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Employee Always Late for Work?

Dealing with employees who are repeat offenders of persistent lateness can be challenging and a problem that can only be addressed with effective policies and procedures in place.

In these circumstances, you should ask yourself if your employee’s lateness is impacting your business and if it is necessary for them to always be on time. Lateness could be a minor problem and your employee might otherwise be a good and productive worker who simply needs a reminder about the importance of arriving to work on time. It could also be a significant issue that needs to be resolved because it affects the morale and performance of your business.


How to deal with persistent lateness for work 

As an employer, it is important to determine the employee’s length of service when dealing with lateness. If the employee had attained the required period of employment to be protected by unfair dismissal legislation, a thorough procedure would be required. If, on the other hand, the employee had been with you for a short period of time and was not protected, dismissal would be an early option and could be managed quite quickly.

You can start by considering the significance and impact of lateness on your business to determine any appropriate action to take. You should also check if you have prepared a lateness policy that establishes clear expectations about arrival times and possible consequences for lateness.


Talk with your employee 

You should conduct a meeting with your employee to discuss the issue and to try to understand the underlying cause of the problem. Listen to their explanation and be ready to discuss if they are in need of support. For example, if they have caring responsibilities, they might benefit from a later start time or they could make up for the time in another way.

You may also consider implementing a performance management process to support your employee and monitor their progress until there is adequate improvement.

The next steps you can take include conducting a meeting with your employee to discuss the issue and allow them to respond,, and taking disciplinary action. You may have grounds to take disciplinary action, or potentially to end your employee’s employment, if the issue is serious and remains unresolved. However, you should first seek advice from an employment lawyer to understand the process and potential risks of dismissal.

You should also check if you have provided a lateness policy to your employee. A lateness policy covers topics such as:

  • your rules regarding lateness (including any applicable lee-way rules);
  • why it is important to your business that employees arrive on time;
  • consequences of consistently being late;
  • potential disciplinary actions; and
  • the reporting procedure if your employee is running late.


During the discussion, you can:

  • raise your concerns about your employee’s lateness and direct them to be on time in the future;
  • emphasise why all your employees must arrive on time and the negative impact that lateness has on your business and other employees;
  • allow your employee to respond and explain if there’s a reason for their lateness. For example, they might be looking after a sick relative or need additional time in the morning to drop off their kids to school;
  • brainstorm ideas with your employee to help them to arrive at work on time. For example, you can introduce flexible work arrangements to accommodate your employee’s circumstances; and
  • inform your employee that there might be disciplinary consequences if they continue to be late, such as warnings or eventually termination of their employment.


It is good practice to keep minutes during the meeting and to send your employee a written confirmation of any agreed solutions after the meeting.


Manage the problem

Manager’s have to be practive in managing lateness if it is considered a conduct issue. If you have a repeat offender and you have not yet started any kind of formal procedure, you will need to address them as if they had only just started being late – any instances of misconduct in the past should not be relied upon if you were aware of lateness but did not address them at the time.

Ensure you keep accurate records of lateness in a central location as this will ensure that it is easy for an employer to have an ‘at a glance view’ of the employee’s conduct. If disciplinary action is required, it will also provide sound evidence.

If your employee doesn’t have a legitimate reason for arriving late to work, continued lateness can be a disciplinary issue that you are entitled to manage. You can manage the problem through:

  • an informal process of monitoring your employee’s arrival time on a day-to-day basis and providing feedback; or
  • a formal process of establishing specific performance targets (e.g. arriving on time to work every day). Monitoring your employee’s progress towards achieving those targets and conducting regular meetings to discuss the progress and give feedback is also important.


Take disciplinary action

Where the outcome of a formal process is positive, you may choose to end this process and carry on with informal, day-to-day supervision of your employee’s conduct.

You can take disciplinary action against your employee if their performance does not improve to the required standard. A series of warnings would need to be issued, escalating in gravity with each further instance, and eventually the employee should be warned that any further lateness may result in their dismissal.

Warnings should only remain on an employee’s file for a prescribed amount of time and generally, only when further instances of misconduct appear within the shelf life should the warning be built upon. There are no guidelines in law to dictate how long a warning should remain on an employee’s file. It is an employee’s contract of employment that will dictate how long this should be. It is also important that you stick to what the contract says with regard to the length of time that warnings will stay live for. If you leave the warning on file for longer than the contract stipulates, you could be found to have acted unfairly if you then later build on that warning to eventually sanction the employee’s dismissal. Similarly, expired warnings must generally be disregarded completely.

