How to deal with an employee who is persistently late

By Alastair Brown, CTO at BrightHR

As the working day begins, your employees set pen to paper, fingers to keyboards, and hands to tools to start making their way through their task list. In nearly all workplaces, there will be at least one person who shuffles through the door late, trying to avoid being spotted by their manager but inevitably being clocked by their colleagues as they make their way to their workspace.

One incident of lateness may be excused. Two is on the border and three times is often deemed the trigger point for action.

Persistent lateness is unacceptable conduct that needs to be dealt with. If managers continue to turn a blind eye, they are creating a workplace culture where timekeeping is ignored.

Not only does this leave the issue unaddressed with the employee who is always late, it leads to their colleagues thinking they no longer have to be on time either. You may also receive complaints from members of staff who feel aggrieved that this has gone on for so long.

Your internal rules will usually be outlined in a lateness and absenteeism policy which is used to inform employees of their responsibility to attend work on time and notify them of the consequences if they don’t. There will usually be a trigger point for starting disciplinary action, such as three incidents of lateness in any rolling six-month period.

After each occurrence of lateness, you should hold a meeting with the employee. The meeting can be used to make a formal record of the period of lateness, the reasons behind any lateness and any additional comments. For example, if the employee says their lateness was because of commuting problems, it may be appropriate to discuss alternative travel routes or highlight the availability of flexible working to amend their start time to avoid being late.

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This meeting may uncover a bigger issue, such as where lateness is caused by a health condition which is classed as a disability. If there is a disability present, you will be required to make reasonable adjustments so that the employee is not placed at a disadvantage.

Although it may seem like management time is being used for a small issue, each meeting will highlight that lateness is unacceptable and will be formally addressed. You can also remind the employee of where they are on the scale outlined in the policy, i.e. how close they are to being disciplined. This will, hopefully, put a stop to the employee’s lateness whilst sending a clear message across the workforce that this won’t be tolerated.

Ultimately, if the message doesn’t sink in and lateness continues, you are entitled to take formal disciplinary action. You will need to follow your full disciplinary process before imposing a disciplinary sanction. It will be reasonable to start at the lower end of your disciplinary sanctions, such as a verbal warning or letter of concern, but this can increase in seriousness on each occasion action is taken.

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