my employee was late to work on his first day

A reader writes:

I have an employee who is now at least 40 minutes late for work on his first day. He at least called to let us know he overslept and is on the way, but likely won’t be here for another 20-30 minutes. He seemed mortified and was very apologetic, assuring us that it will not happen again. He said he was so excited to start his job that he couldn’t sleep and had to take a sleeping aid to help him sleep. Apparently it worked too well!

In all my years of managing people, I’ve honestly never had this happen before. Most folks wait at least a week or two before they start showing up late. Any suggestions on how to address this with him? In your opinion, how late is too late on one’s first day that would warrant them not having a second day?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Suggesting a non-native speaker work on his English skills
  • My coworker makes awful noises all day long, but it’s not her fault
  • My previous employer wants me to talk to them about why I left
  • I have to pick my own punishment

{ 284 comments… read them below }

  1. Adam

    #5 Anyone else read that and get an image of a parent telling a misbehaving child to go outside and “Pick their switch”?

    (My parents never did that, but I’ve heard other people say it enough to know it was a common enough practice at one point.)

    1. Lily in NYC

      One of my professors was trying to “teach me a lesson” once (he was annoyed because I missed two classes) and told me I could pick my final exam grade for a music theory class. I’m sure he wanted me to do some soul-searching, but I called his bluff and gave myself an A on the exam. Yeah, I learned a lesson: that one should be straightforward in these situations or else one might not be satisfied with the result.

      1. Self Graded

        Ugh — something like this happened to me once, but sort of in reverse. It was a drama class that I worked my tail off for while most of the class let just a couple of people do all of the work for the production.
        Then at the end, it was “self-graded” (surprise!) I got self-conscious and gave myself an A-. Everyone else gave themselves an A. The worst part is that the college put the median grade on transcripts, so it looked like I was worse than the median student.
        I learned an important lesson about not low-balling myself, though.

      2. fposte

        I once had a professor bail on handing in grades for a course. Then she was out on leave, then it got backburned–it was ridiculous, and I needed to get graded. So I filled out the necessary change of grade form, gave myself an A, and took it over to her to sign it. I wasn’t sure if I would have given myself an A initially but I figured interest had accrued.

    2. Vicki

      Also #5, it is not clear to me that the OP asked the coworker to clock her in on time. In any case, both of them should have the “warning” conversation.

  2. BetsyTacy

    Regarding letter writer #1: one of our star staffers was late to either his final (really more of a formality) interview or his first day of work because his car had been towed. At the time, the hiring manager was ready to withdraw the offer, but decided to give it a bit to see if it really was a one-off. We are now able to joke with star staffer as to how he almost didn’t get the job because we were sure it was a fabricated excuse.

    And I’ve handled an issue related to #2’s problem and Alison gives great advice. I’ve addressed this with both native and non-native English speakers and the key was to approach the situation as a general ‘your professional development is being held back by x. Going forward, y might be a good way to improve it.’

    1. sunny-dee

      I was so nervous before the SATs that I got, like, 2 hours of sleep, and if it hadn’t been for my mom banging on my door and ultimately driving me to the school, I would have been late.

      It’s rare, but it does happen.

      1. Lily in NYC

        We had a new hire start late on his second day because he was hungover. What shocked me is that he admitted it. Anyway, I guess he came from a very different environment (hard drinking company full of young alpha males). Once he realized it was not the same culture here, it never happened again and he turned out to be a decent employee.

        1. Amy the Rev

          I completely slept through my first required orientation class for my study-abroad program, I was so jet-lagged I couldn’t sleep until 6am, and because it was my 2nd day in the country I hadn’t bought a phone yet and didn’t realize that when I set the alarm on my ipod it was setting it for US time, not France time. I had to borrow my host family’s phone to call the office and explain my situation in french to a very annoyed Madame.

          1. Emily, admin extraordinaire

            My first semester in grad school, I pulled an all-nighter studying for a killer final. It was about 6:30 in the morning when I finished my sheet of notes that I could bring to the class, and I lay down on my bed for a quick 15 minutes. Woke up an hour later. Final started at 8:00. I lived a 45 minute drive away, on a good day, and then I still had to walk to class. That was not a good day– arrived at the final at least 45 minutes late. Luckily, the teacher was sympathetic, and I’d rocked the midterm. He asked the rest of the class if they agreed to give me the same amount of time they’d gotten (2 hours, I think) and they all agreed. I ended up only taking about 15 minutes extra after the rest of them finished, mainly because my notes were really good from the all-nighter. Got an A in the class. That was the last time I tried to pull an all-nighter, though.