The action you take may depend on whether or not your employee is protected from unfair dismissal. It’s best practice to give warnings to your employee before contemplating a dismissal. Written warnings should:

  • be fair and reasonable in the circumstances;
  • be clear about the reason for the warning and include all relevant details;
  • emphasise the severity of the constant lateness;
  • set clear expectations about what needs to be done differently; and
  • allow your employee to respond and improve their behaviour.


You may have grounds to terminate your employee’s employment if a performance management process and warnings are unable to resolve the issue. Your employment agreement, any applicable industrial instrument or the National Employment Standards will set out the minimum amount of notice you need to give to your employee to end the employment.

If your employee is protected from unfair dismissal, you should ensure that your employee has been:

  • notified that there’s a performance issue due to their consistent lateness;
  • provided an opportunity to respond and improve; and
  • warned of the potential disciplinary actions, including termination of their employment.


Advice for employers 


Set expectations

Employee lateness is an inevitable part of being a business owner. Make sure that your staff members know exactly what is expected of them when it comes to start time and the potential disciplinary actions for being chronically late. This information (as part of the company policy) should be provided during the hiring phase, and reminders should be sent annually or as frequently as you see fit. Ensure that employees know exactly why punctuality is important and how being chronically late effects the overall success of the business and other employees.


Be proactive

The best way to deal with late employees is to address the situation before it becomes a habit or gets out of hand. You can always expect even good employees to be late from time to time due to unforeseen circumstances and personal problems. It’s only when you notice it happening more and more often that you need to address these late arrivals. Take the time to schedule a private meeting to speak about the employee’s tardiness and determine what steps need to be taken next.


Get to the root cause

As mentioned previously, there may be many valid reasons that result in an employee being late. Make sure to ask the proper questions to determine what the true root cause of the continual tardiness is. You may find that the employee is simply terrible at time management, and just needs a reminder of the potential consequences of being late. Sometimes it can be a work ethic or appreciation problem – an employee is disappointed about feeling unacknowledged, which has a negative impact on their desire to start the work day on time. Allowing the employee to tell their side of the story before jumping to conclusions will help you decide how to effectively handle the situation.


Outline the consequences

If you determine the employee is just bad at managing their time or just does not care about the potential effects it can have on your business or other employees; you will need to outline consequences if their behavior continues. You should have a clearly outlined lateness policy that will include punishments like verbal or written warnings, eventually leading to greater punishments. Providing people with deadlines is one of the biggest motivating factors to make changes quickly, especially if the end result is them losing their job. Make sure the deadline you come up with is realistic and tailored to the employee’s situation – and don’t forget to reward improvements. Positive reinforcement overall is more effective than punishments.


Be patient

Nothing is going to happen overnight, so you will need to be patient when it comes to correcting the behavior of a chronically late employee. If you notice them making a genuine effort at getting to work on time, let them know you appreciate it. Acknowledging their positive behavior will let them know you are paying attention, and this, in turn, will hold them more accountable for their actions.
If you see no corrective actions from an employee right away, try to remember that change does take time. You have provided your employee with a deadline to make changes before any further consequences take place, so make sure to allow them that time to take the appropriate steps to correct their behavior.


Reinforce with rewards

One of the best ways to ensure employees get to work on time is to reinforce their positive behavior by providing rewards. Whether it be weekly, monthly, or yearly; a reward reminds your employees that you appreciate the fact that they take their job seriously and do their best to get to work on time. If a chronically late employees see that their coworkers are receiving rewards for their punctuality, this may encourage them to be on time, so they do not feel as though they are missing out.


Use time tracking software

Lastly, it’s important that you use good time tracking software. A good timeclock manager not only allows you to keep tracking of your employee’s time but also allows employees to see how frequently they are on time or late. Humans are visual creatures by nature, so being able to see punch times from a computer or phone will help them learn to better manage their time.
Handling chronically late employees is never an easy task. While having an attendance policy in place is a good start, ultimately it comes down to management being able to effectively enforce the policy when a situation arises. Make sure to give a chronically late employee time to correct their behavior. If no changes take place, then it may be time to cut your losses and let the employee go.


Need assistance?

DavidsonMorris’ employment lawyers work with employers to support with all aspects of workplace misconduct and disciplinary procedures. We can advise on specific matters to help your organisation ensure compliance with your legal obligations while protecting your best interests. Through our fixed-fee employment law service, Triple A, employers can access unlimited employment law advice to support with workforce management. For expert advice and support, contact us.

Last updated: 26 June 2022

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