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How to deal with lateness

latenessour new advice column from Peninsula Business Services

Although staff who are clocking on one or two minutes late in the morning are not causing your company huge detriment, promptness and reliability are important in an employment relationship and employees are often subject to disciplinary proceedings because of their tardiness.

Many instances of lateness are not within the control of the employee e.g. train cancellations or road traffic accidents which have created delays but you are still within your rights to expect that employees will arrive on time.

Informal discussions with an employee who has had a couple of instances of lateness might be enough to make them realise that they are now on your radar and need to take measures to rectify their behaviour.

A quick word in your office will usually do it. This sets your stall from the very beginning and confirms to the employee that you are monitoring behaviour.

Before considering disciplinary action for continued lateness after you have had a word with the employee, it may be worth looking to see whether it is possible to make a small change to the employee’s working hours.

There is no requirement to make this move but it will show that you are being reasonable and are willing to come to an agreement with the employee when it appears that their start time is causing the employee problems.

Clearly this would not be appropriate in all circumstances, and would normally be reserved for those instances when the lateness is caused by travel/transport problems, or changes in the employee’s family life e.g. a marriage break up resulting in problems with getting the children to school etc.

Shortening an employee’s hours e.g. pushing back their start time from 9am to 9.15am will result in a drop in pay therefore this must be done with the employee’s agreement.

If lateness continues, a formal disciplinary procedure may be appropriate. You’d need to check your contractual procedures and make sure you act in line with them.

A disciplinary hearing should be called and the employee should be informed of the right to be accompanied.

During the hearing, the employee may provide an explanation of the lateness which you had not considered previously.

This could include a health problem which hinders their ability to keep to a time structure in the morning or they may have caring duties to perform. Any mitigation provided by the employee should be taken into consideration when determining what sanction to impose.

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 dismissal. If the employee continues to be late, dismissal will be the ultimate sanction.

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, so you should look to the contract for an indication of how long to wait before the warning should be disregarded.

Keeping accurate records of lateness in a central location makes it easy for an employer to have an at a glance view of the employee’s conduct.
Accurate records will provide sound evidence for disciplinary action. You may keep a note of your employees’ lateness centrally, in an absence book maybe, or in a diary, so you’ll know how many instances of lateness there has been in a period of time.

What that method will not make immediately apparent is that the lateness is always on the same day of the week, which may alert you to the possibility that there may be something going on that you need to ask the employee about.

Using a calendar style recording system will help you pick out any patterns of lateness quickly. Being fully prepared with as much information as possible before you speak to an employee about their lateness will put you in the best position to ask the right questions and nip the problem in the bud.

Make sure you take some time to do some preparation before each time you speak to the employee, whether it be the first chat about it, or a disciplinary hearing.

On a final note, an employee’s length of service is an important factor in deciding how to deal with an employee who is consistently late.
Although some employers are happy to use the same procedures with all employees, regardless of length of service, some will prefer to apply different dismissal procedures for short service employees, where a swift dismissal can be much less risky in terms of exposure to a tribunal claim.

If you would like more advice on dealing with lateness in the workplace please Paul Bradley of Peninsula Business Services Northern Ireland on 0796 611 2104 or email [email protected]. And please tell Paul Business First sent you!