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How To Deal With An Employee Who Is Habitually Late


Ever wonder how to deal with an employee who is habitually late? At some point, most managers have dealt with employees who don’t seem to be able to get to work on time. It’s understandable if an employee has a legitimate reason for being late every once in a while. Life happens and unexpected problems do come up occasionally. But after the employee runs out of excuses about traffic, alarms, car trouble or even more creative ideas, they just stop offering excuses – ignoring the impact their poor attendance has on the work team and the customer.  What’s even more maddening is that these may be productive employees otherwise!

To a certain extent, we may have enabled some of this because we’ve either overlooked the situation for too long or been inconsistent in how we responded to it – perhaps because they are good employees when they do show up.

Good employees or not, though, there’s more at stake than one person’s tardiness. When a staff member consistently shows up late, they are essentially not respecting your time or their own. Why should other employees pay attention to the rules if the latecomers don’t? And what impact does it have on productivity if the “on-timers” have to fill in for the latecomers?  The individual’s behavior will create morale issues ranging from perceptions of unfair treatment up to illegal discrimination so the manager needs to determine and implement corrective action.

Get Your Late Employee Back on Schedule   

Here are a few pointers on how you might turn the situation around:

  • Don’t wait: Deal with the situation as soon as you see a pattern and don’t wait so long that you become angry. It’s counterproductive to use foul language or threaten an employee. However, it’s fine to verbalize your disapproval.
  • Discuss it in private and identify the issue(s):  Have a dispassionate conversation to find out their reason for poor attendance. Bring documentation of an employee's tardiness into your meeting and ask what is preventing them from reporting to work on time. Listen to determine if there’s a medical or family problem that may be causing chronic lateness. If so, there may be a necessary fix such as a later starting time or flexible scheduling. If this is the solution, though, it may be necessary to offer concessions to other employees, some of whom have managed to be on time even in the face of similar challenges.  
  • Take corrective action: During your discussion, identify your expectations clearly and outline what the consequences are of continued tardiness, including the impact on performance reviews and pay increases. Document the discussions in the personnel file throughout the process. If the situation continues, give the employee a verbal or written warning as appropriate. It’s up to you to decide whether this is a serious enough situation to escalate corrective action to the point of termination.
  • Praise improved performance: Reinforce change through praise. Everyone likes to know that good behavior is rewarded, and the tardy employee is no exception.  Positive reinforcement can often go a long way. When you notice an employee has altered his behavior in a positive way, say so. Your simple acknowledgment will let him know he’s on the right track and will also show them that you appreciate their efforts. 

The Outcome  

You’ll find that dealing promptly and effectively with what may start as just an annoyance is well worth your time and may result in improved performance not only for your tardy employee but the entire workgroup. 

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David Peasall, VP, Human Resources
David Peasall, VP, Human Resources

David Peasall joined FrankCrum in 2010. Since that time, he has served as the Vice President of Human Resources. Serving in the Army, he began his 20+ year career in human resources and benefits administration and has held several management positions within the corporate and public human resources environments overseeing employee benefits sales and administration, recruitment, compensation, employee relations, organizational development, and compliance. He has the nationally recognized designation of Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), PPACA certification from NAHU, and a Bachelor’s degree from Barry University with a dual major in Human Resources Management and Health Services Administration. He has written for the Society for Human Resources Management, HR Insight, Proyecto Magazine, and for online publications in the restaurant and health care industries. While not at work, this Florida native loves spending time with his family, preferably boating, fishing, and diving the beautiful waters of Florida.