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Are We Ready to Talk About How Workplace Attendance Policies Are Ableist?

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I have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I am also late to basically everything. When you have ADHD, time management can be a challenge, and that can make working in institutions with strict attendance policies really hard. 

Before (and slightly during) my time here at The Mighty, I worked for two major corporations, both of which utilized a point based attendance system. Due to the way the point system worked, you could be punished and disciplined for showing up late by even a minute. Should that happen enough, regardless of the reason, you would be terminated.

The largest issue with those attendance policies (beyond having overly complicated point systems), was that even though they were dubbed as “fair” and “forgiving,” they were anything but. Very rarely, if ever, would they excuse the points as they accumulated.  They point to their “forgiving” system, gaslight you a little bit, and then tell you to not do it again all with a smile.

It’s even worse for people with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses. If you don’t qualify for ADA accommodations or FMLA, you’re out of luck every single time you have to call out because you’re having a flare or episode. That puts people’s livelihoods at risk.

Strict attendance policies are ableist and denote people’s humanity. Plain and simple.

This begs the question – what does an inclusive workplace strategy around attendance look like?

We asked Mighty staff and community members what they thought, and here’s what they had to say:

1. “I work for a mental health organization and we are given mental health days on top of our sick days. This is the first job where I’ve seen this type of thing and we are encouraged to use them! It makes me feel valued and like they practice what they preach.” – Heidi F.

2. “Inclusive attendance policies should center the needs of the employees: supporting work from home unless the job can only be done at a particular location, allowing flexible hours for any work that is not extremely time-sensitive, and making the process of requesting time off simple and judgment-free. I have cerebral palsy and have been able to succeed at The Mighty for almost six years now because I can work from home and shift my hours around on bad health days. I wish all employers were as understanding.” – Karin W.

3. “After several experiences with ableist attendance policies, I think my current employer is the best example I have. My boss checks in if I’ve called out, asks if I’m okay, and excuses the absence. She knows forcing me to come to work [while] not feeling well isn’t safe for anyone involved and that I don’t call out for illegitimate reasons, so it’s never been an issue.” – Christa Marie

Inclusive attendance policies should center the needs of the employees.

4. “I think the key here is personalization. How one disabled person best performs at their job is vastly different than someone with another health condition. Blanket policies, attendance or otherwise, are frankly lazy and outdated. But more importantly, employers miss out on brilliant, diverse talent when they’re unwilling to ‘break the mold.’” – Kat H.

5. “Workplace attendance policies would do well to consider individuals with mental illnesses by extending understanding should one need to call in or come in late. So many of us with mental illnesses can’t predict how we’ll feel day to day, which can lead to calling in. Individuals with mental illnesses shouldn’t feel that their character is questioned because of symptoms that lead to needing to take a day off of work.” – Ashley N.

6. “Personalization is absolutely the key. Workplaces need to take into account how illness and disability affects the individual and work with that individual on a mutually agreeable plan. Furthermore, mental illness needs to be taken into account, allowing work from home when necessary or allowing a mental health day when needed. Lastly, although it’s undoubtedly inconvenient, employers must understand that illnesses don’t work on a nice, neat schedule. They’re messy and unpredictable; that unpredictability must be understood and embraced.” – Matt S.

Employers, take note. 

Listen to your employees. Personalize your attendance policies to your team’s needs.

Not being able to work, not because of your conditions, but because a job refuses to accommodate you is ableist and crappy. Workplaces can and should do better. They need to.

Employers miss out on brilliant, diverse talent when they’re unwilling to “break the mold.”

Lead image courtesy of Getty Images

Originally published: February 10, 2022
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