12 Tips To Deal With Employees Who Are Late for Work

Updated September 28, 2023

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When an employee is late to work, there may be a valid reason. However, if this behavior continues, it’s the manager’s responsibility to discuss the issue and find a solution for their perpetual tardiness.

In this article, we offer tips for leaders to deal with employees who make a habit of arriving late to work along with helpful ideas to avoid tardiness to share with staff members.

Related: Punctuality and Attendance at Work: Definition and Tips

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What happens when employees are late to work

Although most employees strive to arrive on time to fulfill their professional duties, unforeseen events, mistakes or personal issues can cause a staff member to be late. These incidents are often isolated and do not cause a problem for coworkers or management. For example, an employee may call in late because their vehicle had a dead battery or a flat tire. When this happens, management can remain flexible as long as tardiness doesn't become a habit.

It turns into a problem when tardiness turns into a habit. Being late costs the company in payroll, productivity and is a negative example for coworkers. A salaried employee who shows up five minutes later every day for a week amounts to nearly 30 minutes of lost work time. The company is paying the employee for that time while getting nothing in return. If that employee’s late arrival goes unchecked, other employees might think it’s acceptable and start doing the same. If they continue to show up on time, they may begin to feel frustrated or discouraged.

Related: 12 Reasons Why It’s Important To Be on Time for Work

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12 tips to deal with an employee consistently late to work

When employees chronically struggle with arriving on time, it's important to identify and correct the problem to avoid creating a culture with a disregard for professional standards. While an occasional tardy is normal for most staff members, habitual tardiness presents a problem for the work environment and an employee's performance while in the workplace.

Here are some ideas to help you manage an employee who consistently arrives late:

1. Address the situation early

When you notice a pattern of tardiness, don't wait to speak with the employee. The earlier you can begin a dialogue about the situation, the more you can show that this kind of behavior is unacceptable in the workplace and encourage the employee to discontinue such actions.

Related: How To Tell Your Manager You're Running Late for Work

2. Make your expectations clear

When you speak to a habitually late employee, clearly state what behaviors they need to change and what you expect to see in the future. Use language that explains exactly what being on time means to you and the company. ​​In your meeting, present the facts—using dates and times—that support your case. Avoid using vague or subjective terms that can lead to misunderstandings.

Related: How To Manage Expectations at Work (and Why It's Important)

3. Refer to a tardy policy

Use the company handbook or policy to outline rules for being on time including expectations for when the workday starts and how many (if any) times an employee can be late before it becomes an actionable offense. Give detailed information about the disciplinary steps if tardiness continues. It's also a good idea to share this information with the employee in an email or other document that states you have discussed the issue and shared the consequences. Be sure to list any disciplinary steps in the document.

Related: Attendance Write-Up: What It Is and How To Write One (With Example)

4. Allow for privacy

Although you need to recognize that the employee has an issue with perpetual tardiness, they don't need to divulge the reasons for their behavior. When you meet privately with the employee, you can invite them to share but let them choose how much information they provide. Be open to what they say—or don’t say. This is a way to respect their privacy while still carrying out the necessary measures to stop them from coming to work late.

Related: Good and Bad Excuses for Missing Work

5. Set goals together

Once you've completed a discussion about the tardy behavior, including your expectations and future consequences, invite the employee to create self-improvement goals. For example, they may suggest a shorter lunch break to compensate if late arrivals can’t be avoided. Give feedback regarding these goals and offer ideas to help them meet and exceed their own expectations.

6. Check in regularly

Regular accountability and support can help encourage an employee to overcome their habit of tardiness. Following up on your goals and showing you care about their improvement may be the best way to avoid further incidents. Be encouraging and supportive while emphasizing the importance of being on time and their progress toward that goal.

7. Give praise for improved behavior

If you notice improvement, offer praise to the employee. It's best to do this privately to avoid drawing attention to the cause of improvement since the staff member may not want to share their past tardiness. Try to compliment the employee as soon as you see the change, even the next day at work if possible.

Related: Positive Leadership: 32 Traits of Positive Leaders

8. Document conversations and interactions

It's a good idea to keep a record of all the interactions between you and a staff member regarding issues with tardiness. This ensures there are no miscommunications. Rather than relying on memory, a comprehensive recap of your conversation keeps the information organized and factual. Document the steps you've taken to identify and correct the problem along with the positive changes you've noted in the employee's behavior after the incident. You can add this documentation to the employee's HR file.

Related: 3 Reasons Why Documentation Is Important

9. Initiate a clock-in system

If you continue to see tardiness as an issue for a specific staff member or others, it may be a good idea to institute a clock-in system for all employees. Digital applications and software can make this easy for all parties to use and track. A clock-in system can also be used as a step to address perpetual lateness.

Related: What Are the Pros and Cons of a Time Clock at Work?

10. Schedule meetings to start the day

Meetings that begin just as the workday starts can help motivate staff members to arrive on time. This can also set a productive tone for the rest of the workday. If you're not prepared to do this every day of the week, choosing a Monday or Friday morning can be effective to prevent tardiness.

11. Integrate punctuality into a performance review

For employees who struggle getting to work on time, consider adding punctuality as part of the factors addressed in a performance review. This method works best for quarterly reviews as this kind of issue needs to be countered promptly.

Related: 20 Areas of Improvement for Employees

12. Consider a flexible work schedule

If company policy allows for flexible work schedules, consider this as an option for habitual late employees. For example, let them come in 15 minutes later and then work 15 minutes later. This may solve a continuing situation that makes their prompt arrival difficult. It can also build mutual respect and understanding and deliver work on time. However, if you offer a flexible schedule to one employee, be prepared to offer it to all.

Related: What Is a Flex Schedule? Definition and How It Works

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What employees should do if they’re going to be late

In your role as a manager or leader, it’s your responsibility to let employees know what you expect from them. That includes being clear about what they should do if they’re going to be late to work. Here are some suggestions to share with employees regarding late arrival at work:

  • Communication. If an employee is going to be late to work, have them call ahead or send a message to their supervisor. The person in charge will know not to worry about them and can start the workday accordingly.

  • Estimation. When the employee alerts their boss they’ll be late, ask them to provide an estimated time for their arrival. This demonstrates that the employee has a plan to be at work as soon as possible.

  • Plan ahead. Let an employee know that if they’re going to be late one day, they are still expected to complete their work on time. This may require that they plan to get to work on time or early the next day, make transportation arrangements or change their routine.

Related: 14 Bad Habits at Work (And How To Improve Them)

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