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How to manage employee lateness

Late trains, road works, broken alarm clocks; all are valid excuses for being late to work once in a while. But for small businesses, persistent staff lateness can seriously affect your productivity and profits. Here we look at the steps that you can take to manage and prevent lateness.

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Lateness occurs where an employee fails to be available at work to start his or her shift/working day on time. This can have time and cost implications for small businesses as others may not be able to complete work or will have to work overtime to provide cover.

Set some rules

Let your staff know what you expect from them by introducing a clear lateness policy.

This should set out:

  • The required standards of timekeeping, i.e. working hours, shift patterns, any flexi-time or flexible working arrangements
  • Any consequences of persistent lateness
  • What disciplinary action will be taken under the disciplinary procedure
  • How you will monitor time keeping, for example with a signing in sheet or clocking in machine
  • If and how they will have to make up any time they have missed
  • Who they should report lateness to if they know are going to be late and by when.

The policy should be properly communicated to ALL employees, and enforced fairly and consistently. If your employees know that lateness is being monitored and taken seriously, they are more likely to observe good time keeping practices.

Create a formal lateness procedure

Persistent lateness can often be resolved informally and the employee be given an opportunity to improve. This is often a more effective way of resolving such an issue at an early stage. It can highlight any problems that could easily be resolved and negate the need for an investigation and disciplinary meeting.

If lateness persists despite this informal action, it may become a disciplinary matter and a formal disciplinary procedure will be necessary. This will need to be compliant with the Acas Code of Practice.

Be aware that in cases of genuine sickness, particularly if the sickness is pregnancy related, you should not take disciplinary action.

Even where there has been a full disciplinary process and the employee's time keeping has not improved, the employer will usually have to give the employee notice (or pay in lieu) if they wish to dismiss them.

Employers can only dismiss employees without notice in cases of gross misconduct. Lateness itself is almost certainly not serious enough to be gross misconduct, although lying about the reasons could be.

Don't act hastily in cases of discipline and dismissal, you must follow a full and fair procedure. For further information, members of Forum can call our helpline on 0845 130 1722.

Be fair and flexible

Employers should be realistic and understanding about occasional unavoidable problems with getting to work.

Always listen to your employee's reason for lateness. It could actually indicate problems concerning management, working relationships and hours. Where employees are finding it difficult to manage home and work responsibilities, consider introducing flexible working arrangements.

From 30th June 2014 all employees have the legal right to request flexible working.

You must consider such requests seriously. If you, or you employees, know that travel may be disrupted, you should plan ahead as much as possible and be open to changing shift patterns or allowing temporary home-working, if appropriate.