Dealing with a chronically late employee can frustrating for even the most experienced manager. The situation may be further complicated if the individual in question is otherwise a top performer who successfully meets the demands of his or her job. However, it’s an issue that must be addressed and remedied--sooner rather than later. late_employee

A perpetually tardy employee has the potential to do harm to your business, both in terms of productivity and morale. Failing to address the situation amounts to tacitly allowing it and you’re sending the rest of your employees the message that lateness is acceptable and tolerated. Even worse, you could be accused of favoritism or preferential treatment.

Begin setting expectations for timeliness and punctuality during employee orientation by presenting new hires with your employee code of conduct as part of your employee handbook. Employees must have fair and reasonable notice of what is expected of them and the rules of permissible and prohibited conduct in the workplace. Along with policies such as dress code, computer use and the like, your code of conduct should clearly outline expected work hours for employees, as well as tardiness policies and consequences for lateness. This, and all policies, should be communicated in writing, compliant with state and federal laws, and consistently enforced.

As a general rule, you should obtain a written acknowledgement from all employees that they have read and are aware of all policies covered in the employee handbook, including your attendance requirements. This ensures that all parties are fully informed and protects you from an employee’s claim that he or she wasn’t notified of the correct work hours.  

Of course, routine circumstances such as traffic, doctor appointments, or family emergencies have the potential to make any employee late on occasion. That’s not what we are discussing here, although you should make it clear that every employee must call in if they’re going to be late. Instead, we’re talking about employees with patterns of chronic lateness that affect business operations and impact colleagues, supervisors, and clients. At this point, lateness has become a disciplinary issue.

Your first step should be a conversation with the employee. Open by saying you have an area of concern; say something along the lines of “I’ve noticed that you’ve come in late eight times in the past month…is there something we need to discuss?” The purpose here is not to put the employee on the defensive, but rather to let them know that you have recognized the tardiness and are seeking to help them resolve the issue. Your goal is to discover if there are any underlying issues. Your employee, or a family member, may be experiencing a medical situation or other circumstance that is causing the lateness. For example, he or she may be receiving physical therapy, taking a new medication or caring for an elderly parent or child who is sick. These types of circumstances may fall under FMLA leave, which is available to take even on an hourly basis. Be sure to document the meeting for your records.

In instances where the tardiness can be considered excused, such as a legitimate medical situation or family emergency, you can help the employee manage his or her absences with sick leave, personal or vacation time, flexible work arrangements, or even official Family and Medical Leave. Work together with the employee and HR to draft a plan for moving forward.

In cases where the employee is simply late, for no discernable reason, you must proceed as you would with any other disciplinary or performance issue. Begin with a verbal warning, which could be considered that initial conversation. If the behavior doesn’t change, proceed to a written warning, followed by a performance improvement plan with specific requirements and consequences for failing to meet them. Schedule regular meetings to monitor the employee’s progress, and, as always, be sure to document everything.

The hope is always that the offending employee will amend his or her behavior long before a performance improvement plan or further discipline becomes necessary. No supervisor wants to be in the position of babysitting an employee, or even worse, having to dismiss an otherwise valuable member of the team for excessive tardiness. With open lines of communication and clear expectations, that situation can often be avoided. To learn more about employee handbooks, codes of conduct, and other HR and benefits management issues, visit us online at

8 Topics to Include in Your Employee Handbook

Topics: Late Employee

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