How to Handle Chronic Lateness At Work (2023)

Lateness. While sometimes inevitable, when made a habit, can become a problem for all those involved. Lateness at work can affect a multitude of factors like productivity, reliability, accountability, and one’s relationship with coworkers and management. According to a national survey, nearly thirty percent of Americans show up late to work daily. Odds are, you will encounter an employee who demonstrates chronic lateness in all lines of work. As a manager or business owner, it’s crucial to have a plan for addressing employee tardiness with patience and a clearly delineated protocol. We’re breaking down some common reasons and solutions for excessive lateness at work.

Why Are Employees Late for Work?

Car troubles, sick kids, a ripped pair of stockings, and the occasionally missed alarm are all reasons for making us late to the office from time to time. As humans, these things are inevitable, and even the promptest of employees are not immune to the late start. But what distinguishes this kind of lateness from chronic tardiness?

Chronic tardiness is defined as the habitual lateness to work; lateness that becomes a habit and occurs regularly with or without valid reasons. To address employee lateness, it is important to understand why someone would constantly arrive late to work.

As mentioned above, there are uncontrollable factors in life that can contribute to clocking in after an employee’s designated time. For example, missing the bus or a delayed train arrival are unfortunate but common transportation mishaps that can cause an employee to arrive past their scheduled time.

However, constantly coming in late and using transportation issues as an excuse may be the product of poor time management rather than external variables. Constant lateness can also come as a result of an incompatible work and home relationship. Employees may have difficulties with their set start time due to childcare, health reasons, and other family dynamics. While these factors are certainly important to address before an employee comes to work, punctuality should be emphasized by management, and compassion should be demonstrated when trying to approach the employee with solutions and guidance to their lateness.

Is Employee Lateness Such a Big Deal?

As a business owner or manager, you know that time is money. Depending on your industry, workforce organization, and employee roles, it is up to you to determine how much of an effect chronic tardiness has on your business. If you rely on employees to open shop and take customer service calls, then lateness at work may not be tolerated.

However, if an employee’s tasks are not necessarily time-sensitive, you may be able to give some leeway when it comes to clocking in late. For these cases, you can use employee tracking tools which will also hold people accountable.AMGtime’s time and attendance software makes employee tracking easier, offering all of the features you will need. It helps employers keep adequate records of employee attendance, making it possible to track and monitor tardiness at work.

How to Handle Habitual Tardiness at Work?

Lateness at work is typically a delicate issue for both employees and management. It is crucial to approach the situation with grace and compassion. Reprimanding and repercussions are often associated with negative behavior and may be practiced; however, before taking that kind of action, business owners should have a clear outline for best practices, company policy, and a plan of action. Out of courtesy, these issues should be discussed in a one-on-one setting to promote privacy and avoid embarrassment.

Create a Lateness Policy

A clear and comprehensive attendance policy is the backbone of a transparent employee and employer relationship. This helps set expectations and guidelines to help employees understand what they can be held accountable for. Additionally, it levels the playing field for all employees, ensuring everyone is held to the same standards.

The first step in creating a time and attendance policy is figuring out what applies to your workplace. For example, a typical office environment may require more rigid guidelines pertaining to start and stop times, grace periods, and the disciplinary process. On the other hand, more flexible workspaces that allow remote and hybrid work models may require less strict guidelines.

However, the importance of a lateness policy still stands to hold employees accountable without the physical presence of management. Regardless of your employee and workspace structure, your lateness policy must contain certain elements: policy documentation, preferred communication methods, and the disciplinary process.

Whatever your attendance policy may be, what is most important above all is that it is published and available for employee and management reference. Whether it is in the employee handbook, a part of the onboarding presentation, or present in your preferred HRM or HCM tools, making your policy known and available will ensure that employees can read and refer to it whenever they need.

