Lateness and Tardiness

First published on Friday, Jan 14, 2022

Last updated on Wednesday, Apr 24, 2024

Almost all employers deal with employees arriving late to work. Your employee may have been stuck in traffic or experienced delays on public transit. It is important to address lateness and tardiness right away before it becomes a habit.

If an employee is regularly late for their shift, this may impact their work productivity and the productivity of other employees. In other circumstances, an employee who arrives late may frustrate others who rely on them when being relieved of a shift.

In this guide, we’ll discuss what lateness and tardiness is, how to manage it correctly, and if you can terminate someone’s employment for constant lateness.

What is Lateness and Tardiness

Lateness and tardiness (also referred to as “absenteeism”) occurs when an employee is late for work. Lateness and tardiness can range from being ten minutes late, an hour late, or even not showing up for the scheduled shift.

In most circumstances, lateness and tardiness may be accidental. Some common reasons for being late to work are:

  • Bad traffic.
  • Severe weather conditions.
  • Public transit delays.
  • Oversleeping.
  • Sickness/illness.

In other circumstances, where an employee has children, the employee may be late because of sick children, school bus delays, or difficulty obtaining daycare.

It is important as an employer to record, in writing, each time an employee is late for work and state the reasons in case the employee becomes habitually late for their shifts.

How to Deal with Employee Lateness and Tardiness

If you have an employee who is habitually late, don’t jump to conclusions – there could be reasons for their lateness. For example, an employee is having issues arranging childcare or an employee is dropping off an ill family member at a health facility.

You should speak with the employee prior to taking any disciplinary actions to determine whether the employee requires any changes to their employment. You have a duty to accommodate employees as per human rights legislation based on certain protected grounds, including family status and disability.

If no accommodations are required and the employee keeps being late, you may need to take the following steps.

Formal Meeting with Employee

An employer should have a formal meeting with the employee to discuss the habitual lateness and tardiness. Matters to discuss may include:

  • Giving the employee an opportunity to share information about their situation (personal or work-related).
  • Discussing concerns about the employee’s absences and impact on their work performance and other employees.
  • Inquiring as to what may explain the attendance issue.
  • Asking if there is something the employer or a supervisor can do to facilitate improved attendance.
  • Clarifying the purpose of any requests for changes to the employee's job or work.

You should document what was discussed during this formal meeting with the employee.

As the employer, you may want to reiterate the company expectations about lateness and tardiness and any policies, if applicable.

The goal of the meeting is to discuss any issues which cause the lateness, how you can help to fix them and help the employee understand the importance of being on time.

It is good practice for an employer to follow up the meeting with a confidential letter or email, summarizing the details of what was discussed. This correspondence should be stored in the respective employee file.

Disciplinary Warnings

If lateness and tardiness do not improve, you may want to issue a first verbal warning. Any verbal warning should be followed up with a confidential letter or email, informing the employee of the date and time the employee received their first verbal warning for lateness and tardiness.

Subsequently, if there are still no improvements, you may want to consider issuing a first written warning letter for lateness and tardiness and if necessary, a final warning letter if the lateness and tardiness do not improve.

Disciplinary warnings, whether they be verbal or written, are a common form of progressive discipline for habitual lateness and tardiness. The employer should record all warnings issued to an employee in writing and save them in the employee file.

Attendance Management Program

An employer may put in place an attendance management program to support employees with habitual lateness and tardiness.

An attendance management program is similar to progressive discipline. However, you’ll meet with the employee when required to speak about any lateness or tardiness.

Moreover, this gives a chance for the employer to ask if the employee requires any accommodations during these meetings.

Implementing an Employee Lateness Policy

It is important to be clear and consistent in how you choose to treat lateness. An employer should put into place written company policies regarding lateness and tardiness and include it in an employee handbook.

A dedicated policy will set your expectations for all of your employees regarding lateness and tardiness in the workplace. Your lateness policy should include:

  • Clear expectations of the employee to attend every shift on time.
  • The procedure for reporting lateness.
  • Definitions of essential terms such as “lateness” and “tardiness”.
  • Circumstances where reasonable medical information may be requested, and how such information is to be kept confidential.
  • If applicable, details on how employees can make up the time they have lost for arriving late.
  • Disciplinary actions if lateness becomes habitual.

Is Lateness and Tardiness Grounds for Termination for Cause?

For isolated incidents of lateness and tardiness, you should give the employee another chance.

However, if they keep showing up late to work after repeated warnings, a termination for cause may be warranted in limited and exceptional circumstances.

When terminating an employee for lateness and tardiness, the courts have established a high standard for employers to meet in order to terminate an employee for cause. An employer must show that the lateness negatively impacted the employee’s ability to fulfill their essential job duties.

Terminating an employee is the most severe action an employer can take. Moreover, termination for cause will not entitle the employee to notice, pay in lieu of notice, and if applicable, severance pay.

Prior to terminating an employee for habitual lateness and tardiness, employers must ensure there are no human rights grounds being violated.

If their lateness or tardiness is the result of a religion, disability, childcare obligations, or any other prohibited grounds under human rights legislation, you must reasonably accommodate the employee to the point of undue hardship.

Human Rights Legislation

Each province has established their own human rights legislation. For example, human rights protections for provincially regulated employees in Ontario are provided under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Other provinces include:

  • Human Rights Code of British Columbia.
  • Alberta Human Rights Act.
  • The Human Rights Code of Manitoba.
  • The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.

The Canadian Human Rights Act provides human rights protection from discrimination if you are a federally regulated workplace. Some examples of federally regulated workplaces are inter-provincial transportation (eg. trucking companies, railways), television, and broadcast workplaces.

If an employee is habitually late for their scheduled shift because they are, for example, participating in prayer or another activity tied to a sincerely held religious belief, you must reasonably accommodate the employee.

Whether that is creating flexible work hours, or if applicable, work from home, the employer has a duty to accommodate employees based on a protected ground to the point of undue hardship.

Failure to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with a religious obligation or who are part of another protected group may violate human rights legislation.

This may ultimately increase the risk of a legal claim for discrimination being filed against you.

Get Advice on How to Address Lateness and Tardiness in the Workplace

It is important for employers to implement policies to tackle lateness and tardiness in the workplace.

If lateness and tardiness are left unaddressed, this could severely impact work productivity and create a negative workplace culture. Implementing such policies will create a clear understanding of the workplace standards and how habitual lateness and tardiness are addressed in the workplace.

You should record each time an employee is late and make a record of the reasons. With BrightHR, you can record all employee absences (leaves, medical appointments, lateness) in a secure, unlimited cloud-based storage space. You can even update the records on your phone using the BrightHR mobile app.

If you need assistance with drafting lateness and tardiness policies, or even looking to update current ones, our BrightAdvice service allows you to receive quality advice on any employment issues you may have.

Contact us on 18882204924 or book a demo today.

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