Zero tolerance for tardiness: Legal but unwise

Q. Our company’s owner is tired of tardiness and has instituted a new rule that says anyone who is tardy will be fired, no matter the reason. Recently, some people were tardy during a snowstorm when their train could not make it on time. We were told to fire them. What do you think? — T.L., Iowa

As a matter of HR policy, Draconian rules are bad for business. They unfairly and unnecessarily weed out good employees, and create a revolving door of employees that hurts productivity.

That said, employees are at-will and, thus, can be fired for a good reason, a bad reason or no reason at all (unless specifically barred by statute). As long as the rule is being applied equally to all employees, and no exceptions are being granted, employees can’t claim the termination treated them disparately because of a protected class.

My concern with such a policy is whether it has a disparate impact on a particular protected class. Employment practices that look neutral from the outside can nevertheless be unlawful if they statistically damage a protected group. For example, if minorities are more likely to use public transportation, this policy could disparately impact them.