What To Do When an Employee Always Shows Up Late

What To Do When an Employee Always Shows Up Late

Kelly Spors

One day, it’s 10 minutes. The next, it’s 30—or 50.

Whether it’s bad traffic, oversleeping or caring for a sick pet, employees offer up lots of different excuses when they show up late for work. As the manager, you may overlook it the first time. But what if it becomes a pattern?

Employee lateness is a widespread problem. A 2016 survey by CareerBuilder found that one in four employees admits to showing up late for work once a month, whereas 13 percent of employees say it’s a weekly occurrence. Managers say they hear all sorts of excuses: “A black bear entered my carport and decided to take a nap on the hood of my car.” “I was detained by Homeland Security.” “My hair caught on fire from my blow dryer.”

Employees who rarely arrive late to work should probably be given the benefit of the doubt—as there are valid reasons for being late. (Tires really do go flat!) But it’s generally in a manager’s best interest to confront employees who frequently—or always—show up late.

Late employees can reduce business productivity, especially if they aren’t making up for lost work time at the end of their shifts. Moreover, it hurts the morale and work ethic of other employees who might resent that the late arrivers aren’t getting called out or disciplined for their lateness. It might even encourage other employees to start showing up late to work if they see no consequence for the bad behavior.

But don’t despair. Businesses have many opportunities to boost the odds that employees will show up when they’re supposed to. Here are ways to discourage employees from arriving late, as well as how to deal with those who regularly do:

Use a time clock.

It may seem old-fashioned or like you’re micromanaging, but a time clock holds people accountable. It not only records when employees check in and out for the workday, but it also lets them know that you know when they come and go.

Employees will feel more compelled to show up on time if they know they’re being monitored.

Companies can buy a physical time clock that requires employees to punch in and out each day or, if the employees work at computers, time-tracking software can be installed that records when employees log in and out of their workstation.

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Schedule a staff meeting first thing in the day.

Even if it’s a quick five-minute “check-in,” if employees know they are required to attend an all-hands-on-deck meeting with the boss first thing in the workday, they will have good reason to show up on time—or face questions about why they were absent.

Be clear and consistent about the rules.

If you’re not actively communicating that you expect employees to show up on time, they may think you don’t care if they’re late.

Make sure the employee handbook spells out the expectations about work hours and arriving on time and remind employees of those expectations on a regular basis, such as in staff meetings. Also, make sure the rules are enforced consistently across all employees—or you could be accused of favoritism or unfair treatment.

Having an established way to track lateness—such as using a time clock—can help ensure that consistency.

Require phone calls.

Make it a requirement that employees who are running more than 15 minutes late must call into the office. Employees are less likely to show up late if they know they have to discuss it with someone.

Institute consequences for lateness.

Depending on your workplace culture and Federal and state employment laws, you may want to create penalties for employees who show up late to work more than, say, once per month. It could start with a warning letter or email, but if that doesn’t work, you might require them to make up for missed work time at the end of their shifts.

You might consider docking employees’ pay for tardiness but you would have to tread carefully. Many states allow employers to dock the pay of employees classified as nonexempt—those who qualify for overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours per week—as long as those employees are given advance written notice of penalties. Salaried employees classified as exempt—meaning they do not qualify for overtime pay—cannot generally have their pay docked under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act rules.

Also, an employee’s paycheck cannot generally be docked if their hourly wage would effectively drop below their state’s minimum wage by doing so.

Of course, any time you create penalties, there can be concerns of unfair treatment. Make sure the consequences of tardiness are spelled out clearly in advance in writing, such as in the employee handbook. Then carefully and consistently enforce those rules as required by law.

Make punctuality part of the employee performance review and compensation.

If being on time is essential to doing a good job, make it official by evaluating employees for their timeliness in their annual performance review. Perhaps even make it a performance goal for employees who frequently have trouble showing up on time.

By formalizing it as part of the review process, there should be no question that it’s an important part of their performance evaluation.

Timeliness can also be factored into their compensation. Consider tying punctuality to the raises or bonuses. For example, employees who are never late may receive an extra bonus amount, whereas those who are late more than once per month or week receive little or no bonus.

Create a reward program for punctual employees.

Offer rewards—whether an extra day off or a $50 gift certificate to a popular restaurant—for employees who show up on time to work every day for, say, six months straight. This reinforces that being punctual is a key workplace goal.

