What's the best way to handle persistent tardiness?

Question: “We have a few exempt employees who consistently arrive late to work. They get their work done, but their erratic schedules inconvenience other employees. Is this a counseling issue? What’s the best way to have that conversation? Or do we need to crack the whip and institute a formal attendance policy? If so, does anyone have some language I can borrow?”—Amy, Philadelphia


As a part of our staff handbook, every employee, exempt or non, is expected to be available during normal business hours (7:30am – 4:30pm). This sets the expectation for the exempt employee and gives us a basis to counsel them on.

Some exempt employees are newer to management and are not accustomed to a flexible schedule. A discussion is had early on reminding them they are professionals with responsibilities to get a job done. They are required to be “available” during our hours of 6 AM and 7 PM for emergencies and questions. This can be done via cell phone if needed. I explain that their staff and other managers need to know when they can be accessed during the day in the office and request they create a “soft schedule” for this purpose. Employees are open and understanding to this need and as this is a soft schedule, still gives them the flexibility they desire.

Kathleen D stated: “Some exempt employees are newer to management and are not accustomed to a flexible schedule.”

FMLA Compliance D

If Amy’s EEs are ‘consistently arriving late to work’ it would seem that they are not on a flexible schedule (as they have a fixed time by which they must arrive). If Amy’s EEs are reachable by phone, I think it would be hard to consider them ‘late’.

Amy, you said your EEs are getting their work done. EEs are paid for a job, not hours, and hours are not generally monitored (PTO confuses this, but lets ignore that to simplify). Do you also require that they are in the office from say 8-5 and is that ‘tracked’? Or is it simply enough, and not inconsiderate to your other employees, that they are “available” (by phone for example) between 8-5?

Perhaps establishing ‘core hours’ from 10-3 where EEs are expected to be in the office for meetings & team needs would both meet your schedule needs and still give EEs flexibility. In addition, most EEs should be available during business hours, but available can mean by phone.

If you require your EEs to be in the office from 8-5 and track their in/out time, you come close to treating them like NEEs, and may jeopardize their exempt status.

We also require ‘soft schedules’ but could not realistically consider an EE ‘late’ since you don’t track their time except by exception (Vacation/sick/PTO use).