How to Address the Causes and Costs of a Consistently Tardy Employee

How to Address the Causes and Costs of a Consistently Tardy Employee

How to Address the Causes and Costs of a Consistently Tardy Employee

If you have ever had an employee arrive late for work, you are certainly not alone. While there is a multitude of reasons why someone might experience an unforeseen delay, the professional expectation is that it does not become habitual. So what do you do when absenteeism becomes a frequent issue with one of your employees?

According to a Circadian report on absenteeism, U.S. organizations take a $2,650 loss per employee, per year, as a result of unexpected absences. The costs of repeated instances of tardiness can certainly add up quickly. Nevertheless, there are a number of things employers might consider when managing employee tardiness, some of which are outlined below.

How to address an employee who is consistently late:

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Are expectations about punctuality clearly communicated to the entire staff? If they are not, it might be beneficial to outline an attendance/tardiness policy in an employee handbook, and direct attention to the policy when such issues arise. 

Better yet, have these expectations available in writing at the beginning of the employment relationship. This gives employees a chance to be aware of the possible consequences of perpetual tardiness. Also, being fair and consistent by applying the policy across-the-board is a good practice.

In your carefully outlined attendance policy, do employees receive penalties for showing up late to work? Instead of always using disciplinary action to address attendance issues, consider tying incentives into your attendance policy. Encourage positive behavior by rewarding employees who have been consistently punctual.

Rewards don’t necessarily need to be monetary. One point you may consider is what your employees value as a reward, whether that is verbal praise in a meeting, early dismissal, a gift card, or even a kind “thank you” shared in private. However, not all award programs are without flaws.

If not implemented carefully, an incentive program may have unintended consequences for top performing employees (Forbes).

Communication is a two-way street

When an employee arrives to work (tardy), reserve your judgment of the situation and your employee until you hear them out. It is considerate to give the individual a chance to explain the circumstances of their tardiness, if they wish to offer that.

Especially during Northeast Ohio cold-weather months, it’s not unusual for inclement weather to affect employee commute time. It is also possible that the employee’s tendency to be consistently late is due to an inability to correctly estimate how long it takes to complete a task, known in the field of psychology as the planning fallacy. Whatever the case might be, an employee is surely to appreciate his or her leader being receptive.

Once the employee has said what he or she wishes to say, the employer has an opportunity to express their own concerns. Explain why being at work on time is necessary for on-the-job success in this employee’s position. If applicable, you might mention the effects attendance issues might have on an employee’s chances for raises or promotions. It’s possible that the individual is unaware of the far-reaching consequences that tardiness could lead to in the employee’s career future.

Similarly, it might be appropriate to explain how the employee’s chronic tardiness affects his or her team and customers.

It is possible that being late to work is forcing coworkers to take on extra responsibilities in order to meet customer needs and/or organizational goals (responsibilities for which they do not receive additional compensation).

5 important odds-and-ends to consider

  1. Is micromanagement playing a role in the employer-employee relationship? It might be a good idea to avoid taking on the responsibilities of your tardy employee, because the employee should be accountable for his or her own attendance. There is a very big difference between leading and controlling. 
  2. Depending on the reasons the employee provides for being consistently late, consider whether he or she might be entitled to intermittent leave under FMLA or disability protection under the ADA. Furthermore, managers have the ability to support employees who may be experiencing various sources of stress (child and elder care responsibilities, illness, financial responsibilities) through helpful resources provided by an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). ERC’s Preferred Partner for EAPs, ease@work, offers work/life management services such as wellness information, childcare and eldercare resources, and financial consultation.
  3. Keep a record of instances that involve the individual’s tardiness so that you have documentation to share with the affected employee.
  4. If a particular department tends to suffer from tardiness issues in your organization, it’s possible to require exempt employees to clock in & out on a daily basis, as long as the attendance information is not used to dock pay (HR Hero). This can be used as a short-term tool for encouraging accountability.
  5. Try your best to be flexible, within reason. If the employee’s hours are making it difficult to be punctual, consider adjusting the start and end times (that still incorporate core business hours) if his or her job responsibilities allow it. This is especially important if the employee is a top performer who is capable of consistently producing high-quality work. Ask yourself this question: “Do this individual’s contributions to our organizational goals outweigh their tendency to be late to work?”

View ERC’s Absence Management Practices Survey Results

This report summarizes the results of ERC’s survey of organizations in Northeast Ohio on practices related to attendance and unscheduled absence.

View the Results


  • Liz Maier-Liu

    Liz Maier-Liu specializes in writing high-quality, engaging copy across all channels, including email, web, blogs, print, and social media. She is passionate about helping ERC build long-lasting relationships with clients and members through storytelling and delightful copy that calls them to action.Since 2019, Liz has supported ERC’s marketing team. She currently manages ERC’s email marketing campaigns, social media accounts, marketing automation, and websites. Liz also executes content strategies that drive engagement, leads, and customer retention.