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Table of Contents

Take care of your people and protect your business

“I didn’t hear my alarm clock!” “I’m so sorry I’m late, we had a hard morning with the kids.” “I had to dig myself out of the snow this morning.” Do any of these sound familiar to you? Employee tardiness is not a new concept; it can happen in any industry and will most likely happen to all employees at least once. While having policies in place for tardiness is very important, it is not a one-policy-fits all type of deal. Let’s see what the best fit for your business would be!

What Is Employee Tardiness?

Employee tardiness occurs when an employee is late to their scheduled shift. In some work industries, being late doesn’t disrupt the business and can be easily overlooked. In other industries, like healthcare or factory environments, being late can affect the livelihood of others or delay work production for everyone.

Issues with Employee Tardiness

Decreases Employee Morale

When an employee is constantly running late, it can affect company morale. It may cause other employees to wait, or simply cause irritation that the employee is late. If other employees do not see their coworkers being held accountable, it causes tension between employees and doubts in the employer.

Creates Bad Habits

If frequent tardiness is not addressed, there is no incentive for the employee to fix the issue. The longer the tardiness happens without consequences, the more the employee will continue to be late; they may not even attempt to be on time anymore. If the employer doesn’t see it as an issue either, then a more flexible schedule should be used.

Decreases or Interrupts Production

In industries such as healthcare or that require employees to be on a production line, it is crucial for employees to be on time. There often aren’t substitutions available, and if someone is late it can affect the whole work environment. In a hospital setting, it can be as serious as life and death if an employee doesn’t show up for their scheduled shift. If an employee doesn’t show up to work on the production line, it could potentially delay others’ work as well.

Loss of Money

According to the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), US businesses lose billions of dollars every year due to employees being late. SHRM states that an employee who is 10 minutes late every day for a year is the equivalent of taking a week’s paid vacation. Of course, this depends on if the employee is hourly or exempt, as it would go unpaid if the employee is hourly. In either case, that time lost still causes the company to lose money and production time.

How to Handle Employee Tardiness

It is important to decide how you want to handle employee tardiness. There can be strict and/or flexible options, but they need to be handled consistently throughout the company.

Have a Clear Policy

If there are employees who need to be at work at a certain time, it is essential to have a set Absence/Tardiness policy. Set clear expectations and consequences, and make sure employees are given the policy when they start and educated on it during new-employee orientation.

Include the policy in the employee handbook so it can be referenced when talking to employees.

Give Some Grace and Come Up With a Plan

Many times, employees just need to be given some grace. Accidentally oversleeping and traffic affects everyone at some point. If it keeps happening, make a plan with the employee to help them succeed. Chat together about what will happen if the employee continues to be late. Together, write down specific expectations and consequences if it continues to happen.

 Adjust the Schedule

If tardiness continues, see how the company can help. There are certain situations, like daycare, that are out of the employee’s hands—for example, if the employee’s daycare doesn’t open until 7:30 and they need to be at work by 7:45, but still have a 20-minute drive after dropoff. See if there is a way to move the employee’s shift back 30 minutes. This may not be possible but may be worth it to keep good employees.

 Address the Issues Consistently

If you are going to be flexible and accommodating with one employee, make sure all other employees are given the same opportunity. Many of these may be case-by-case scenarios, but always allow the employee to explain and see if anything can be done to accommodate their needs.

Follow the Written Policy

Whichever route one decides to use to handle employee tardiness, there should always be a written policy in the company handbook on how it will be addressed. If you choose to adopt a flexible approach, make sure that is written, but also explain the outcome if expectations still aren’t met. If a termination is possible due to employee tardiness, make sure that is communicated to the employee in writing.

Here is an example of a policy:

In the event that an employee has consistent issues with tardiness, a meeting will be held with HR personnel to find a solution. It will:

  1. Address the issue and get to the core reason the employee is running late.
  2. Create a solution together on how the employee can be successful in being on time.
  3. Together, create the consequences that may be faced if the employee is not able to uphold the agreed-on solution.

That policy may not work for every business, as some companies cannot be that flexible with their tolerance for tardiness. Although they can still come together to find a solution, they may need a more strict policy.

Here is another example:

  1. If an employee is tardy four times within 30 days, a first-warning corrective action will occur.
  2. If an employee is tardy six times within 30 days, a second-warning corrective action will occur.
  3. If an employee is tardy eight times within 30 days, a final warning will occur.
  4. If an employee is tardy nine times within 30 days, the termination will occur.


Whatever approach you take in addressing employee tardiness, it is vital to document, document, document. It is essential to make sure goals, consequences, corrective actions, and terminations have been recorded in writing. It is even better if there is a signature and date line for both employee and employer to sign.

Documentation will vary based on the systems you have in place. If you use a Human Resources Information System (HRIS), record tardiness there. If a paper is still being utilized, write down the date and time they punched in. If you use timecards, make notes on them. But most importantly, when talking with the employee, make sure everything you discuss is written down, signed off on, and securely filed.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Employee Tardiness

Excessive tardiness can be determined by the employer. Some employers consider a few times a week excessive, and others, a few times a month. It depends on the job and the industry.

Yes, an employee can be fired for tardiness. If it gets excessive enough that it causes a hardship to the employer and other employees, then termination is possible. As stated in this article, it is important to follow the written policy and document the steps taken to attempt to correct the behavior before terminating the employee.

Samantha is an HR professional with 9+ years of HR experience in multiple fields. She has her masters in Human Resource Management and her SHRM-SCP certification. While she has a wide variety of People experience and skills, her favorite is employee relations and employee experience. She has built an HR department from the ground up and strives to make the company culture a rewarding, enjoyable experience and takes pride in building relationships with employees Samantha is thrilled to become an HR Maverick to share her experience and keep gaining experience in the career she loves, even during her time as a stay at home mom.

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