Time to deal with late employees

Written by
Changeboard Team

26 Jul 2010

26 Jul 2010 • by Changeboard Team

How much of a problem is employee lateness?

Whether the bus was late or the kids needed dropping off, in the current economic climate it seems theres only so much an employer can take. The recession has led to more bosses than ever landing in hot water by taking a tough line with tardy employees.

Theres little wonder stressed UK bosses are cracking down. Recent findings suggesting lateness costs British businesses a staggering ??1.8 billion every year and one in six is prepared to sack an employee for being late just two or three times.

The knock-on effects of late employees

From delaying production in manufacturing companies to affecting customer relations in retail, chronic lateness has a considerable effect on a business. It's not just the late individuals productivity that is affected either. Lateness from one team member can have a considerable effect on the people they work with. It can lead to morale issues for the staff who do manage to set their alarm clocks and get in on time.

Many employers recently turned a blind eye when it came to office attendance during the World Cup as they realised they had to balance employee enjoyment with business output. However, now the World Cup is firmly behind us and we're back to reality in the office, now is a good time to address the policies you have in place. Formal policies should be written, clearly spelling out issues and consequences regarding tardiness.

Ensure robust policies are in place

Policies should be given to employees as soon as they are recruited so they are fully aware where they stand and what's expected of them. Should warnings have to be made, they must be documented, objective and fair. The employee must also have the chance to correct any issues. Its important that bosses are made aware, in legal terms, being late for work comes under general misconduct and doesnt warrant dismissal for a first offence. 

If an employee has had adequate warnings and it has been made clear to them that their behaviour is damaging to the business, the employer may wish to follow through with a dismissal, something which has to be carried out carefully. If you want to dismiss an employee, seek legal advice from the start, follow the rules and avoid tribunal claims. 

Employment legislation is a minefield with many employers still unsure how to dismiss an employee properly. Employees should be given a verbal or written warning in the first instance. With many businesses still suffering as a result of the recession, consistently slow starters can add to the pressure and policies and procedures are often the last thing to be considered. However, it's vital the correct systems, procedures and advice are in place.

Ensure dismissals are conducted fairly

Employers need to remain in control and not let their anger result in hasty actions. For those bosses who dont follow rules, they could end up at an employment tribunal and be ordered to reinstate or re-engage the employee in a similar post, or more commonly, give financial compensation to the employee.

The tribunal service recently published figures showing a sharp increase in the number of employment tribunal cases brought against employers. Over the past year, employment tribunal cases have risen from 151,000 to 236,100, a 56% rise. 

Get to the root of the problem

Most managers dealing with employees that are consistently late want to try and fix the behaviour in question rather than eliminate the employee. The best approach is a heart-to-heart conversation with the individual, where the manager highlights the impact being late has on the business. Business owners need to establish if something has changed that is causing the individual to be perpetually late and look at how the problem can be solved.

If possible, a flexible approach could be beneficial to everyone concerned. An employer might suggest that having noticed an individual is struggling to get to the office for their 9am start, maybe they want to push their hours back to a 9.30am start and work half an hour later at the end of the day. 

Do your homework before you hire

To avoid instances of lateness in the workplace arising with future employees, employers need to make sure they check out references for potential new recruits and should ask how many days they were late in the past month.

Asking questions about how late an employee is doesnt break any laws, its up to previous employers if they choose not to answer the question. Small businesses in particular, seldom check out references adequately, but investing time in this, could prevent an unwelcome realisation further down the line.