Rather than leaving employees guessing, addressing preferred communication methods for calling in late or absent is the best way to avoid miscommunication and promote reporting. Creating a communication plan with an employee will guarantee they know whether calling in, emailing, or messaging on tools like Slack are the best avenues. Additionally, you may require employees to mark themselves as running late or unavailable on shared calendars such as Google Calendar so that other employees know they are unavailable for meetings, assignments, and communication.

To avoid wrongful actions, hurt feelings, and confusion, a multi-step disciplinary process that is clearly written can be helpful for both employees and decision-makers. You may outline these steps however you see fit for your business and the overall industry. Still, typically employee lateness can be addressed with a verbal warning, followed by a written warning, a final warning, then possible termination.

Ensure lateness is documented by using AMGtime’s detailed reporting tool to keep track of the number of times an employee has been late and by how much. The timecard report shows detailed reporting of your employee hours, including regular time, overtime, and PTO, showing you all the information you need succinctly. Safe keep reports and documentation of written warnings if asked for in the future.

Address Tardiness Early

Don’t delay addressing recurring tardiness. Start a conversation promptly to show that it’s unacceptable and encourage the employees to change their behavior.

Listen to Your Employees

One of the first things you need to do is to address employees showing up late to work. Make sure to ask the right questions to determine all the reasons leading to continual tardiness. Addressing employee concerns contributes to building trust, collaboration, and a sense of accountability.

Respect the Privacy

Planning a difficult conversation with your employees? Make sure to respect privacy and create a comfortable space for your staff members who always show up late to work. Public conversations can cause embarrassment and defensiveness. Explain your concerns, cite examples, and encourage feedback. Practice active listening for a fair and honest approach that fosters respect.

Team up to Set Goals

After discussing tardiness and laying out expectations and consequences, it’s time to set self-improvement goals together. Invite the employee to share their ideas to manage late arrivals. Provide feedback and offer helpful suggestions to exceed their own expectations. This makes habitually late employees take charge of their growth and feel accountable. Don’t forget to clearly outline the consequences of tardiness.

Schedule Meetings to Start the Day

While transparency and communication can solve many workplace issues, some problems require more creative solutions. If the steps above do not seem to curb employees who are always late, consider setting meetings that start at the beginning of your employee’s shift. This will give them a reason to be extra accountable and arrive to work on time knowing that others depend on their responsibility.

Monitor in Real-Time

Alternatively, another solution for management is AMGtime’s status board function which gives supervisors the ability to keep an eye on employee actions and monitor them in real-time. Following whether employees are working, absent, taking a break or lunch, or outside; allows you to track potential patterns in employee lateness as they occur.

Praise Improved Behavior

Simple words of encouragement can have a significant impact. Every time you observe a positive behavioral shift, express praise and appreciation. This will let your employees know they are on the right track and that their efforts are valued.


Handling employees that always show up late for work might be tricky and require extra effort. Whether you take a more lax approach to a time and attendance policy or one that is stricter, the end goal is to ensure employee lateness is approached with fairness, transparency, and efficiency.


How to Handle Chronic Lateness At Work? ›

Speak through your concerns over their lateness, present them with evidence and refer back to your company's policy on employee lateness. Explain that you want to understand what is causing their lateness and find out if there's something you could help with.

How do you deal with chronic tardiness in the workplace? ›

7 Ways To Effectively Handle Chronically Late Employees
  1. Set expectations. Employee lateness is an inevitable part of being a business owner. ...
  2. Be proactive.
  3. Get to the root cause.
  4. Outline the consequences.
  5. Be patient.
  6. Reinforce with rewards.
  7. Use time tracking software.
Jun 29, 2022

How do you overcome chronic lateness? ›

Here are experts' favorite strategies:
  1. Figure out exactly how long it will take to get somewhere, then build in extra time. ...
  2. Surround yourself with clocks. ...
  3. Set lots of alarms. ...
  4. Create artificial deadlines. ...
  5. Don't start an enjoyable — or important — activity before a pressing event. ...
  6. Plan what you'll do if you're early.
Aug 16, 2021

What do you say to a chronically late employee? ›

Speak through your concerns over their lateness, present them with evidence and refer back to your company's policy on employee lateness. Explain that you want to understand what is causing their lateness and find out if there's something you could help with.

