How to Handle Employees Who Are Regularly Late to Work

Updated September 30, 2022

It can be hard for employees to always be on time as extenuating circumstances can arise. But if an employee is habitually late, this can cause problems for the company and your team. Learning how to address this issue as a manager or HR specialist can help you resolve it promptly to help employees adhere to their schedule. In this article, we explain what happens when employees are late to work, offer 12 tips you can use to handle lateness, and discuss what employees can do if they're going to be late.

What happens when employees are late to work?

Although most employees strive to arrive on time to fulfill their professional duties, unforeseen events, mistakes, or personal issues can cause them to be late to work. These incidents are often isolated and may not cause a problem for coworkers or management. For example, an employee may call in late because their vehicle had a dead battery or a flat tire. When this happens, management can remain flexible as long as tardiness doesn't become a habit.

But if it does become a habit, managers or HR specialists may want to address the issue. Being late costs the company in payroll, lost productivity, and sets a negative example for coworkers. A salaried employee who shows up five minutes later every day for a week amounts to nearly 30 minutes of lost work time. The company is paying the employee for that time while getting nothing in return. If that employee's late arrival goes unchecked, other employees might think it's acceptable and start doing the same. If they continue to show up on time, they may begin to feel frustrated or discouraged.

Related: How to Handle Being Late for Work (With Punctuality Tips)

12 tips to handle employees who are consistently late

When employees chronically struggle with arriving on time, it's important to identify and correct the problem to avoid creating a culture with a disregard for professional standards. While an occasional tardy is normal for most staff members, habitual tardiness presents a problem for the work environment and an employee's performance while in the workplace. Here are some ideas to help you manage an employee who consistently arrives late:

1. Consider a flexible work schedule

If company policy allows for flexible work schedules, consider this as an option for habitual late employees. For example, let them come in 15 minutes later and then work 15 minutes later. This may solve a continuing situation that makes their prompt arrival difficult. It can also build mutual respect and understanding and deliver work on time. But it's important to remember that if you offer a flexible schedule to one employee, all other employees must receive the same offer.

Related: What Is a Flexible Work Arrangement? (With Benefits)

2. Schedule meetings to start the day

If a lot of your team members are arriving to work late, consider scheduling a mandatory meeting at the beginning of the workday. This can motivate employees to be on time and set a productive tone for the rest of the day. If you and your team don't have a lot to discuss, setting a meeting every day may not be realistic. Instead, consider choosing a day employees are regularly late, such as Monday morning, to prevent tardiness.

3. Integrate punctuality into a performance review

If you offer regular performance reviews, consider adding a section about punctuality. This allows you to address an employee's tardiness formally and gives them an opportunity to change their behaviour before the next performance review. Consider offering quarterly performance reviews to update employees on their progress regularly and give them a chance to improve.

Related: Performance Review Goals (Definition, Types, and Importance)

4. Initiate a clock-in system

If you don't already have a clock-in system, implementing one may help with employee tardiness. Ask employees to clock in when they're ready to start their shift and to clock out when they're done. This allows you to assess whether employees are arriving on time. If they're not, you can use the system's records to show the employee how often they're late.

5. Document conversations and interactions

It's a good idea to keep a record of all the interactions between you and an employee regarding issues with tardiness. This ensures there are no miscommunications. Rather than relying on memory, a comprehensive recap of your conversation keeps the information organized and factual. Document the steps you've taken to identify and correct the problem, along with the positive changes you've noted in the employee's behaviour after the incident. You can add this documentation to the employee's HR file.

6. Give praise for improved behaviour

If you talked to an employee about their tardiness and notice an improvement, acknowledge their effort. Try to do so in private so you don't draw attention to the employee's prior tardiness. It can be a simple compliment, such as, "I noticed you came in to work early today. Great job!" Acknowledging this positive behaviour encourages employees to keep putting effort into arriving on time.

7. Set goals together

When talking to an employee about their tardiness, don't forget to mention your expectations and future consequences. For example, if this is the second time you've talked to the employee about their tardiness, you might say that the next time they're late, they may receive a written notice. This can help you create goals together to avoid future tardiness, such as trying a new route to work or working later if they can't avoid arriving late.

8. Check in regularly

Once you talk to an employee about their tardiness, try to check in with them regularly. Talk to them about their progress and ask how they're handling the goals you set. Following up with each employee shows them you care about their improvement, which can help motivate them to keep working towards their goals and avoiding tardiness.

9. Allow for privacy

When meeting with employees to discuss their tardiness, it's important to respect their privacy. They may have a personal reason for being late, which they don't want to discuss, so try not to pressure them to talk. You can invite them to share their reasoning, but let them choose how much information they want to provide.

10. Refer to a tardy policy

Use the company handbook or policy to outline rules for being on time, including expectations for when the workday starts and how many times an employee can be late before it becomes an actionable offense. Give detailed information about the disciplinary steps if tardiness continues. It's also a good idea to share this information with the employee in an email or other document that states you have discussed the issue and shared the consequences. Be sure to list any disciplinary steps in the document.

Related: What Is an Attendance Policy? (With Definition and Tips)

11. Make your expectations clear

When you speak to a habitually late employee, clearly state what behaviours you may want them to change and what you expect to see in the future. Use language that explains exactly what being on time means to you and the company. In your meeting, present the facts using dates and times that support your case. Avoid using vague or subjective terms that can lead to misunderstandings.

12. Address the situation early

If you notice an employee is regularly late, such as two to three times a week, try to address the issue as soon as you can. This allows you to resolve the issue before it becomes a bigger problem. Addressing it early also gives the employee a chance to change their behaviour before you give them another warning if necessary.

What employees can do if they're going to be late for work

As a manager or leader, you set the expectations for your team. To do this, be clear and up front about what policies and rules you want your team to follow. Here are some suggestions to share with employees for what to do when they know they're going to be late:


If an employee knows they're going to be late, encourage them to communicate this fact. Ask them to call or message you ahead of time to let you know they're going to be late. This can minimize your worry and allow you to adjust the start of your workday accordingly.

Provide an estimated time of arrival

When an employee calls or messages to say they're going to be late, ask them to provide an estimated time of arrival. They may not know an exact time, but having an estimate can allow you to plan for their arrival. Providing an estimated time of arrival also shows you that the employee is trying to arrive at work as soon as possible.

Plan ahead

While employees rarely know ahead of time that they're going to be late, it's important to encourage them to plan for this lateness as best as they can. For example, an employee may call to say they're going to be an hour late, but they can stay an hour later to complete their work. To avoid regular lateness, an employee may even ask to adjust their work schedule. If you can accommodate these changes, it can help create a more productive environment.

Explore more articles

  • Call-to-Action Examples (With Helpful Tips for Writing Them)
  • A Complete Guide to Performing a Stakeholder Analysis
  • What Is a Strategic Vision and Why Is It Important?
  • What Is an Informal Assessment? (With Benefits and Examples)
  • Certificate vs. Degree (With Differences and Benefits)
  • Everything You Should Know About Taking a Sabbatical
  • What To Write In a Sympathy Message for a Coworker
  • What Is Green Marketing and What Are Its Benefits?
  • 7 Steps for Developing Training Programs for Employees
  • What Is Distribution Marketing? (Definition and Terms)
  • Advantages and Disadvantages of Working in Government
  • How to Improve Your Learning Skills