Labor Laws On Being Late To Work | 4 mins read

What's Legal? 8 Facts to Know When it Comes to Employee Tardiness

whats legal 8 facts to know when it comes to employee tardiness
Michelle Jaco

By Michelle Jaco

Employees that are consistently late to work can hurt workplace productivity and force other employees to cover for their habitually late peers.

Although frustrating, before taking recourse, managers dealing with tardy employees should be sure to familiarize themselves with the federal, state, and local labor standards and all areas of employment law.

Thoughts that typically come to mind-

  • What options do managers have in terms of dealing with tardy employees?
  • When is it legal to terminate an employee for tardiness?

No employer wants to be the subject of an unlawful termination lawsuit, so be sure to take a look at these 8 facts to know when it comes to dealing with employee tardiness.

1. At-Will Employment

In all states, aside from Montana, employment is considered to be at-will meaning, employers are able to change the terms of the employment relationship without notice.

This means that, in most circumstances, business owners and managers reserve the right to terminate employees for any reason as long as it is not discriminatory.

As such, termination is generally a valid and legal step to take to deal with an employee that is habitually late to work.

If let go, the employer is still obligated to pay the employee(s) for the time worked up to the point of termination. This can be handled through the human resource department or whoever is in charge of payroll for work hours.

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2. Employer Consequences

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As mentioned, employers operating in an at-will employment state can fire employees due to tardiness without violating labor laws on being late to work.

However, it's important to keep in mind that disgruntled employees may still decide to take legal action after being terminated if it is believed that the employer did not adhere to company policy. In these cases, managers need to be able to prove that the dismissal was not due to any discriminatory or prejudiced reasons.

To do this, employers should be sure to make a record of the employee's behavior. Record what days the employee showed up late and how late the employee was. By doing this, employers can ensure they are prepared in case the employee files a wrongful termination suit.

While employers may be allowed to dismiss employees due to lateness, it's important to understand how to take action without opening their business up to potential legal action.
Employers may run into trouble if it is found that they are not enforcing their rules regarding tardiness consistently. Additionally, employees that have medical issues or are caregivers may be exempt from tardiness rules.

Managers should address tardiness as soon as it begins. Only after the employee neglects to correct their behavior should the issue be escalated. Giving the employee a grace period to get things back on track can help solidify your case if the employee takes legal action.

Give the employee several warnings, and if that employee continues to show up late, hold a disciplinary hearing to decide whether or not a dismissal is appropriate.

4. Enforcing Policies

Aside from being familiar with labor laws on being late to work, employers should also be familiar with their own rules regarding lateness.

Does your workplace have policies covering employee tardiness and arriving late to work even if it's just one minute or an hour late? What are the rules regarding medical leave or family medical emergencies?

If so, make sure to remind your team about these policies may be enough to correct the problem. Moreover, these policies may outline procedures for dealing with tardiness.

Businesses that don't already have rules dealing with tardiness should be sure to make them as soon as possible and notify employees once these rules are in place so they can be sure to abide by them.

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5. Consistency

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Dealing with one habitually late employee is one thing, but what if multiple employees are consistently showing up late to work?

In these circumstances, you can't single out a single employee as this could create cause for that employee to take legal action on grounds of discrimination.

To protect the employer from this, managers must be sure to enforce rules consistently with the entire workforce.

6. Federal, Local, and State Laws

As mentioned, employers in at-will states are typically able to legally terminate employees for tardiness; however, federal, state, and local labor laws cover certain instances of employee absences and late arrivals.

Exemptions include employees taking time off to vote, appear in court, care for a sick relative, manage an illness, attend a parent-teacher conference, and similar activities.

Another area that must absolutely be followed precisely is wages paid for employee work/ employee pay under the Fair Labor Standard Act. The labor standard is especially stringent when it comes to overtime pay and working minors.

7. Impact on the Business

Before taking action and potentially becoming entangled in complicated legal matters, employers may want to first consider whether the employee's tardiness is having a tangible impact on the business.

While certain companies may depend on employees being present during specific hours, others may prioritize the quality and quantity of work done over the total number of hours worked.

If consistently tardy employees are still performing well and completing all of their required duties without needing other workers to pick up the slack, recourse may not be necessary. In fact, in cases such as these, enforcing super strict hours can damage employee morale, leading to lowered productivity.

8. Attendance Tracking

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Whether or not employee tardiness or absences are currently a major issue in your workplace, it's important to document any and all instances of lateness in case it does become a recurring problem with an employee clock.

Managers should record the number of instances an employee is late or absent, the reason for the late arrival, and how late the employee was. This can be easily accomplished by using time clocks to accurately track employee attendance.

By keeping accurate attendance records, business owners can monitor how often employees are late and whether or not this lateness is impacting business performance.

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