How to Deal with Employees Who Are Late For Work

female manager discussing with man for coming late to office

Navigating the delicate balance of maintaining punctuality and managing latecomers is a challenge every leader faces. Tardiness can disrupt workflow, impact productivity, and create tension within the team.

However, dealing with late employees requires a strategic approach that combines empathy, clear communication, and firmness. In this blog, we'll delve into actionable strategies to address and rectify habitual lateness, fostering a culture of punctuality and mutual respect.

Whether you're a seasoned manager or a budding leader, these insights will empower you to transform your team's time management skills and ensure a harmonious and productive working environment.

Handling Tardiness with Policy, Compassion, and Solutions

Dealing with late employees should be handled using a strategic triple approach. The first step is to establish your policy for attendance and punctuality. The second is to remain flexible and compassionate in the face of unforeseen emergencies.

No one can predict a blown tire or sick children. And if tardiness becomes a recurring problem, leadership can help employees either seek solutions or face consequences for failing to respect the team and the impact their lateness may have.

Knowing when to exercise compassion, flexibility, or firm enforcement depends on the type of employee lateness you are dealing with. The matter can vary from instance to instance, person to person, and must adapt as patterns begin to form. This approach will help you achieve your true goal; whole-team punctuality.

The 5 Types of Employee Lateness

In the workplace, there are five types of employee lateness, and employers must determine what they are dealing with when deciding how to respond and whether to enforce penalties on the late employee.

  • One-Time Incidents: One-time lateness can happen when emergencies and unforeseen circumstances affect an employee's ability to arrive on time. Car trouble, an unusual accident on the freeway, or a morning family disaster can cause someone to be late once

  • Late-Start Tardiness: Late-starters are employees who are in the building on time, but are not ready to begin their work day until ten to thirty minutes after clocking in.

  • Occasional Lateness: People who are periodically late may have a flaw in their routine that does not have a margin for error. Small delays, such as slightly slower traffic, poorly timed traffic lights, or setbacks getting out the door.

  • Chronic Late Arrival: Chronic lateness is where problems truly begin. Someone who is chronically or routinely late is clocking in after their shift begins on a regular basis without an effort to change.

  • Epidemic Lateness: Epidemic lateness can occur if punctuality policies are not enforced, and multiple team members begin arriving routinely late.

As you can see, each type of lateness warrants a different strategy for response.  However, a comprehensive strategy to prevent employee lateness will include a multi-layered approach to discourage lateness, provide solutions for delays, and penalise lateness if improvements are not made.

Clarify Your Expectations Regarding Arrival and Readiness

The first step in dealing with employees late for work is to establish your expectations. Company culture matters a great deal in terms of scheduling and punctuality.

There are offices where late arrival is normal, and employers don't notice or care as long as work is completed on time, but there are also millions of teams that will be disadvantaged if just one person is late for their shift. Written policy and enforced policy also do not always line up.

This means that it falls to leaders to clarify expectations. At your next team meeting, address when employees are expected to arrive for their shifts, clock in, and begin work. You are not permitted to require employees to start work before they clock in, but you can ask them to arrive before clock-in and to have their break room coffee before their shift officially begins.

One-Time Incidents: Offer Flexibility and Understanding

Confident businessman speaking on the phone and looking on the wristwatch in cafe-2

When an employee is late just one time, it is usually an accident. Perhaps their child or partner woke up sick. Perhaps their car battery was dead, or their tire blew out on the road. There may have been an accident on a usually-fast freeway that slowed to a crawl. Maybe they managed to call ahead when they realised they'd be late, or perhaps the emergency was so consuming that they didn't get a chance.

While it can be inconvenient for an employee to be late, these situations are where compassion is important. Forgiving the occasional tardiness outside an employee's control can strengthen your team by proving that you do not penalise personal emergencies.

Address the Impact of Occasional to Regular Tardiness

Beyond one-time incidents, the severity with which you address lateness should depend on the potential impact of lateness. It's important to assess how problematic it may be if an employee is two minutes late or ten minutes late based on the type of work done by the team.

When one person's lateness can jeopardise the entire start of each shift, such as opening a restaurant or on a production line, more severe penalties are appropriate. In a call centre, one late person may increase the pressure on their teammates until the entire team is present and accepting calls. However, in a creative studio where work is not turned in or collaborated until later in the day, flexibility may be possible depending on the circumstances that cause tardiness.

