Being on Time: How to Handle the Unpunctual

March 30, 2017

You not only expect employees to come to work on time, but also understand that being reliable is important. Staff coming in late can have significant time and cost consequences; chronic lateness can negatively affect productivity and profitability. Punctuality is important in every business, and in some, like the restaurant industry, it’s essential. What happens if the waiters don’t show up? If the chef is late?

Repeated instances of lateness should be dealt with firmly and professionally. Set clear expectations with employees so that they understand and comply with this workplace rule, and understand that there are consequences if lateness continues to be a problem.

Manage lateness by establishing and communicating the ground rules:

  • Expect employees to come to work on time, to report to work as scheduled and be prepared to work. Non-approved late arrivals are disruptive and should be avoided.
  • Explain the consequences for arriving late to work.
  • Be clear and consistent about how time will be tracked — using a swipe card, signing an attendance sheet, punching a time clock, etc.
  • Establish a procedure for reporting lateness, including whom the employee should notify and by when if he or she is going to be late.
  • Establish how employees will be required to make up missed time, if applicable.
  • Outline disciplinary actions that will be taken for employees who don’t follow the policy.

Of course, your policy should be flexible enough to allow for special situations. And, obviously, a policy will only be effective if applied fairly and consistently throughout the workplace. Employees should be disciplined in an evenhanded manner. Inconsistent application of policies leaves you open to employee complaints of unfair treatment.

Ensure that your lateness policy jibes with applicable state and federal laws, such as workers’ compensation, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Be Proactive With Timeliness

Make sure you’re communicating expectations — it’s important for employees to know what their schedules are. Set schedules well in advance so employees can prepare accordingly.

You need to document violations of workplace rules that might lead to an employee being disciplined. Late arrivals of habitually tardy employees should be recorded by the supervisor on duty. Counseling employees is the first step. The problem may be able to be resolved informally:

  • Remind the employee why it’s important to be on time.
  • Ensure that he or she understands the difference between your expectations and his or her actual behavior.
  • Give the employee an opportunity to explain why he or she is regularly late and encourage that a solution be developed that works for both you and the employee.
  • The end result: The employee arrives to work on time.

Using this approach allows employees to come up with solutions that they can buy into and therefore resolves the issue without further disciplinary action.

It’s wise to have a counseling conversation before lateness becomes excessive. Help employees uncover the reason they are late and provide support and guidance. A caring attitude may help improve the situation.

However, if lateness continues, it may be necessary to take more formal disciplinary measures. Make sure you’ve clearly stated the consequences for continually arriving late.

Progressive discipline measures try to correct an employee’s conduct in steps, ranging from counseling to termination.

Make the employee clearly aware of the consequences for continued lateness:

  • After the counseling session, send a reminder showing what the employee agreed to in the session.
  • A second instance gets a verbal warning.
  • A third instance would warrant another counseling session with a written warning clearly stating the problem. The employee should read and sign it. Make sure the employee understands that if the situation continues, more severe consequences, up to and including termination, may result.

It’s important to remember that employees shouldn’t be disciplined or retaliated against if the reason for lateness is legally protected: arriving later than others because an accommodation has been made that is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, for example. Also, if you have a disciplinary policy outlined in your employee handbook, to avoid resentment, be sure to follow it and not make exceptions.

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