How to Manage Consistently Late Employees

How to Manage Consistently Late Employees

We've all encountered a colleague or employee who pushes the limits of their manager's patience.

They turn up ten minutes late each day and take about another fifteen minutes to make coffee and turn on their PC before finally sitting down to work.

They clock-watch throughout the afternoon and spend the last fifteen minutes of the day tidying their desk and 'organising' their tasks for tomorrow.

In isolation, each of these habits isn't so bad.

But when these habits are combined, the company essentially pays that individual to procrastinate for an hour, each and every day.

While few employees would claim to be operating at 100% right up until the end of their shift, persistent lateness is less forgivable.

It's not only the employer who loses out.

Other employees will become frustrated with their colleague's tardiness - it might mean they have more work to do first thing, for example.

Clearly, it's important to deal with the culprits - but a heavy-handed approach can cause more problems than it solves.

Let's break down how to manage consistently late employees in five straightforward steps.

Click the links below to jump to specific parts of the article, or keep scrolling to read the entire post!

  1. Prevention and policies
  2. Identifying the problem
  3. Documentation and timesheets
  4. Communication and warnings
  5. Consistency and legality

Prevention and Policies

employee handbook of policies

Prevention is always preferable to cure.

That adage applies to tardiness, too.

Although you won't be able to prevent every single case of chronic tardiness, you can certainly reduce the number of serial offenders!

Firstly, look at the recruitment process. Traffic problems and public transport delays are the most common reasons for lateness, so in your job adverts describe where the role might be commutable from.

You should also draw attention to the public transport available to new hires.

Will staff be required to have access to their own transport? Is the office within cycling or walking distance?

Even though this candid approach might lose you a few candidates, by setting expectations at an early stage you might reduce the number of employees suffering from chronic traffic problems in the future.

Next, at the final interview stage, detail working hours with the candidates. This interview also presents the perfect opportunity to discuss flexible working opportunities.

Are hours negotiable?

What are the core working hours?

Will employees always be expected to work standard office hours, or only on certain occasions?

Don't expect employees to remember all this information.

Give them an employee handbook or a booklet of policies. Upload it to the company intranet, too.

By setting expectations about the flexibility that your company allows, new hires will be less likely to turn up to work ten minutes late to their shift because they wrongly thought their manager wouldn't mind!

Identifying the Problem

busy tube commute

We're all late occasionally - but it's up to managers to determine when lateness becomes problematic.

One-offs such as unexpected diversions or last-minute doctor's appointments obviously shouldn't be a problem - particularly if the employee is able to call or text ahead to inform their manager of the delay.

However, if bad traffic or public transport issues seem to occur at least weekly, you'll want to start looking more closely at the employee's circumstances.

Speak to them privately about their lateness. Perhaps they could try catching an earlier train for the next month to see if it improves things.

Alternatively, if the issue is with childcare or doing the school run, consider offering the employee flexible hours.

Only by identifying the problem can you work towards an effective solution. 

Documentation and Timesheets

compare clocking times with scheduled

If you're convinced that you have a chronically late employee on your hands, it's important to have the evidence to back-up your claims before disciplining the employee.

If your company uses timesheets, monitor them closely.

You may wish to switch to an electronic time and attendance system (we know of a good one!) to reduce 'timesheet fraud' and make it easier to see which employees have made a habit of being late.

Never rely on a hunch or the word of another employee - don't take action against the employee until you have data on-hand that backs up your argument.

Additionally, if the data lets you point to certain instances of lateness, you can ask employees why they were late on a particular day.

Aside from this time-based data, you may wish to document instances where operational difficulties arose because of employee lateness.

If you're able to show that a particular instance of lateness had a real impact on the business, the employee will understand the severity of the issue. 

Communication and Warnings

stop warning sign

You've set out clear attendance expectations to your employees.

You've identified that an individual has a recurring problem with getting to work on time.

You have the figures in front of you to back up your hunch, and you know that the employee's behaviour has affected the business.

An informal discussion hasn't made a difference.

Now it's time to sit down with the employee and discuss the issue more seriously.

During this meeting, explain the situation. Give the employee the opportunity to argue their side.

Next, state the level of improvement you expect to see over the next month or so. Perhaps you want them be no more than five minutes late across the period, or be on time for 95% of their shifts.

Reiterate the impacts that their lateness has had on the business, and outline the consequences of non-improvement. Give them a written warning.

In a follow-up meeting, review the employee's progress.

If they improved to the standards you asked for, great - thank the employee, ask them to keep it up - and keep one eye on their future timesheets.

If they didn't make the improvements required, explain that you will have to consider dismissal or suspensions if they are unable to improve to the standards you previously detailed.

Again, you must give the employee the chance to tell their side of the story - perhaps there was a particularly bad spell of wintry weather that had an impact on the attendance of all the staff, or a family member had been suffering from a serious illness.

Give a final written warning, if you think it's appropriate.

In the event that a third meeting is necessary, use the same procedure as the second meeting - but this time, if you can't see any improvement, you should consider dismissal. 

Consistency & Legality

office windows some lit up some dark

During the disciplinary process, it's important both to stay within the bounds of employment law and also remain consistent.

You must apply your company disciplinary procedures consistently. As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, a written set of policies is helpful for both the employer and employees.

Also, keep referring back to hard data to check that you aren't treating an employee more harshly (or leniently!) than others.

Fail to take a consistent approach and you risk upsetting employees, destroying morale, and creating uncertainty about how your company handles lateness.

You could also be accused of unfair dismissal if you don't apply procedures fairly and consistently.

Know your policies, and ensure managers follow them.

In UK employment law, persistent lateness usually isn't classed as gross misconduct - so you must try to provide one verbal and two written warnings before you can fairly dismiss an employee for lateness.

Employees must be given the chance to explain their actions, make improvements, and appeal against a dismissal decision.

Remember that employees can't claim unfair dismissal at a tribunal unless they've worked for the company for two years or more (for employees starting on or after 6th April 2012).


Managing consistently late employees can be a minefield. Here's how to navigate it effectively:

  • Get all the info before starting the disciplinary process.
  • Be consistent and fair with disciplinary procedures.
  • Document each instance of tardiness and the impact it had on the business (where applicable).

How does your business manage tardy employees? Post your comment below or give us a Tweet!