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It is absolutely bound to happen during the holidays, a staff member, or even an associate, will just not show up. If there's critical work to be done, or a Christmas Eve court date, there's almost no time to be mad, you just have to keep calm and litigate on.
Fortunately, in nearly every city across the country there are companies that can provide last minute appearance attorneys, and that old list-serv you're still on might actually be able to get you someone last minute in a pinch too. It's expensive to get someone last minute, but, in this market especially, there's always young, hungry attorneys looking for work. But when it's not critical work that you're going to be forced to overpay a third party to get done, or suffer through yourself, can you really be that mad at your staff for peace-ing out on an actual holiday they plan on celebrating?
When staff members know they are trained and indispensable, they can sometimes break rules. If you really want to discourage unannounced and unapproved days off over the holidays, make it hurt financially even more for your employees.
For those staff that are hourly, it can often be "worth it" to just not work and not get paid for the day. And for those that are salaried, docking one day of pay might be more complicated than it's worth, and the employee probably knows that. However, if you have annual bonuses, having a known policy of deducting 10% for each unapproved day off would certainly discourage the behavior. You can frame it as a special incentive.
Insubordination is a serious problem. And though a staff member may have broken the rules, it may simply be easier to treat an unapproved holiday absence as a teachable moment rather than a fireable offense due to the holidays. A no call no show is big deal, especially if you have other staff members out on vacation, but not being a nice boss over the holidays can really lead to serious, long-term morale problems.
If critical work needed to get done despite the holiday, and if you're feeling generous, an employee should still be formally reprimanded, written up, counseled, or whatever employee papering policy you have, even if you're "letting it slide." However, you can also use it as example to counsel staff that unapproved absences can lead to immediate termination, and that staff should minimally advise you if they are not going to come in, approved or not.
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