            1. Lily in NYC

              I can just imagine the feeling of panic you had when you woke up! I’m glad your classmates were understanding and agreed to give you the same amount of time.

            2. NW Mossy

              While the distance to travel wasn’t as far, I had a similar situation with an econ final in undergrad. I’d set my alarm for the wrong time, and was puttering around brushing my teeth when I realized that my exam had started 15 minutes prior and I was on the other side of campus. I spat out the toothpaste and ran, not even stopping to rinse out my mouth! I showed up at the exam winded from my sprint, and my professor was mildly amused by my breathless “Hi!” as he handed me the exam.

              Thankfully, I’d studied well and was still able to finish in the allotted time, even with the late start. And I too ended up getting an A!

            3. LadyKelvin

              I did something similar for a final in grad school, except I didn’t have as good as an excuse. My final was set for a thursday at 9am and I had put it in my calendar for the following tuesday at 9 am. I had spent all week finishing up a paper and project for another class I was taking and planned on prepping for the open-note test over the weekend. I got to my office around 10am on thursday, opened my email only to find that my teacher had emailed us the exam already. So I ran to the classroom and found that she didn’t print any exams out, but everyone else had brought their laptop, which I didn’t bring because I have a desktop in my office and I wasn’t planning on taking an exam that day. So I ran to the library to (thankfully) check one out and took the test in less than 2 hours while everyone else had 3. I aced the exam because it was a favorite class, I was already comfortable with the material, and my notes were already in good order from the semester. I never made that mistake again.

            4. AshleyH

              ugh, that gives me a flashback to the time I missed a class in college! I was on the exec board for our student sober driver program (BIG SEC school, students could call a dispatcher and a student volunteer driver would pick them up and take them home, no questions asked, for free, until 3am). I was volunteering that night and didn’t get home until 4am, checked my email before I crawled in bed and had one that said “Sociology 2022 is cancelled for tomorrow”. Awesome, I thought – that was my second class for the day, and my first one was a huge lecture class I could easily miss, so I slept until noon and went to my Spanish lab. When I got there, a classmate asked how the Sociology test went. I was like “ummmm…..what test? Class was cancelled!”. Nope, turns out Sociology 2022 was my FIRST class of the day (the one I thought I could miss) and Sociology 2025 was the second class of the day and very much had an exam.

              Thankfully I had a very understanding professor who let me take the exam still (or I 100% would have failed the class), but it was SO terrifying.

            5. SystemsLady

              I almost slept straight through *the* final presentation in my college career for a similar reason! My phone decided to turn itself off halfway through my line of alarms on top of that.

              My roommate banged on my door 15 minutes before, I threw on some clothes, and she was nice enough to drive me there, where fortunately the previous presentation was running late.

          2. TheOperaGhost

            I completely slept through the language testing seminars and orientation for my study-abroad program. I had a battery operated alarm clock and completely slept through it. Thankfully, being Spain, the program director was fine with it. Never had to take the language test, just let it go. But I was embarrassed.

          3. ScarletNumber

            > I had to borrow my host family’s phone to call the office and explain my situation in french to a very annoyed Madame.

            This makes it sounds like you were a French hooker.

      2. Brett

        I still have nightmares about my first college chem test.

        I fell asleep while studying in the study lounge, so never had an alarm set.
        Woke up about 30 minutes to the 60 minute exam, and my dorm is ~3/4 of a mile from the lecture hall. The problem is that we had a rule that the entrance to the hall was closed after the first person left the exam. Anyone not there received a zero.
        Not sure how fast I sprinted, but I made it there just as the first person was leaving. Luckily no one gave up early. Actually did okay despite doing most of the exam in an adrenaline rush.

      3. Allison

        I overslept before the SAT’s as well, my dad had to get me up and I ate scrambled eggs in the car on the way over! but I think the adrenaline helped me in the end, I did pretty well.

