Of all the actions employees take over the work day, perhaps one of the most significant is showing up to work on time. Of course, everyone shows up late now and then. Whether we are dealing with car trouble, a late train, or a kid who missed the bus and needs a ride to school, we have all had our mornings. However, with some employees, being late for work becomes a habit—and this is a bad habit that can affect the smooth operation of any business.


Chronic employee lateness is unacceptable in a business of any size. However, it is especially disruptive in the small- and mid-sized business because there are fewer employees and the impact is felt more keenly by everyone in the workplace. A chronically late employee is not necessarily a bad employee, but the tardiness does have to stop. Fortunately, there are ways to take a proactive approach and handle a chronically late employee that will help both the individual employee and the company as a whole.


Proactive Tips to Prevent Chronic Employee Tardiness

Implement a Lateness Policy

Taking a proactive approach to employee lateness starts with having a lateness policy in place. No matter how small your business is, it is important to establish this policy early on. Document everything, including:

  • All expectations concerning work hours and breaks
  • The procedure to be followed when reporting lateness
  • Information on how you will track time worked, which is ideally handled by an automated system such as Boomr’s time-tracking solution
  • How employees can make up lost time if necessary
  • The consequences of frequently showing up late to work and potential disciplinary action that might be taken
  • A note that makes it clear employee tardiness is disruptive to the entire workplace

When employees know your expectations at the outset, it is less likely there will be problems down the line. In fact, having the policy in place will help give employees a sense of certainty and assurance when it becomes to their workplace behavior.


Keep Watch

It is important to always know what is happening in your workplace. If you aren’t paying close attention, employees will notice this and they might not be as diligent as they should be. After all, you aren’t watching so you won’t even notice, right? Alternatively, if employees know they are being monitored, they will be less likely to bend (or break) the rules. While this close monitoring isn’t necessary with every employee, it will, unfortunately, be necessary with some.


Encourage Consistent Communication

Make sure the lines of communication are always open and that you are approachable. If an employee is having a problem that is causing them to be tardy, they might not come to you about it if they don’t feel safe in doing so. Make sure all your employees know they can speak to you about anything, anytime they need to.


Also, be sure to get out among your employees and casually chat with them. This is a great way to get to know them, which is especially beneficial in a small company. When you know your employees on a more personal level, you might be able to see red flags more easily and you might be able to determine if there are problems interfering with an employee getting to work on time.


6-Step Process to Dealing with Consistently Late Workers

The above points are geared toward taking a proactive approach that will hopefully prevent from employees being chronically late for work before it can become an issue. However, there will still be times when you will have to deal with late workers. When this happens, it is important to deal with it in a logical manner. Here is a 6-step process that will allow you to effectively deal with an employee that is chronically late.


1. Determine Whether There Is a Pattern

There might be an underlying reason why the employee is frequently late to work and there might be a pattern to that lateness as a result. Go over employee time sheets. Is the employee late the same day every week, is it more than one morning a week, do they always come back late from lunch, or is it a block of days they are late?


By determining whether there is a pattern to the tardiness, you can gain insight into what is going on and perhaps find a way to work with your employee. This will also help you to determine whether or not your employee is taking advantage and whether there is cause for you to reprimand or take action against that employee.


2. Have a Face-to-Face Meeting

Just sit down and have a chat with your employee. You might want to take them out for coffee or lunch and keep the conversation casual or you might want to have a formal meeting. This depends on your management style and the company culture, but however you choose to do it, take the time to talk and try to find the root of the problem. If you noticed any pattern to their lateness while conducting your observations in Step 1, this is the time to bring it up.


3. Accommodate when Necessary

If you find there is a good reason for the employee to be frequently tardy, then be willing to help them. For instance, they might have a sick family member, be dealing with their own health problem, or have trouble finding child care. If you can allow for flexibility in their work schedule, it could make a huge difference.


In fact, workplace flexibility is on the rise and has been shown to positively impact employee work/life balance and the work environment as a whole. Brandon Gaille reports the following statistics:

  • 1/3 of workers in the U.S. consider work/life balance the most important factor when considering job offers
  • 90% of executives agree that flexible work schedules help companies meet their business goals
  • 70% of managers and 87% of employees report that workplace flexibility increases productivity
  • Telecommuting reduces employee absenteeism by 60%


4. Provide a Warning

If the tardy behavior is happening for no legitimate reason, then it is time to issue a warning. This warning should make clear the consequences should the employee not change their behavior. If you have a lateness policy in place, go over it with your employee. It is also helpful to make your disappointment clear. Human beings don’t like it when the people in charge are disappointed in their behavior and this can help motivate a change in that behavior.


5. Monitor the Situation Closely

Once you have come up with a plan to help an employee or have issued a warning, you will have to monitor the situation closely. If you have a trusted employee, perhaps a supervisor or manager, who can help, that takes some of the pressure off you to always be watching. The key is to determine whether the behavior has changed.


6. Follow Through

If employee tardiness has not improved, then it is time to follow through with the consequences you laid out. This can be difficult, but it’s necessary because this is the only way to show you are serious.



It is important to take a proactive approach to chronic employee tardiness. If employees are late to work enough times that you become angry, it will be more difficult to deal with the situation in a firm, yet appropriate manner. The key is to stay ahead of the game, ensure there is a lateness policy in place, and make sure your employees are informed of this policy and any procedures involved.


Ultimately, you will need to take into consideration the type of business you run, the company culture you have established, your management style, and how to best help your employees perform their very best. You’ll find the best results will come when you work together to deal with any issues and keep the lines of communication open.