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How to legally handle chronically late workers

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in Human Resources

Employers expect employees to get to work on time. Occasional problems with traffic or family issues sometimes make employees late. But chronic tardiness is another thing altogether.

While most employers track tardiness occurrences, they should do more. How? By issuing a consistent series of oral and written warnings (see box) and documenting each admonishment. 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.

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, 2009)

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