    2. Charlotte Collins

      Back when I was a trainer, we would routinely have trainees show up late. It was usually because at the time we had two locations in different parts of town, and they would often show up to the location where they had interviewed. Or be told to go to the wrong location by HR. Aside from not being paid for the time they missed, we never penalized them for it.

      We did think hard, hard thoughts about the HR staff sometimes, though.

      1. Caroline

        Did you not pay them for the time they missed even if it was a result of HR telling them the wrong information? That seems a little unfair if so.

        1. Charlotte Collins

          I had no control over that. The policy was that you had to be at work to be paid. (If they showed up at HR, and we had documentation, then we’d consider it “travel time.”) However, the policy did change so that they could do makeup time during training. We’d generally just let them stay later to do the necessary paperwork.

          Also, “a different part of town” is only a 20 minute drive outside of rush hour, so most people realized their mistake before start time and only lost about 10 minutes.

      2. LawCat

        This reminds me of when I showed up for my first day of my first full-time attorney position out of law school. I had passed the bar a little over a month before, had moved 2,800 miles on short notice, and had almost no money and two suitcases to my name. When I met my supervisor/one of the hiring managers (there were two) for the first time in person, he said, “What are you doing here?” You can imagine my blood running completely cold.

        Well, my offer letter had said to go to giant bureaucratic headquarters at location X where most people worked, but the actual office where I would work was at location Y. On the phone, the hiring manager who was not my supervisor said I should come in to “the office” on my first day and would I be able to find it so I thought he wanted me at location Y because that was the office where I would work. I said I knew someone at location Z (a couple blocks from location Y) and had said she would show me the way. Great! We all thought we understood each other. But that was clearly not the case when I showed up for my first day and my new supervisor was irritated that I had showed up to the office at location Y instead of giant bureaucratic headquarters at location X. Sigh.

    3. AnotherAlison

      Sometimes it is a one-off thing, and sometimes it’s not. While I tend to think the most likely scenario is, “Oh no, someone is having terrible luck,” if they overslept or had some other sort of major inconvenience on their first day of work, I’d be on the lookout for a pattern. And I would part ways quickly if I saw the pattern.

      I have two people in my professional life now (neither report to me), who both are drama llamas. One routinely says to me ‘I couldn’t do X because I didn’t sleep and was too tired to concentrate.’ The other one has had a major injury (injured self playing a sport), got evicted, had a car accident, and missed a meeting due to a lost cat (the kicker – the cat was lost IN the apartment.) People who manage their lives well just do not have luck that bad.

      1. Sami

        That’s not quite fair. Good people (and good employees) can have things happen beyond their control. No matter how well they’re managing their lives.

        1. SystemsLady

          Agreed. I sleep in a couple times a year on a normal amount of sleep no matter what I do.

          I also have multiple health conditions that can contribute to me sleeping later than I’d like sometimes, though my natural clock usually kicks me up such that I’m not that late.

        2. ATXFay

          Agreed. My husband (and it seems his whole family!) have some of the worst luck. I thought it was poor preparation or not thinking something through entirely.. and it’s not. I’m pretty sure it’s tied to the name, because ever since I changed mine I’ve been just as unlucky! We’ve had issues with someone breaking into his car (and stealing his stinky gym bag, go figure), him spraining an ankle (while walking.. in sneakers), abdominal muscle spasms that put him into the hospital (!??!?), having cars block us in our driveway in the morning (and not knowing who they belonged to)… the list goes on and on. Luckily his employer is both sympathetic and flexible and realizes that a lot of what has happened has been pretty freak-accidents and pure bad luck. Now that we’re in Texas.. watch out, Austin! That gloomy cloud in the distance is probably sitting over our house :)

          1. Kristine

            > having cars block us in our driveway in the morning (and not knowing who they belonged to)

            I live somewhere with on-street parking. At least 2-3 times a month I’ll get to my car in the morning and find someone has double parked alongside me. All I can really do is wait until they return and hope they’re quick. The longest I had to wait was 10 minutes for someone who ran into a busy coffee shop. 10 minutes late for work is still bad for me, though, because I open the office!

