Table of contents
  1. Why Is Employee Tardiness a Problem?
  2. Strategies To Address Employee Tardiness
  3. Conclusion

Employee tardiness is when an employee is late to work. 

1 in 4 employees say they come in late to work at least once a month. This can be a result of circumstances either within or beyond their control. Below is a list of common causes of employee tardiness.

  • Traffic
  • Weather conditions
  • Car problems
  • Oversleeping
  • A family member’s illness
  • Leaving something at home and needing to return
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Workplace bullying

Employee tardiness is a fact of running a business, up until a point. There will always be circumstances outside of employees’ control that causes them to run late. 

Most employers can be understanding and forgiving of the occasional—and reasonably explained—late start. But in some industries, running even 10 minutes late for a shift can have a significant impact on other employees and the business.

Why Is Employee Tardiness a Problem?

Chronic tardiness—when an employee repeatedly turns up late—can cause significant problems for an organization.

Cost to your business

An employee turning up late to work interrupts productivity and can affect work outcomes—tasks won’t get done if someone isn’t there to do them. 

Aside from financial losses, in certain industries this can have serious consequences. For example, if a nurse is an hour late to work a patient may be left unattended, which is a risk to their health. What’s more, chronic lateness is a form of absenteeism that essentially amounts to stealing from an organization. If an employee is 10 minutes late every day, over the course of a year this adds up to one week of paid leave

Employee morale

When an employee is late, their colleagues often have to wait for them or step in to cover their work. When this happens regularly, it can lead to resentment and quickly impact the work ethic of the team. 

Other issues

Chronic tardiness may suggest other employee well-being issues are at play—such as burnout and decreased engagement. It can also suggest ongoing issues at home. Recognizing these signs allows you to address the real contributing factors to your employees’ lateness. 

Strategies To Address Employee Tardiness

There are several ways to reduce the chances of employees turning up late to work, and address chronic tardiness.

Develop a clear tardiness policy

This can be a stand-alone policy or addressed in your absence policy. Like any effective policy, you need to communicate it to your employees so they are aware of your expectations around being on time. A good way to do this is to include your tardiness policy in your onboarding materials and employee handbook—make it available on your intranet too.

Understand the legal protections

Labor laws and regulations exist at the local, state, and federal levels. These laws protect employees who turn up late due to a specific reason such as family illness or extreme emergencies. Make sure you’re aware of any protections that apply to your business location. You should also familiarize yourself with laws or regulations concerning how—and in what circumstances—you can penalize workers for tardiness.

Be understanding

In reality, even the most diligent employees will occasionally be late due to events outside of their control. As an employer, you should allow some leeway for these rare occurrences where there are valid reasons for an employee’s lateness. 

Be accommodating and fair

Where an employee is chronically late, first speak directly with them. Encourage honesty when discussing their tardiness so you can understand the real reasons for it. 

If there’s a recurring and unavoidable reason why an employee is always late, consider whether you can make adjustments to their schedule to accommodate them. For example, if an employee is late most mornings for their 8.30 am shift because their childcare center only opens at 8.30 am, you may consider delaying the start of their shift by half an hour. While this approach may not be practicable for every organization, flexibility like this can help you retain valued staff. 

Out of fairness, if you offer a special accommodation to one employee, you need to offer it to all your employees. 

Use an employee scheduling app

Using a scheduling app to manage your rosters ensures your employees always have access to their work schedule, helping them to turn up on time. You can publish schedules well in advance so that employees can plan around them. A scheduling app is also a great way to quickly and easily communicate changes to your shift workers to avoid any misunderstandings. 

Reward employees for being on time

Incentivizing punctuality can be an effective way to prevent tardiness. For example, you can introduce rewards such as gift vouchers or boxes of chocolates for employees who are consistently on time over a certain period. 

Document everything

Like any HR process, it’s important to document employee tardiness and any steps you take to address it. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, tracking employee tardiness helps you identify any concerning patterns that may need to be addressed. Secondly, if you later need to take action, you have evidence of the employee’s tardiness and the steps you took to try and address it—including any formal warnings or support offered to an employee. 

What to include in a tardiness policy

A tardiness policy sets out the organization’s expectations around employees being on time.

  • The organization’s general approach to lateness. For example, “We recognize that circumstances outside of employees’ control can cause them to be late from time to time. When an employee’s repeated tardiness becomes an issue, we will try to work with them to understand the causes and what the organization can do to support them. However, chronic, unexplained tardiness won’t be tolerated.” 
  • How employees’ time is measured. Clearly set out your expectations around start and finish times—usually with reference to an employee’s contract or work schedule. Also explain how employees’ time is tracked, for example, using manual timesheets or via a time tracking app.
  • The steps an employee should take if they know they are going to be late. This includes who they need to notify—usually a supervisor or manager—and how to notify them. 
  • Grace period. Whether there is an acceptable margin for lateness.
  • The potential consequences of chronic lateness. These usually increase in severity the more often an employee is late. An initial step may be a conversation with a manager to discuss the employee’s reasons for being late. More frequent lateness may lead to a meeting with a manager and HR, and a formal warning. Sustained, chronic lateness could result in suspension, pay docking, or dismissal.


Employees occasionally being late for work is unavoidable as there are events outside of anyone’s control that can cause this. However, chronic tardiness can be disruptive to other employees and costly to your organization

Along with tools such as a time-track and scheduling app, a clear tardiness policy is the best way to prevent and manage employee tardiness.