Can you fire a worker for missing a day of work?

Can you fire a worker for missing a day of work?

Can you fire a worker for missing a day of work? The old adage “better late than never” never flies well in the workplace - and whether an employee is tardy or fails to show up at all, HR should know their options for discipline and dismissal.

It’s very challenging – but not impossible – to fire a worker for cause for missing a single day of work, Shields O’Donnell MacKillop employment lawyer Todd Weisberg says.

“The situations that may be grounds for cause on a single incident would involve a situation where the employee has requested a day off, been denied that day off, and taken the day off anyway, or where you have somebody who requests a vacation in a similar vein.

“Even with that, there would have to be something to show why it was so important for that employee to be there on that day. Otherwise, a single absence, without being subject to any other performance issues, is unlikely to ever be cause for termination.”

But if the employee has been progressively disciplined for repeated lateness, and given a chance to improve their attendance, then that may be grounds for a just cause termination, Weisberg says.

Yet there’s an important box for an employer to tick before moving to dismiss: they must ensure those absences aren’t related to a disability – otherwise they could face a human rights complaint.

“If somebody has disability-related absences and non-disability related absences, you can’t group those together and say ‘this person’s been absent X number of days’, and then discipline them for it.

“Another I see often is that employers think that because there’s 10 emergency leave days provided for under the Employment Standards Act, that’s all an employee gets, and if they take any more, then they can terminate them for cause.

“There’s a balancing between what the absence is - that’s a divide that’s important.”

Likewise, if an employee is repeatedly late, an employer can consider discipline – but it’s “very difficult” to fire a worker for one-off lateness.

It’s important, Weisberg says, that a company’s HR team nip any tardiness in the bud, before it becomes a major headache – and prompts questions about discipline and dismissal.

“The question is: how long do you allow those kinds of absences to happen before enough is enough?”


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