Consultant’s Corner: Dealing with a Chronically Late Employee


Q: I have an employee who constantly arrives late to work, even after being asked to come in on time multiple times. How do I handle this?

Disciplinary Procedures

Employers generally handle excessive tardiness in accordance with their employee attendance/absence policies and disciplinary policies and procedures when appropriate. If you lack written employee attendance/absence and disciplinary policies and procedures for your business, you may want to consider developing them. Also, written reprimands and warnings are generally an accepted management practice to record disciplinary action for such matters as excessive absenteeism, tardiness, violation of company policies, and poor job performance. Written employee warning notices can take the form of letters, memos, or standardized forms. If you are considering terminating the employee over excessive tardiness, but you lack a written termination policy and procedures and the employee is unaware that continually being tardy can result in termination, then before you terminate him or her you may want to provide a final written reprimand and warning that being tardy again will result in termination. If you are uncertain about your legal rights and obligations in employment termination situations, you should consult your lawyer.

Employee Termination

As to employee termination, employers should always use caution to avoid committing a wrongful termination. While you may not be able to stop an employee from suing you (many people file unsubstantiated or frivolous lawsuits), you can greatly lessen the likelihood of a former employee suing you and winning a judgment with effective hiring procedures, timely employee performance reviews, formal steps of discipline, and other written policies and procedures that protect against non-compliance of labor laws. Wrongful terminations can be based on discrimination or other claims. Also, the state and federal governments do protect employees from discrimination and other wrongful terminations even in employment at-will states.

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Factors To Consider

Labor laws, employment contracts, company policies, and other factors can influence employee discipline and termination. Some employee actions that violate company policy, for example, are the basis for immediate termination, while performance issues are often handled with steps of discipline, whether required by law or not. As discussed in the information below, formal steps of discipline are not required but can be useful to help a potentially good employee improve their performance and avoid termination, which in turn saves you the time and cost of replacing the employee.

If adopted, steps of discipline, like other HR policies, must be consistently enforced to avoid discrimination or other potential legal claims by employees. We do not know if you have other performance concerns in addition to tardiness with this employee, but performance-related issues are best handled with timely written reprimands to reinforce the policy. Termination for cause (fighting, drinking on the job, theft, etc.) can usually be immediate. For discussion with your lawyer, you can review wrongful termination and related information at the following websites:

Wrongful Termination

Wrongful Termination |

Wrongful Termination Laws |

Steps of Discipline

The Law at Work |

Sample Company Policies

Employee Absence Policies |

Termination of Employment Forms, Policies, Guides |

Templates and sample documents can be very useful but businesses should exercise caution in the use of such documents. Sample employee handbooks, for example, may not include every topic needed to address your particular fringe benefit programs, compensation plans, and other circumstances. A well-conceived document will, however, be relatively easy to modify, allowing you to add and delete sections as appropriate. Due to the complexity of labor laws and the potential for liability in such areas as discrimination and confidentiality, we recommend that all employee handbooks and personnel policy statements be reviewed by a qualified labor lawyer.

Bill Wortman

Bill Wortman

Bill Wortman is the Chief Business Consultant for, with over 40 years of business experience. In addition to 12 years consulting small business owners, Bill’s professional career includes a big-eight CPA accounting firm, national consumer finance, big-three automotive manufacturing, Arby’s fast food, marketing, and other industries. He’s held multiple executive-level positions and fulfilled the role of CFO at large, publicly held (NYSE, NASDAQ, and AMEX) corporations. In addition, he’s been an owner of private ventures involving residential real estate development and a General Motors new car dealership.