Dealing With Chronically Tardy Employees

If you have one or more employees who is chronically tardy, you may be wondering how to deal with the situation. Here are three topics to consider, including deciding on the seriousness of the offense, uncovering and potentially solving certain reasons for tardiness, and making sure your business is covered from a legal standpoint if you need to take action.

Ask If the Tardiness Is Really a Big Deal

Your first step when dealing with a chronically tardy employee should be to ask yourself if their lateness is really as bad as it seems. If the employee coming in late doesn't affect other employees or customer service, try to resist the knee-jerk reaction many managers have that sees any form of tardiness as completely wrong.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the employee stay late or work through lunch to make up for lost time?
  • Is the employee already working a large amount of overtime or carrying an unusually heavy workload?
  • Is the employee getting their work done even with the tardy start time?
  • Is your office generally an informal work setting?
  • Would you rather have the employee come in late than miss the day altogether (which may be a consequence of punishing their tardiness)?
  • Will it set a dangerous precedent to allow the tardiness to continue?
  • Is is worth offending or even losing the employee by mentioning their lateness or taking punitive action?
  • Is the employee going through a life transition (new baby, divorce, etc.) that may pass or that would make discipline seem extra punitive?

Find Out the Reason for the Tardiness

It's wise to try to find out the honest reason for an employee's tardiness as sometimes late arrivals may be something the workplace can remedy. Some potential solutions to tardiness include:

  • changing the employee's hours to account for school hours, waiting for a nanny, or commuter traffic
  • implementing on-site daycare
  • improving or creating parking
  • accommodating walkers and bikers to work
  • allowing the employee to work from home at least part time
  • creating a flexible work hours policy

Play by the Rules

If you decide the employee's tardiness is not something you can tolerate, you need to get your ducks in a row before addressing it. First, make sure that your written work policies include information on work hours and tardiness. Know that if you discipline one employee for tardiness, you will need to enforce start-time policies for all workers.

Make sure you know your federal, state, and local laws about time off and lateness. Some regulations may not permit you to discipline or dock an employee who is late because of things like parent-teacher conferences or managing a chronic illness.

Keeping good records will help you make a case with your employee and keep you out of legal hot water if you ultimately need to let this person go. Consider using employee time and attendance software to quantify your information when you sit down to discuss the situation with the employee.

Sometimes, until they are presented with the numbers, employees have no idea how often they are late or how much lost work time their tardiness entails. Likewise, upper management may be more inclined to implement features like workplace daycare or paid parking when they see what inescapable tardiness is doing to the business.

Time and attendance software can be linked to your time clock, track lateness, absences, and approved time off, and even translate missed-time data into job losses that affect your bottom line. You may find that, once you crunch the numbers, your employee's tardiness isn't as serious as you thought, or conversely, you may discover that it's wiser to replace this person with someone else if fair warning doesn't work. 

Having time and attendance software gives you the records you need to back up your company should a disgruntled ex-employee decide to take legal action. It also makes your job easier if you're a small business owner or manager without a formal HR department.

Chronic tardiness affects virtually every workplace in America at some point or another. If it's putting a damper on your work environment or revenue, get your facts in order, and take action.