

The plant manager (Jerry) who received the data and didn't act on it also failed at his job.

Electronic data collection would reduce the possibility of fraudulent time keeping but it is still the resposibility of the supervisor and the manager to change attendance behaviors.

Kay Tessen

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