However, you will need to track punctuality carefully if you’re offering such rewards to avoid being accused of errors or favoritism.

Talk directly to the persistently late employee.

Once you’ve tried hands-off approaches to encouraging punctuality, you may still have an employee or two who pushes the envelope on punctuality. In these situations, you need a more direct approach.

Sit down privately with the employee. Let them know you’ve noticed they’ve been regularly late to work and ask them to explain why. (It’s possible they have a personal reason, such as caring for a child before the school day—in which case it may make sense to discuss setting a different work schedule for that employee or creating another workaround.)

Stress to the employee the importance of punctuality to the business’ success and to being part of the team. Remind them that employees are required to arrive to work on time.

Ask them to come up with an action plan for arriving to work on time. Rather than enforcing penalties, it can be more effective to make the employee responsible for correcting their behaviors. They know better than you do why they are persistently late to work, so they are better positioned to find a solution.

Ultimately—if all other strategies fail—you may have to consider taking more severe measures with an employee who doesn’t respect your punctuality rules. If the employee underperforms due to their lateness and continues to show up late, you might consider whether that employee is worth keeping around altogether.

Remember that a manager’s job is keeping employees motivated to work hard—and an employee who consistently breaks the rules is only going to hurt morale.

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17 Responses to "What To Do When an Employee Always Shows Up Late"
    • Stella Collins | November 13, 2018 at 9:07 am

      This article was very informative and helpful. Dealing with employees within itself is difficult.
      it gave me an insight on how to talk in a positive manner when dealing with late and sometimes difficult employees.

      • Hannah Sullivan | November 13, 2018 at 10:09 am

        Thank you for your feedback, Stella!

    • Gaurab Das | July 8, 2019 at 1:19 am

      Never ever force any employee too much to come early….Often it leads to rush in the road and accidents.

      Nothing happens if someone is little late everyday.

      Better late than never.

    • Robert Messenger | September 24, 2019 at 7:16 pm

      This does not allow an apples to apples comparison because it assumes that each employee at the workplace has similar commute distances and obstacles. I commute 43 miles one-way, which is much more than most of my co-workers. My rank-and-file coworkers have commutes of 15 miles or less. Furthermore, it is perfectly acceptable for my supervisor and her supervisor to frequently show up late, and they also commute 30 to 40 miles one way.

      It is unacceptable to expect more from your employees than you do of yourselves but I guess that management hypocrisy is not the subject of this article.

      Requiring me to be “rigidly on time” (8:00 am without a 7 minute grace period) forces me to drive excessively fast on the freeway and put myself and other drivers in danger. The nature of my work is independent and being up to one hour late does not affect other employees UNLESS a meeting is scheduled and I cannot attend because I was late.

      Otherwise, a blind adherence to being to work on-time is corporate fascism.

    • T. Clark | September 29, 2019 at 8:10 am

      In response to Robert Messenger.

      I could not disagree more.

      The commute time is actually irrelevant. Even if you live just a few minutes from your job it won’t stop accidents, slow moving vehicles or vehicle breakdowns from adding to your commute time. I once got stuck behind two snow plows that were blocking both lanes of traffic in the direction I needed to go to get to work. It added 10 minutes to my normally 6 minute drive. But that was the exception NOT the norm. If you know your route and know how long it normally takes you can plan for things like that and still arrive on time. In bad weather you can also tack on some extra time to make sure you can drive for the conditions. But to say that someone asking you to be on time forces you to speed? No. That is just bad planning on your part.

      I deal with people that are perpetually late on my job. The unfortunate thing though is that it is shift work and I can’t leave until they get there, Sure they all have a seemingly good excuse. But why is it that I can deal with the loss of a pet, little to no sleep, sick family members, bad weather, no vehicle for weeks at a time, illness and stress in my personal life and STILL manage to make it to work on time?

    • ANNIE G. | October 18, 2019 at 4:50 am

      This is very interesting that employee should call in the office when he/ she is late because when it is known that that employee is not punctual this will make him/her be ashamed and never make it a habit even though there is an understandable reason for being late.

    • Alg | December 5, 2019 at 11:28 am

      When a person accepts a position, they should be aware of their own commute commitment. If it doesn’t work with their ability to meet the obligation, they should not accept the job. That is part of being a responsible person, knowing what they’re committing to before they commit.

