How to Deal with Employee Tardiness & Absences

The issue of tardiness and absenteeism is a difficult issue for both employers and employees, and it can be a sensitive one to deal with. What we hope to do here is to demystify the reasons that it happens, as well as clarify and simplify the course of action you can take to resolve it as a small business owner.

Depending on what kind of a boss you are, you may either have more or less patience for this problem. Either approach actually has merit, as long as your actions are deliberate, and not avoiding the problem or acting out of frustration.

Don’t Sweep the Problem Under the Rug

Like many other issues you may face with your employees, it can be tempting to ignore it and hope that it goes away. This is wrong. First of all, though someone can improve for a period of time, it rarely completely goes away unless you deal with it, head-on.

You of course always want your employees to work out with the company and show them as much good faith as possible, but you have to accept the fact that tardiness or absenteeism is something that needs to be resolved and may require you to terminate employment if it comes to that. This is one of those things that can unfortunately be a deal-breaker, even when the employee is otherwise great for the company and does exceptional work.

Take Time to Assess the Problem

Some business owners have more patience for this sort of thing than others do, and it ultimately depends on your own management style and what you’re willing to tolerate, which probably isn’t much when it comes to time and attendance. Before you jump straight into firing someone, however, it’s a good policy to take a close look at the issue.

What is the severity of the employee’s attendance problem? Were they late once or twice, or have they been late multiple times on different occasions, as part of an ongoing problem. Again, when you have a business to run, there isn’t much room for error regarding this. The idea is just to get a clear picture of what’s going on with them.

In fact, one simple conversation may be all it takes to find out a specific cause for tardiness that you might be able to resolve with the employee right away, instead of penalizing them for the symptoms of this cause. For example, they may have a health issue or something similar that they haven’t been forthcoming about with you.

Another important factor is communication. How well do they communicate with you when the tardiness or absence occurs? That is, when they are late, most owners are willing to work with someone a bit more if they always contact you beforehand to let you know.

Does this person contact you immediately when they show up late, or do they just hope that no one notices? Does there appear to be any remorse or a strong effort to rectify the problem? All of these factors can help you to make a decision in how you want to handle the problem with your employee.

The Difference Between Tardiness & Absences

There is somewhat of a difference between being late and being completely absent, but it’s up to you to decide how to react to each infraction as you see fit. Being late for work (if it happens more than once or twice) is one thing and usually points to a chronic problem, but an unexpected, unscheduled absence, though it’s in the same sport, is really a different ball game.

Probably the biggest reason that an absence can be more serious is just because of the time and resources that it costs the business. If someone doesn’t show up for work and doesn’t even call in, a “no-call, no-show”, then that’s pretty serious in itself and probably isn’t something that you can tolerate more than once or twice. It says a lot about an employee if they decide not to show up for work, even if they call into the business sometime during that day.

As far as the tardiness problem goes, this is where the employee’s communication comes into play because, for one thing, you probably won’t be able to get very far with someone who doesn’t show any remorse for the infraction or attempt to talk to you about what’s going on, or how they plan to stop it from happening.

Spell Out Policies & Stick to Them

This is possibly the most important point about dealing with attendance issues. The penalties and policies for infractions should be appropriate, consistent for all employees, and plainly spelled out.

As we said before, there may be special action taken or reserved in certain cases such as health issues, but even then, the business unfortunately can’t stop running when an employee has a health issue. So, you can of course review those on a case-by-case basis. There just shouldn’t be any mystery about what happens if you’re late or absent.

Whether you have an employee handbook or not, it should definitely be in writing somewhere so that employees always know how it will be handled. That way, you can point to the established written policy when there is any infraction.

While it’s common for businesses to treat all attendance issues on a case-by-case basis, you’re better off objectively treating everyone exactly according to the policy whenever possible. Within your written policy, the progression and escalation of penalties should be clearly outlined so everyone knows what to expect.

Consult with the Employee to Help Them

Before the problem develops into something serious, it can go a long way to rectify the problem by simply speaking with the employee and finding out what’s wrong. If you can figure out what is the root of the problem and help the employee to overcome it, then you will save yourself the trouble of finding a replacement, while helping someone to overcome an important and potential hazardous problem.

Also, don’t assume that they just don’t care, unless their actions and communication have shown you that they really don’t. Most people want to do everything they can to keep their jobs and to do a great job for their employers. Of course, you may have to take drastic measures if it can’t be resolved.

It’s a sad and unfortunate occurrence that you sometimes cannot work around, but in many cases, having a pointed conversation with your employee will cut off the problem at its knees and resolve it entirely.


Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.

Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.

StephanieHow to Deal with Employee Tardiness & Absences