How do you discipline lateness? ›

Here are ways to deal with an employee who is constantly late.
  1. Identify the behavior. ...
  2. Be proactive. ...
  3. Verbalize your disappointment. ...
  4. Come up with an action plan. ...
  5. Respect a person's privacy. ...
  6. Clearly outline the consequences. ...
  7. Reward improvements. ...
  8. 55 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2023.
Jun 9, 2015

Can you fire an employee for always being late? ›

At-Will Employment

This means that, in most circumstances, business owners and managers reserve the right to terminate employees for any reason as long as it is not discriminatory. As such, termination is generally a valid and legal step to take to deal with an employee that is habitually late to work.

What is a progressive discipline for tardiness? ›

Disciplinary warnings, whether they be verbal or written, are a common form of progressive discipline for habitual lateness and tardiness. The employer should record all warnings issued to an employee in writing and save them in the employee file.

Is chronic lateness rude? ›

It's not quirky. And it certainly doesn't mean you just “like to stop and smell the roses.” Let's call it what it is: if you're routinely late, you are rude and inconsiderate. And, for some reason, you place a higher premium on your time than anyone else's.

What is chronic lateness called? ›

Being chronically late isn't just rude or inconvenient — it's now considered a medical condition. A number of medical experts have labeled the condition “time blindness” and associated it with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or other mental health issues.

How do you say no to stay late at work? ›

Tell the boss you can't stay late
  1. Be direct, but polite. Say “I'm sorry, but I can't stay late.”
  2. Offer another solution. For example, “I can make it a top priority in the morning and have it to you by 10 a.m.”
  3. Don't justify your response. You don't need to offer specifics as to why you can't stay late. ...
  4. Be proactive.
Mar 16, 2018

How often is it acceptable to be late for work? ›

As an employer, you should expect your staff to be late maybe once or twice. However, when an employee is late to work every day, you need to address the situation, or it'll could get worse. Other employees might think lateness is acceptable if the situation is not dealt with.

Is being late to work considered misconduct? ›

If the claimant is repeatedly late to work and has been warned or reprimanded before, his discharge for being tardy would be for misconduct. In a case like this, the claimant's actions would be considered willful and a substantial disregard of the employer's interests.

How do you take accountability for being late? ›

Communicate with Your Employer

Despite all your best efforts, there will be days when things go wrong. A good employer will understand the occasional absence or late arrival, but always let them know. Failing to make an appearance without an explanation puts everyone, including you, in an awkward situation.

Why am I always late for work? ›

Common Reasons Why You May Always Be Late. Impulsivity, inattentiveness, and “time blindness” can all contribute to lateness. Understanding the causes of chronic lateness may help you improve your timeliness.

What is the psychology of chronic tardiness? ›

Tardiness can also bely self-deception. Setting unrealistic goals and kidding yourself about how much time it takes to get from A to B is a surefire way to become chronically late. More seriously, whether consciously or unconsciously, a person may be using their tardiness as a way to express anger and aggression.

How many minutes is considered late for work? ›

The length for this is entirely up to you, and what your policy states. A typical grace period is five to seven minutes, but employees should still report their lateness. If an employee is five to seven minutes late every day, you may need to speak with them to understand why.

How do you fire an employee for tardiness? ›

Document every instance of the employee's late arrival. Should the ex-employee complain about an improper discharge and you find yourself before an administrative law judge, your documentation regarding unexcused absence or tardiness will usually help justify the firing.

What are the possible consequences for excessive tardiness? ›

Behavior Problems: Tardiness causes students to feel disconnected with school, leading to behavior problems and dropouts. Job Performance: Students who are frequently tardy to school are also more apt to be fired from a job for showing up late.

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