Never on Time: How to Handle a Perpetually Late Employee
Sometimes, it feels like everything is working against you with the sole goal of ensuring you get to work late.
Either your keys mysteriously disappear just as you want to step out of the house, you somehow miss the alarm despite it ringing next to your ear for a whole minute or your car decides it won’t start, forcing you to take the bus. No matter how much we try, sometimes being late is unavoidable.
Therefore, as a manager, it makes sense to let it slide if you notice an employee coming to work late once or twice.
Coming to work late is so common that, according to this CareeBuilder report, 29% of workers arrive at work late at least once every month. However, if employee lateness starts becoming a habit, you need to take action.
An employee who is constantly late can cause adverse effects to your business. Due to their lateness, the employee might fall behind on their work, thereby disrupting productivity. Other employees end up being forced to do more work to cover for the perpetually late employee.
This results in resentment from the colleagues and breaks down the team spirit of the group. The other employees feel like they are giving too much and start slacking off in their effort.
More employees start coming in late. Eventually, the general work ethic of the employees takes a nosedive and the overall quality of work decreases, hurting your profitability. According to a survey, employee lateness costs the UK economy about £9 billion every year.
To avoid all these problems, you need to quickly get the errant employee back in line before things get bad. The question is, how do you get the perpetually late employee to change their ways?
Below are some ways to deal with such an employee.
HAVE A LATENESS POLICY IN PLACE
Sometimes, employees will deliberately choose to come to work late because your company does not have any official lateness policy in place. If you want employees to be more serious about the time they get to work, document some rules concerning lateness.
As part of the lateness policy, address the details to with working hours, including the exact time an employee’s shift is supposed to start and end, the consequences of getting to work late, the reporting procedure for employees when they are going to be late for work as well as details on how the company will track and record employees’ working time.
In addition, you might include details of how employees who arrive late can make up on lost time, as well as a comment saying that habitual lateness will be punished and should be avoided.
All employees should be made aware of the lateness policy, either by having the policy posted on the office bulletin board or by having it sent to each employee’s email.
LET THE EMPLOYEE KNOW THAT YOU ARE AWARE OF THEIR LATENESS
Employees are constantly watching for your reactions as a manager. If an employee comes in late one day and believes that you did not notice their lateness, they are more likely to come in late a second time.
Consider this; if an employee comes in late all the five days in a week but you only notice it on one day, they were technically late only one day of the week, since that is the only day you know about.
Without showing that you are aware of their lateness, employees might also assume that you either do not mind the lateness or there is nothing you can do about it, therefore they will be more likely to continue with the habit.
To avoid this, you should let a let employee know that you are taking note of their lateness. You don’t have to tell them directly that you saw them come in late. You could make a habit of saying good morning to the employees, so that they are aware that you will notice if anyone has not come in yet.
Alternatively, you can walk by an employee’s desk when they show up late. You don’t even have to talk to them. This simple act will make them realize that you are aware they came in late.
If they don’t take notice even after you do this, make a casual remark to let them know that you have seen them come in late a number of times.
In most cases, making an employee aware of the fact that you are taking note of their tardiness is all it takes for them to change their habits.
IS THEIR LATENESS A BIG DEAL?
Sometimes, some form of lateness is not much of a big deal. For instance, if the rules say that employees have to be in the office by 8.00 but one employee habitually comes in at around 8:10, does it really have any huge impact?
In such an instance, the lateness is not much of a big deal, and you can just let it slide provided the employee does not get bolder.
However, if the employee is in a position that requires them to deal with customers starting from 8.00 on the dot, then such an employee cannot be allowed to get late by a few minutes.
If it is an office job, does it really matter if an employee came an hour late if they continue working an hour after the normal working hours?
The key here is to look at the lateness objectively. Don’t focus too much on the lateness itself. Instead, try to think about the consequences of the lateness. For instance, if an employee comes in an hour late and works for an extra hour past normal working hours, it doesn’t make much of a difference since the employee has clocked in the required number of hours.
However, if the employee is working as part of a team and his lateness is affecting the ability of the team to perform effectively, it doesn’t matter if they put in the extra hour in the evening, because they are compromising overall productivity.