      For me as a supervisor, it is not entirely about punctuality. An employee who completes assignments works when they are at work, and is reliable in all other ways is not a burden when they are a few minutes late or even have lots of appointments to take care of and manage them well.

      Employees who are as the article describes, 5 minutes to hours late in an ever-increasing or unpredictable manner are a disturbance, a stressor for me, and a strain for the whole team. It’s not fair to their teammates to let it slide. Also, it tends to become contagious. Employees observe one another as much as we observe them. “Equal is not always fair”, and whether a person is on the spectrum, depressed, in a wheelchair or average in every way, all I ask is that they be a team player. Stressing out your bosses, by being chronically late and slacking off on the job is not good team behavior. My late husband was on the spectrum and in a wheelchair. He was never late despite severe weather and a long commute. He did what needed to be done to fulfill his commitments.

      I offer many supports, training, and alternative schedules to every chronic employee. But most often this personality doesn’t absorb or care to use these options anyway, so I end up wasting a lot of money and time trying to be supportive. I myself am a single mother with two children, working full-time, taking care of a home and cars, and my own health issues. So, I have many opportunities for excuses, but I made a commitment to my team and my work. If I can persevere, most of these people could too. They choose not to. It’s selfish behavior.

      • Chloe Silverman | December 5, 2019 at 12:20 pm

        Thank you for sharing your insights! Excellent points.

    • Shannon Nealey | December 31, 2019 at 12:06 am

      I’m late to work all the time. Sometimes it’s because of traffic or accidents or bad weather. Sometimes it’s because I was worked to death the day before and didn’t have time to recover sufficiently before the next shift.

      But to be honest, I just don’t give a shit when I get to work. I show up everyday I’m scheduled to work. I’ve always had a relaxed attitude toward time and I’m no hypocrite, either. I don’t trip if someone is late; I just get on with getting my work done.

      In my line of work (nursing homes) someone is always late, calls off or is a no call no show. Hey, it happens. I just don’t let it affect my job; I still get everything done.

      I don’t care for managers who harp on punctuality, especially in a place where people can’t even be counted on to come to work in the first place. I’ve quit jobs when managers kept making a big deal about the time I get to work. They stand by the door or watch the clock and then waste even more of my time bitching about my tardiness. I once walked in the door about 15 minutes late. The manager was standing by the door and looking at the clock. As soon as I walked in the door, she started in on me.

      I stood there for about three minutes while she ranted; I simply turned around and left. I got back in my car and left. The next day, I went to work like nothing happened. I never heard another word about it.

    • My Lunchbox | January 20, 2020 at 11:46 am

      Scenario #1: I’m a business owner that depends on my employees consistently arriving on-time to work. When they are late, it wastes my time as an employer when I’ve scheduled work, I have to postpone appointments with clients, which tarnishes my reputation for being dependable, and it may take an hour for the late employee to get their head in the game once they finally get there. I attribute consistent tardiness to either (a) a sense of entitlement by the employee–their life situations are more important that keeping their job; (b) they have a learning disorder that affects their ability to assess time and space; (c) they just dont care, and have expected others to always pick up the slack when they mess up; (d) they have personal problems at home that affect other areas of their life. They become undependable.

      SCENARIO #2: they have a job where schedule is fluid–working from home; completing tasks by certain deadlines; on-call positions that depend on availability rather than punching a time clock. If the employee is not performing or completing their tasks on time, there is a concern as to whether they are a good fit for the job.

      I have learned to be somewhat flexible, with the understanding that good communication is imperative. If someone is late, call in to prepare me so I can plan around it–that’s just common human etiquette. It’s reasonable to have rules in place if someone is over 20 minutes late, their pay should reflect their lack of time on the job. Consistent tardiness may result in the termination of a position, or a restriction to any bonuses, raises, or other perks that punctual employees deserve.

      • Chloe Silverman | January 21, 2020 at 8:46 am

        Great insights! Thank you for the comment.

    • Jo Otto | February 5, 2020 at 2:10 am

      I am in charge of our creative communications team. Having more than 30 years of experience in both private and public fields and have been in my current position for 3 years.
      I am continually shocked and surprised at my subordinate’s attitude to basic professional behaviour. I refuse to blame it all on ‘Millennial’ attitude.

