Small business HRMS Systems - Attendance tracking capabilities, limitations

As owner of, I reviewed a large number of small business HR information systems. I see that when it comes to tracking time off and leave accruals, most are very similar in their capabilities as well as their limitations. The purpose of this article is to discuss both the capabilities and limitations of each.

Tracking attendance and leave accruals is one of the ways an HR management system can save an HR department tremendous amounts of time. On more than one occasion, I have seen the large Excel spreadsheet or the notebook used to track this information manually. During meetings to review needs, these two topics come up almost 100% of the time.

Typical HRMS Attendance capabilities

I want to make sure you understand that what I present here is typical HR management software tracking capabilities, not absolute capabilities.  The systems I reviewed provide the ability to track multiple attendance calculations using either an accrual method or using a lump sum method based on years of service. As the employee’s seniority increases, they are bumped automatically to a higher accrual or lump sum rate. You have the ability to provide maximum accrual amounts and carryover limits.

To track your attendance information in greater detail, you typically are provided the capability of setting up absence reason codes. For example, for a vacation plan, you may set up ‘vacation leave request’ as the only reason you are tracking. If, however, your company subtracts unscheduled leave or other types of leave which is not vacation, you may want to track these as well. The more detail you provide up front, the greater ability you have to report on the results.

Showing Vacation balances on checks

If you have an integrated payroll option as part of your Human Resources Management System, you likely will also be provided with the capability of showing the vacation balances on the employees check or direct deposit advice. If you are interfacing to an outside payroll application, this option may or may not be possible. If you want this capability and you are interfacing to an outside payroll application, make sure to address this need with each vendor you meet with during your HR information system selection process.

HRMS systems Attendance tracking and Employee Self Service (ESS)

If you have an ESS application with your HR system, this may provide additional attendance capabilities. Employees and managers should be able to review employee attendance balances and history of time off taken. Some systems will allow for employees to request time off and to have their managers approve or reject the time off request based on scheduled time off for other employees.

HR Management System Attendance Reporting

Based on my experience, the reporting needs for attendance tracking are fairly standard. With the systems I’ve worked with, I have rarely, if ever, had to create custom reports because typically the reports needed were already created as standard reports. These may include employee time off balances, absence reason by job code, department, location, or division. Some systems may even offer calendar view reports to track the data.

HRMS Attendance tracking limitations

Leave is based on hours worked instead of years of service

Unless you have a stand alone HR application without payroll or time collection, that system is rarely, if ever, going to track hours worked. Without this field, you run into the obvious problem that you can’t track attendance accruals if the employees’ accrual or lump sum rates are based on time worked. If you track accrual rates or lump sum rates by hours worked, you might be better off to see if your payroll or time collection system provides the capability.

Non standard vacation plans

If you have a plan that falls outside of the typical accrual or lump sum plans addressed earlier, you may run into problems finding any HR system to track this information. Just be sure to run your plan details by the vendors you evaluate before making your HR system selection. If you are unable to find a system to track your unique plan, you may have to either custom create an application or change the plan itself. As a general rule, the attendance plan tracking of the systems I have reviewed are not very flexible when it comes to tracking the wide variety of unique attendance plans individual companies may maintain. As part of your needs assessment, be sure to address this issue with each vendor.

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About the Author

Clay Scroggin worked in the HR and Payroll software industry for more than fifteen years. During that time, Clay, and those who have worked with him, have assisted hundreds of HR professionals with their HR software needs. In 2007, Clay began working on, a site dedicated to assisting HR professionals with their search, selection, implementation and use of HR systems. The site contains several tools to assist HR professionals with their HR software research including a HRIS Selection Tool.

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