The point is that your decision to deal with the lateness or ignore it should be based on the impact of the lateness on the general wellbeing of the company.
MAKE A RECORD OF THE EMPLOYEE’S LATENESS
Maintaining records of employee behavior at work, including things such as lateness, is good practice. The records will come in handy once you decide to confront the employee for their errant behavior.
If you bring up their lateness and the employee denies it, you have something to fall back on instead of having to make it a case of their word against yours.
Sometimes, you might even be forced to take drastic action against the employee’s lateness, such as having to let them go.
If you fire an employee and they decide to take legal action against your business citing wrongful dismissal, the records can also act as evidence about the employee’s perpetual lateness.
HAVE A PERSONAL TALK WITH THEM
Sometimes, an employee will continue coming to work late even when you have made it clear that you know about their lateness and you do not approve of it.
If this happens, you need to take some more definitive action to prevent the problem from getting out of hand. You need to have a personal conversation with the errant employee by either calling the employee to your office or asking them out for coffee or lunch.
Asking the employee out for coffee is my most preferred method. Taking them out of the office environment takes off the formality from the conversation and allows you to talk about the problem in a friendlier, relaxed and personal manner.
Make some small talk to avoid making the conversation awkward. Ask the employee how things are going at home and then mention the problem in a way that does not seek to lay the blame on them. What you want here is to understand the reason behind the employee’s lateness.
The relaxed setting will make it easier for the employee to let you know in case they have a personal problem that is forcing them to get to work late. Maybe a member of their family just fell ill and the employee has to provide some care for them before leaving for work.
Maybe the employee has just gotten a divorce and is having to do things such as dropping the kids to school before work, something that was previously done by the spouse. Or could be they are working on a project that requires them to leave work late, causing them to oversleep in the morning.
Sometimes, it might even turn out that the employee is just not being responsible enough. However, the only way for you to know what exactly is going on with them is to have a one on one conversation with the employee. Talking things out will help you understand the root cause of the problem and make it easier for the both of you to come up with a solution.
If you decide to call the employee to your office for a one on one conversation, you can maintain the formality of the workplace. However, the formality of this environment will make it more difficult for the employee to open up if they are being late because of a personal problem. In the office, you don’t have to start the conversation with any casual chitchat.
Simply call out the employee’s behavior, mention how it is negatively impacting your business and let them know that the behavior is unacceptable.
Use your records to point out specific instances of their lateness and reference the lateness policy. Ask them if they have any problem that is forcing them to be late to work and if there is anything you can do help them improve their behavior.
The key thing here is to have the discussion in private. Don’t confront them in front of the other employees since this will only lead to embarrassment, humiliation and defensiveness.
You should also maintain your cool when you bring up the issue with the employee. Do not get mad at the employee.
Keep in mind that you do not have any problem with the employee or their personality, you only want to get to the root cause of the problem and see how you can solve it.
Giving the employee a chance to explain themselves shows that you care about them and that you are willing to help them correct their behavior.
They will also appreciate the fact that you opted to talk things out with them instead of taking disciplinary action.
COME UP WITH A PLAN OF ACTION
After having a one on one conversation with the tardy employee, you will hopefully get to understand the issue behind their lateness. However, understanding the cause of the problem does not help if the problem persists.
Therefore, you need to come up with a plan of action that will help prevent the employee’s tardiness from affecting the company. If the employee has a legitimate reason behind their lateness, you can come up with a flexible but temporary solution to help the employee maintain their levels of productivity while working on the issue causing the tardiness.
For example, if an employee is coming to work late because they have to drop the kids off to school, you can work on a flexible schedule that allows them to arrive to work later and leave the office later.
If an employee is caring for a sick child, you can think of an alternative that allows them to work from home as they take care of the child, provided the employee can actually deliver on their work requirements while working from home.
When you come up with alternative work arrangements to accommodate whatever issue the employee is facing, they will be appreciative of your support and will have no problem going back to their regular schedule and giving it their all once the issue is sorted.
However, if there is no legitimate reason behind the employee’s tardiness, then you need to be firm and let them know that their lateness will not be tolerated.
TAKE DISCIPLINARY ACTION
Sometimes, an employee will be habitually late not because there is any legitimate reason, but because they are not responsible enough to plan their time in such a way that they get to work early.