      It is not cool to be perpetually late for work – its sloppy and disrespectful. And it certainly affects my opinion of the staff member in question.
      It is not a ok to release documents which contain spelling and/or syntax errors – when I pointed out a spelling on a Facebook post to one of my communicators recently she responded – ‘Oh it’s not so serious, its Facebook’ I was frankly shocked.

      To those of you such as Shannon above – remember that your current supervisor is also the person who will be contacted for a reference when you change jobs, I have no problem being truthful when giving references, no matter how much I think our team will be improved by releasing someone from our service.

      At some point tardy time keeping, negative attitude and general apathy to rules and expected bahaviours become part of one’s operational outputs. In other words your behaviour becomes the quality of the work you do. And that is why adherence to professional behaviours and norms are attractive in employees, to me it means that I can trust you to apply the same quality to your work.

    • Mohamed | February 18, 2020 at 3:58 pm

      I Mohamed disagree with statements about commute the person applied for the job there for should now what the commute is to get to work on time. If they can not get to work on time and trying to use commute as an excuse find a job closer to home. These employees that can’t get to work on time need to figure out there life and not hold us to there poor expectations. This is 2020 they need to grow up and pull your pants up and get to work on time bottom line.

      Regards Mohamed

    • Victoria | March 11, 2020 at 1:49 am

      I have both ADHD and ASD and being on time is one of my biggest struggles in life.

      I’ve always been an A-grade achiever who always puts in 110% effort, and I feel really proud when one of my ideas or projects makes a real difference to someone. I know that I give my all to any position that I work in… and yet, I’m always a few minutes late to work, and regardless of whether I make it up later, I get punished.

      I’ve spent years and dozens of techniques trying to find something that works for me, but I only ever seem to improve marginally. I have missed personal appointments before and had to pay a fee. I have missed whole flights. I don’t WANT to be late, and I find it extremely distressing when I am, but I can’t seem to ever fully get a handle on it.

      So for someone like me, it’s really disheartening feeling like your entire worth to your employer comes from those first few minutes in the morning, especially if you work in a role where being a bit tardy doesn’t impact anyone else’s job. It’s like you could jump through hoops all day and be adding value to the business, but all they see is someone who is always late and needs to be reprimanded.

    • Mr. Bizness | March 11, 2020 at 10:16 am

      I grew up watching my father run a family business, sometimes managing 10 employees in a very busy construction business. I took over 25 years ago when he handed the business to me. Having the right staff can make or break your business, Which includes attitude, appearance, work ethic, honesty, and trustworthiness. Once my dad sent an employee home to go change his clothes because he showed up with tattered jeans and torn shirt. His appearance reflects the reputation of our business and our good name. Years later we got reports back about my dad‘s good name and reputation of our business has gotten us repeat business because of his ability to maintain a great working staff.

      Granted, we’ve worked with many ADHD, dyslexic, other “disabilities“ in men who were excellent workers but had trouble with common issues. We groomed them to be on time and to be respectful went on the job. We also did not allow them to cross over the line of insubordination. If that were the case, there are many other guys standing in line needing a job to replace them. And believe me, they got replaced.

      As an employer, most employees do not realize the impact they have on the stress level of their employer when they miss expected deadlines, show up late, deviate from normal and good business. Couple that with a lousy attitude, and it’s time for you to find another job.

      We had one secretary that would change her make up and filed her nails half the day. We caught her talking on her cell phone on personal calls more than once, and she didn’t like it when she got reprimanded. She ended up filing her nails at the unemployment office.

      And in the same breath, if you were loyal and helped support our business, you would become friends for life! We’ve bent over backwards giving perks and bonuses, tips and other necessary additions to an employee that was loyal, honest, and had a good attitude. They become worth their weight in gold.

      My two cents!

    • T | May 10, 2020 at 11:08 am

      nothings worse than an employer who only cares about lates, especially when you are an extremely hard and productive worker.. you come in ten minutes late and make up for it the first 5 minutes of your shift, while your co-worker who was on time sits on their cell phone on facebook while you do all the work and no one bats an eye…another co worker ignores every customer and takes hr long breaks when its supposed to be 15 min, but all that is ok because they were not late , it also seems ok for people to call in sick 3 out of 4 of their shifts with no consequences, afterall they were sick not late right, so in the end it is the overworked productive employee with the foot and back damage caused by their loyal hard work that will get suspended / fired from the job, because they were 5 minutes late everyday.

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