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You expect workers to get to work on time. Sure, occasional problems with traffic or family issues sometimes make people late. But chronic tardiness is another thing altogether.

While most managers track tardies, they should do more. How? By issuing a consistent series of oral and written warnings (see below) and documenting each. Then follow up to see if the behavior improves.

Often it does improve, temporarily. Then it’s back to the same old problem—late arrivals and all the disruption that follows.

Your documentation will be worth its weight in gold if you fire the employee and he or she sues for some kind of discrimination. If you can show you let the employee know about your concerns and the consequences, she would have a hard time winning her case.
Treat your employees fairly while keeping disruptions to a minimum — Employee Leave: Your 8 Biggest Problems Solved
Recent case: Allison Jeffrey was often late for work. Her bosses warned her repeatedly and kept good notes on those rebukes. After each warning, Jeffrey began arriving promptly … for a while. Then it was back to the same old pattern.

Then Jeffrey announced she was pregnant. Soon after—you guessed it—she was tardy again. She was given a pink slip for excessive tardiness.

Jeffrey then sued, alleging the real reason was her pregnancy.

But the company was loaded with evidence to show that it would have fired Jeffrey—and any other employee with a similar attendance record—whether she was pregnant or not. It had plenty of documentation to back up its contention that Jeffrey had been warned and counseled about her behavior long before she announced her pregnancy.

Result: The court dismissed the case. (Jeffrey v. Met Logistics, No. 07-CV-3301, ND IL)

Taking charge of employee leave can be a complicated process. There are tons of factors to take into consideration – and tons of mistakes waiting to be made. Employee Leave: Your 8 Biggest Problems Solved takes away all the frustration. Learn how here...

To rein in chronically late employees, follow these four steps.

Set a clear policy
A company policy statement should be distributed to all employees, indicating when and under what conditions an employee will be paid (or not paid) for absences.

Always document absences
You should keep attendance/absence records for all employees. An absence rate can be figured by dividing the number of days an employee was scheduled to work for a given period into the number of absences. You can also calculate average absence rates for each department and for the company as a whole.

Be consistent
Supervisory personnel should be clear on their responsibilities for recording data and for counseling and disciplining employees.

Use progressive discipline
Follow these steps:

  1. Oral reminder. This stage follows the counseling session and lasts three months or however long seems to be in the company's best interest.
  2. Written warning. If the problem persists, the supervisor writes a memo to the individual spelling out the problem, the worker's acknowledgment of it and his or her agreement to work toward its resolution. A copy goes in the employee's personnel file. The written reminder stage lasts six months, or however long you think is best for the company.
  3. Decision-making. The supervisor has a final meeting with the employee, during which he spells out the company's policies again. Then the employee is given a one-day leave of absence to decide if he wants to continue working for the company on the condition that he agrees to abide by its rules.
Get a handle on employee leave. Get answers to your most detailed questions, including:
    book cover
  • How do I handle leave requests for religious holidays?
  • What should we include in our vacation policy?
  • Is there a way to stop sick leave abuse?
  • Can I discipline a disabled employee for chronic absenteeism?
  • How can I best manage intermittent FMLA leave?
  • Should leave decisions be made by HR or managers?
  • PDA, ADA and pregnancy leave – what are the do’s and don’ts?
  • What are the signals that someone’s abusing workers’ comp leave?
  • And much more!
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