Maybe they just love sleeping, and no matter what you do, you can’t get them to change their behavior. You have talked to them but nothing seems to be working.
If it gets to this point, do not be afraid to take disciplinary action against the errant employee. Call the employee to their office and let them know that the next time they come in late, you will have no other option but to write him or her up.
Hopefully, this final verbal warning will spur the employee to change their behavior. If they still do not heed to your warning, you can now go ahead and write them up.
Writing Up An Employee For Tardiness
After all your verbal warnings fall on deaf ears, your next course of action is to give the perpetually late employee a written warning to let them know that they are in violation of the company’s lateness policy.
Before writing the warning, review the company’s lateness policy to ensure that the employee is indeed in violation of the document.
There are a number of things you should include in your written warning. First, you need to include the specific incidents of lateness that you are warning the employee about.
Mention each day that the employee was late and the amount of time by which they were late. This is why it is important to keep a record of the employees’ lateness. If you have already given the employee one or two verbal warnings, mention these in the write up as well.
Mention the dates when you gave them the verbal warnings as well as what you discussed with them. Let them know that their tardiness is in violation of the company’s lateness policy.
You should also mention how the employee’s lateness is negatively affecting the business. For instance, you might write “As a result of your coming to work late, customers have been forced to wait for a while before getting served, which is unacceptable.”
Write in clear and direct terms the effect of the employee’s behavior on the wellbeing of the business. Include the start and end times of the employee’s shift, and let them know that the company expects them to be at work within that period.
For the written warning to be effective, you also need to outline the consequences for the employee if they do not change their behavior. Tell them the sort of disciplinary action that will be taken if they continue violating the lateness policy. Some of the disciplinary actions that might be taken include:
- Requiring the employee to make up for lost time
- Decreasing their bonuses
- Docking their pay
- Being sent on unpaid suspension
- If the behavior persists, they might even have their employment terminated.
Serve the employee with a copy of the written warning and keep the original in the employee’s personnel file. You should also let the employee know that you will review her behavior within a certain time frame, for example, the next 90 days, to check whether or not they have corrected their behavior.
Also let them know that if they show improvements, you will update the warning to show that they indeed changed their behavior after the warning.
There are a couple of other considerations to keep in mind when writing up an employee for their tardiness. For instance, you should refrain from using wording or language that might be considered as accusatory or threatening. For example, don’t write “If you don’t change your behavior, the company will have no other option but to terminate your employment” if the company lateness policy does not specify employment termination as one of the consequences of lateness.
In addition, make sure you follow all the stipulations of the lateness policy. If the lateness policy states that any warnings are to be removed from an employee’s file after a specified period, do not bring up instances of lateness that go back for more than the specified period.
For example, if the company policy specifies this period to be one year, don’t mention lateness infractions that happened more than a year ago.
The good thing is that, when you follow the recommendations set out in this article, the errant employee will hopefully take note of your concerns and mend their ways.
Once you notice that an employee is making a change for better, reinforce this change by acknowledging and rewarding the improvements.
You can easily do this by letting the employee know that you have noticed the change and telling them that you appreciate the effort he or she has taken to become a better employee.
Acknowledging and praising the change shows the employee that you actually care, and it will make them even more motivated to give their best.
It is inevitable that employees will come to work late once or twice, and any manager should be ready and willing to excuse such behavior.
However, if an employee makes lateness a habit, the behavior can cause negative impacts to the business.
Therefore, it is important to take action to nip the habit in the bud. You can do this by letting the employee know that you are aware of their lateness and documenting the behavior.
If they don’t make improvements, you should call the employee for a one on one conversation with the aim of finding out the root cause of the behavior and coming up with a solution to ensure that the employee works the required hours.
If this does not work either, you might have to write up the employee and let them know that another violation will lead to more serious consequences, such as unpaid suspension, having their pay docked or even termination, if company policy dictates that.
It is also good to keep in mind that rules should not be set just for the sake of having rules.
If, for instance, the job allows for some degree of flexibility, why not come up with alternative working arrangements that allow employees to put in the required amount of work without having to get in and out of the office at certain strict times?