HR Minute: The Chronically Late Employee

By Claudia St. John, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Late_lifehacker.comWhile employers tend to be proactive about managing absenteeism, they are less likely to address tardiness as carefully. Perhaps it’s because each occurrence seems relatively small in nature but, over time, chronic tardiness creates similar disruptions to outright absenteeism. The key is to treat it like any other general policy violation.

First, there should be a policy. Employers have a right to expect consistent attendance, including being on time for work, but like any other requirement, it must be communicated. Attendance policies should outline the expectation that employees be at work at all times when scheduled and provide guidelines for reporting absences or tardies, and the consequences for inconsistent attendance, no-show-no-calls, etc. (e.g., possible termination). Employees should understand that following call-in procedures or bringing doctors’ notes does not automatically give them a pass – the requirement to be at work as scheduled is paramount.

A policy is only as good as its enforcement, so managers should promptly address violations. Of course, things happen that cause employees to be late from time to time, but legal trouble can arise when there are inconsistent patterns of how and when managers apply discipline. That doesn’t mean that every single situation has to be treated exactly the same – a variety of factors must be considered in any decision to discipline – but treatment must be viewed as fair and not arbitrary, and there is an expectation that similar situations will be treated somewhat similarly.

Finally, all the corrective actions in the world mean nothing if they’re not properly documented. As with any violations, there should be a paper trail of what policy was violated (and how), what the expectation for improvement is, what the consequences are if there is not improvement, and that the employee understands this (via signature). A good rule of thumb for less egregious violations is that you should not use against an employee what you have failed to document, so the written documentation should support the discipline taken.

Claudia St. John is President of Affinity HR Group, Inc., a national human resources consulting firm serving hundreds of clients nationwide. With more than 20 years of experience in human resources, employee engagement, and organizational development, she is an author and a frequent public speaker who contributes regularly to publications on the topic of human resources.

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