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The late show

How one employee’s tardiness can impact the morale of the office

employee latenessThere’s one in every bunch: the employee who just can’t seem to beat the clock. He routinely materializes for work 15 minutes late, his lunch hours stretch beyond the accepted norm and he often slips out early.

And despite a cavalcade of creative excuses, he’s fooling nobody.

Dealing with the chronically tardy is an art form for managers and human resources departments, says Eileen Dooley, a certified coach with McRae Career Transition and Human Resource Consulting in Calgary. “It’s up to every workplace to establish a clear policy on attendance and then apply the rules in a fair, consistent manner. If the occasional slip-up turns into a routine problem, then it’s a conflict-management issue requiring the two parties to work together in finding a resolution.”

Hours add up

Obviously sick days and absences are inevitable. Statistics Canada reports that full-time employees in the financial services sector miss 7.1 days per annum on average due to illness and disability. Personal and family responsibilities account for another 1.6 days away from the office. Viruses attack, transit workers go on strike, daycare issues crop up and the rare mental health holiday is inevitable, all of which are accepted realities within most workplaces.

“Culpable absenteeism” is when an employee skips out for all kinds of reasons to the point where he or she is undeniably abusing their terms of employment and workplace standards

“All this is known as ‘innocent absenteeism’ and is protected under the Employment Standards Act, just like maternity leave,” says Mark Geiger, a labour lawyer with Blaney McMurtry in Toronto. However “culpable absenteeism” is another matter entirely, he says. “In this case, the employee is skipping out for all kinds of reasons to the point where he or she is undeniably abusing their terms of employment and workplace standards.”

Geiger adds that in legal terminology, this is when the contract between employer and employee is “frustrated.” This is when a contract that has been entered into by both parties becomes impossible to fulfill.

“[The employee] is continually late. They call in sick again and again. Their car breaks down repeatedly and the situation reaches a point where it’s having a real impact on the business, let alone what the individual’s bad habits are doing to company morale,” explains Geiger.

The domino effect

As soon as a pattern has been identified, managers must begin documenting absences and deliver a verbal notice as a first step. “Fellow employees will probably notice the problem first, since they’re the ones directly affected by a co-worker’s absences,” says Dooley. “Then it’s time for a formal, face-to-face meeting during which a manager can attempt to find out what’s going on.”

Does the individual have time management issues affecting his or her life? Is there a health or childcare issue? “Hopefully the meeting will be conducted in an open, problem-solving atmosphere in which the employee can respond honestly and take responsibility for getting back on track,” says Dooley.

Ticking all the boxes

In most work environments, a standard system of “progressive discipline” must unfold, explains Geiger. “First there’s a verbal warning, which you record and then you give the employee a warning in writing. If they transgress again, you give a second warning. If they do it three or four more times, you suspend them for a day. And if that doesn’t work, then you have grounds to fire the employee outright. Follow that system to the letter, and an employer will be in a good position with an arbitrator if it should come down to that.”

Absenteeism usually reflects a larger issue related to an individual’s personality or lifestyle that creates a domino effect, says Dooley.

“Every case is unique and nobody wants to lose a good employee,” she explains. “The goal for HR is to flag the problem as early as possible, apply company-wide standards and procedures, and do their best to create a win-win situation for everyone involved.” ◊