You expect your employees to arrive to work on time. Those who are frequently late cause disruptions in your business’s operations, which can negatively impact your bottom line. So that your employees know that being punctual is a requirement and that excessive tardiness will not be tolerated, you must establish relevant policies. However, when developing and executing such policies, you must keep some laws in mind.

Americans with Disabilities Act

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you must provide reasonable accommodations to employees who meet the act’s interpretation of being disabled. For example, an employee who has a diagnosed sleep disorder or a disease that causes daytime fatigue or drowsiness, such as multiple sclerosis, might be late often. You might accommodate him by changing his shift to afternoon or evening hours.

Civil Rights

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers must treat pregnancy-related issues as they would other short-term disabilities when making employment decisions. Depending on the court and situation, you might have the right to fire a pregnant woman for excessive tardiness. For example, if she’s late often due to morning sickness, and not because she intends to take maternity leave, the court might agree with your firing her. It might say the employee was fired because she was late and failed to keep up with her job requirements, not because she was pregnant.

Docking Pay

The state might not allow you to dock an employee’s pay for lateness. In certain cases, the state might permit you to deduct for lateness if the amount is equivalent to the time the employee was absent. For example, you might deduct for 15 or 30 minutes if he arrives to work a few minutes late. However, you cannot dock his pay if he begins working before the 15 or 30 minutes have passed. For instance, if he’s 20 minutes late and starts working right away, you must pay him for the 10 minutes he worked.

Minimum Hours

The state might require that you pay employees a minimum number of hours if you scheduled them to work, and they show up, but work is not available. For instance, state law says an employer must pay employees for three hours if they show up for work, and none is available. However, if an employee arrives after the three hours have begun or leaves before finishing three hours of work, her employer only needs to pay her for the time she worked.


Whether tardiness is viewed as misconduct depends on state law. Knowing what constitutes misconduct in your state is especially important if you terminate an employee for excessive tardiness and he files for unemployment benefits. In a June 2013 article, the law firm Ogletree Deakins said an Arizona court recently reversed the state unemployment insurance appeal board’s decision to deny benefits to an employee who was terminated for excessive tardiness because the employer could not prove that the employee’s lateness derived from willful or negligent misconduct.

Company Policy

Your tardiness policy should be clear and in compliance with applicable laws. If you do not have a human resources department, consider hiring an employment attorney or consultant to draft the policy for you. The policy might say employees have a tardiness grace period, such as five minutes in the morning and two minutes when returning from breaks or lunch. If an employee uses her grace period excessively, such as more than 12 times during the year, the lateness results in an unexcused absence. Depending on the scope of the violation, disciplinary measures may include verbal warnings, written warnings or termination.