Establish How Employees Should Report Late Arrival

Often, the impact of tardiness can be managed if the team receives forewarning that someone will be late. By establishing a policy on how and when employees should call ahead, you can ensure that shift can start without setbacks and that the employee's late arrival can be anticipated.

Make sure all employees know the number they should call or text, if able, as soon as they realise that they will be late. Be sure to provide a hands-free solution just in case employees are delayed while behind the wheel and will only become later if they stop to call in. In some cases, it may also be appropriate to accept emails if the person receiving the message is able to watch their email inbox in the morning.

Create Reasonable Consequences for Routine or Chronic Lateness

How should you penalise employees who arrive late frequently or routinely? Punctuality is important, but so is the way management responds to employee lateness. There are far too many examples of unreasonable, harsh, and even illegal responses to lateness, so you must think carefully about how to create discouraging yet reasonable and legal consequences when an employee is late.

You cannot force employees to work without pay, under any circumstances, and docking pay beyond a few unworked minutes is typically a smart route either. Instead, consider how you can remove privileges or assign work that causes late employees to make up for the added stress caused by working late. For example, employees may need to take the most difficult calls each day that they arrive late, or for a number of hours according to the number of times they have been late in a month.

Of course, the ideal solution is to help employees reduce lateness and find solutions that minimise the risk of employee lateness. Increasing accountability can help.

Increase On-Time Accountability

Accountability can guide employees to take their arrival time more seriously and to plan ahead to avoid arriving late. 

Implement a Clock-In System to Track Arrival

Time clocks are designed to clearly record when an employee arrives down to the minute or second. Employees who punch in are more acutely aware of both their arrival time and the simple fact that their working time has begun. More people will respect start time when a time clock is involved. 

Of course, if you are worried about a bottle-neck at the time clock, you can also use a time clock app that requires employees to be within proximity to their workstation in order to clock in.

Hold a Meeting to Start Each Shift

Employees are also more likely to arrive on time when there is direct social pressure for punctuality. One way to do this is to hold a meeting to warm up the team at the beginning of each shift, which begins promptly at clock-in time.

Everyone who is already present holding their coffee can share in touching base each morning, while those who arrive late will be acutely aware that they are the only one arriving late to the team meeting.

Include Punctuality in Performance Reviews

You can also include punctuality in performance reviews. Employees who routinely arrive late will not be able to receive high marks when their punctuality is marked as poor. Those who strive for numerical success or want to line up a raise or promotion will begin to prioritise arriving on-time.

Offer Solutions to Help Employees Arrive On Time

Cafe Employee in apron foaming milk at coffee machine, Shiftbase punch in clock notification

A proactive leader can also provide employees with tools and options to help resolve the factors that cause employee lateness. The most solvable lateness issues are those that come from irregular yet predictable issues like long breakfast lines, highway traffic, or public transportation. The following solutions can help you build options for your team to make it easier for them to be present and ready for work on time.

Make Arriving Early More Appealing with Breakfast and Break Facilities

The best way to avoid arriving late is to arrive early, but many people want to minimise the time they spend at work. One solution is to serve breakfast and offer more appealing break facilities. An office gym, a nicely landscaped park area, and the ability to catch a pre-work meal without stopping on the way can make employees more willing to arrive between 20 to 60 minutes early, leaving plenty of margin for delays so they never arrive late.

Those who sometimes deal with at-home delays, heavy traffic, or late public transport can arrive much earlier and still enjoy some personal time before they clock in.

Start Employees At the Same Time Every Day

If your team schedule changes, stabilise it. People who work at the same time every day have an easier time building a routine that can prevent lateness. Irregular start times are easily forgotten and potential delays may not be well-known enough to plan for.

Consider Flexible Schedule Options

Lastly, some teams have the ability to offer flexible schedules to accommodate employees who have predictable delays. For example, allowing an employee to start (and end) their shift one or two hours later can give parents time to drop their kids off at school or help students whose classes sometimes let out a little late.

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Handling Employee Lateness with Scheduling

Employee scheduling, time-tracking, and absence management are all challenges that Shiftbase can help you solve. Aside from this,  Shiftbase introduces a solution with its digital punch clock - a tool designed specifically to minimize employee tardiness. This ensures that instances of lateness are diligently recorded and addressed. By integrating such a system, businesses can foster a culture of punctuality and accountability. Witness how Shiftbase can transform your approach to time management. Experience the power of Shiftbase's digital punch clock with a 14-day free trial.

Topic: Employees / Employee Lateness