June 10, 2016

Late for Work: How to Properly Handle Chronic Employee Lateness


There’s nothing more frustrating to business owners than having employees who just can’t seem to come in on time for their work shifts. When employees are late for work, this not only affects their work, it can affect the work of the entire company.

Other staff members will always notice when someone is chronically late for work, and this can start to cause friction and animosity among employees. Especially if managers are not doing anything to remedy the situation.

Other employees might be thinking to themselves, “If so-and-so can come in whenever he or she wants, what’s to stop me from doing the same thing?”

It’s a valid question that needs to be taken into consideration. When running a small business, there’s nothing more important than being able to set a good example for your employees. It’s one of the key factors that goes into being a good leader – being able to uphold standards that every one of your staff members can respect.

If you are facing the issue of having to deal with employees who have a hard time showing up to work on time and you’re not sure what to do about it, here are some ideas.

late for work

Have Procedures in Place

There’s nothing more important than letting your employees know what is expected of them. You need to have procedures in place that define your attendance policy.

Here are the main issues you need to take into consideration when defining your policy on late arrivals to work.

Install a Time Tracking Method

How are your employees clocking in and out of their shifts? How are you tracking their work behavior? Answering these two questions should help create the cornerstone of your policy.

You really do need to install a system that is going to be thorough and unquestionable. Many small businesses, especially restaurants and retail shops, lack concrete methods for measuring work time, believe it or not. They’ll assign work times, but they won’t do anything to help confirm that their employees are honoring their assigned shift times.

If you still don’t have a system in place, you need to work on changing that. Think about it – if you approach an employee about his tardiness and don’t have any concrete proof to show him or her when they’ve been coming in late, you’re not going to be able to enforce any of your rules. It will end up remaining on a “he said, she said” level of communication, which is the last thing you want to happen.

Having sign-in sheets or manual clock punching machines is a good start, but if you want to get with the times, you should probably consider using an employee scheduling software.

This way, you have a very simple-to-use and reliable way to see when your employees have clock in and out of not only work shifts, but also breaks. Having a sloppy and untrustworthy method of time tracking can end up losing your business money in the end. With a good method in place, you know exactly how long employees work and you will be able to pay them accordingly. No more cheating the system.

Once you have a way to accurately keep track of your employees’ time and attendance, you need to communicate your expectations to them and clearly let them know what will be tolerated and what won’t in terms of being late for work.

Define Expectations

There’s not a lot of leeway in shift-based businesses. Employees need to get there on time in order for the business to function properly. Running a restaurant, call center or retail store is not the same as managing employees with desk jobs.

In shift-based organizations, employees need to be there when they are scheduled to be there. Because if they are not there, you’re going to have customers waiting to be helped and no one (or not enough people) around to help them.

Of course, a case can always be made for being somewhat lenient when it comes to unusual circumstances, such as family emergencies or illness. But if you want to run a tight ship, you need to have strict rules in place and make sure that everyone is following them.

If you want to give a little bit of room to your employees in terms of a proper clock in times, you might want to allow a period of 10-15 minutes of accepted lateness for shifts that aren’t necessarily “customer facing.”

For example, if someone needs to count inventory or clean up the place after working hours, you can allow these employees to come in a bit late, just to provide a bit of flexibility. Doing something like and showing that you are willing to be fair and flexible will probably improve employee attendance on shifts during which precise arrivals are mandatory.

Define Consequences of Being Late for Work

If your employees break your rules and violate your attendance policies, what are the consequences? Are you going to install a “three strike” rule? Will there be pay reductions? At what point should a chronically late employee be fired?

You’re going to have to make all of these decisions, and most importantly, you are going to have to stick to them once they have been communicated to your staff. When employees clearly know the repercussions they face for lateness, they will be more motivated to avoid putting themselves in a position in which they risk being disciplined.

Respond on Time

Don’t wait for an employee’s lateness to become a serious problem – act promptly. The longer you wait, the greater the chances are that your eventual confrontation is going to be, well, more confrontational. Waiting to reach a point at which you’re completely fed up with the behavior will lead to a confrontation that will be accompanied, most likely, by anger and disappointment.

Be on the lookout for a developing pattern. Traffic jams happen, people oversleep, but if you notice that someone is consistently late for the same shifts, you can conclude that they have made a habit of it.

Be proactive and talk to that employee as soon as a pattern of lateness has become apparent to you. Here’s how you should go about having that discussion.

late for work

Hammer a Plan Out (Privately)

First of all, this discussion needs to be handled in private. There’s nothing worse than reprimanding an employee in front of the rest of the staff. It makes others fear you and it embarrasses the employee you are addressing.

You’re not going to humiliate someone into coming in on time; that’s never happened. Show respect. Take the employee aside or schedule a private meeting with them where you are going to voice your concerns and try to put together a plan that’s hopefully going to help get that chronically late employee back on track.

Ask Questions

The first thing you need to do is try to get to the root of the problem. Why is this person constantly coming in late for work? There needs to be a reason for it. It’s rare to find a situation in which an employee simply comes in late on purpose in an effort to get under their manager’s skin. There’s probably some type of underlying problem or reason behind his or her lack of punctuality.

Your job now is to strike up a conversation in order to find out what is leading to these late arrivals. Make sure that you are calm and that you’re not attacking your employee. This is why you need to not wait to address the problem.

Schedule a meeting with the employee as soon as possible so that you can enter and lead the conversation in a level-headed and collected way.

Define a Course of Action

Once you have gotten to the bottom of the problem, talk about possible solutions. Maybe this person simply isn’t cut out for morning shifts. If there is a way to schedule them differently in order to cut down on late arrivals, try to find it.

Is there’s a personal problem that the employee is dealing with that is resulting in tardiness? Work with them to try and find a solution.

Once you believe that you’ve come up with a good plan of action, make sure that the employee knows what’s expected of him or her moving forward.

Recognize Improvements

If after all this the employee simply can’t get his or her act together, it might be time to move on from them. Sometimes letting someone go is the best course of action to take if there is no other solution in sight.

But if the employee responds positively and starts showing up on time regularly, make sure that you recognize and reward these positive changes. A good way to reinforce good behavior is by praising it.

Let the employee know that you have noticed an improvement and that you appreciate the fact that he or she has put in the necessary efforts to make this work.