      2. Anon today

        I was an hour late for work today because my daughter had a meltdown, and pushed her brother down the stairs. He was not hurt, and she was horrified at what she had done. And even so, it took me another hour to calm everybody down enough to get them to school, and get me to work.

        Lots of drama? You bet. But it has nothing to do with how well I manage my life. We’re working very hard with my daughter on managing her anger, but it’s not a process that happens overnight. And whatever progress we make, sometimes things happen that interfere with my work. Thank goodness my manager is understanding and flexible about things like this.

          1. ATXFay

            This happened to me the other day (luckily) on my way home from work. Wasn’t even my kid. Nor the kid of anyone I knew. After they covered me in stranger baby puke, I tried my best not to return the favor. Puke happens!

          2. Anion

            My youngest came to cuddle with me once when she wasn’t feeling well, and promptly threw up all over me. I quickly cleaned up, changed shirts, and sat back down with her in my lap…at which point she threw up all over me again.

            Like she’d been waiting for me.

      3. Qweert

        #1 I was an hour late everyday the first week of work. I thought office jobs were nine to five and did not realize they wanted me in by eight. The kicker is no one ever told me different. I just thought everyone liked to be early there until I flat out asked a coworker why everyone was always so early. ”-”

      4. Mike C.

        People who manage their lives well just do not have luck that bad.

        This is absolute garbage. 63% of adults in the United States are one paycheck away from getting kicked out of their homes, do you honestly believe that they are all just not managing their lives well?

        1. Not Myself Today

          Well, I also disagree with the statement you objected to, but I’m not sure your example supports that disagreement as well as I would like.

          I used to represent bankruptcy trustees and review the schedules submitted by the debtors. They were frequently astounding, and the short version was often that the root cause was people living above their means.

          Yes, I understand that people in lower wage jobs can have difficulty with the basics, and yes, I know that people can have sudden, huge expenses (catastrophic medical, for example) that could not realistically have been absorbed. That was not the typical experience.

          The typical experience was someone with an annual income of X, credit card bills of 2-3X (although sometimes 5-6X), plus a mortgage and car payments. There was a long history of making decisions that if you can’t pay off your credit card bill and it’s maxed out, the solution is to just pay the interest and get another credit card so you can keep spending. And no, these were not essential expenses (the trustee also typically sees the credit card statements).

          One day, the person living “paycheck to paycheck” realizes that they can’t make all these payments, and it all comes crashing down – but yeah, I do think that’s the result of not managing their lives well. Not everyone living “paycheck to paycheck” is an innocent victim.

          Oversleeping (occasionally, not frequently) and the occasional comedy of errors do happen to everyone – even people managing their lives well – so I agree with that element, even if not the financial example.

            1. Not Myself Today

              This really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

              Fundamentally, I think people are responsible for managing their own finances. Lots of people have tried to sell me things over the years – whether it was a credit product, a service, or plain old fashioned goods – that it didn’t make sense for me to purchase.

              Sometimes I did anyway – but I never blamed the salesman for my decision.

        2. Frank Jaworski

          But much of the problem IS bad choices made by them. We once had a family rent a house that we owned, two middle-aged adults and an adult son, all three with full time jobs. The rent was low, about seventy percent of the local market rate, because these were friends-of-friends. In ten months in residence they paid rent just four times. After we finally evicted them we were at the house cleaning up (they left it a mess) when the neighbors stopped in to say that they were sure going to miss that family, because they threw a beer-and-barbecue bash EVERY weekend for the whole street to attend. And a lot of the other people who are “one paycheck away from getting kicked out of their homes” have two or three cars, the latest model smart-phone, Netflix accounts and a body full of expensive tattoos. Boo frickety hoo.

      5. Elizabeth West

        Nope, not true. I’ve seen stuff like this happen to lots of people. If you use public transport, you can leave at damn o’clock in the morning and if there’s a delay, you can STILL not get there on time. Here, we sometimes have wrecks on the highway and that makes everybody tardy.

        While I think your second example probably does need to Kon-Mari their life, it’s entirely possible to be late through no fault of your own.
        Flat tires happen.
        Oversleeping happens.
        Shit happens.

          1. starsaphire

            Or the train hits something, and the tracks are shut down for several hours while they clear the debris.

            Or there’s a fire in the tunnel, and the light rail can’t move in and out of the city.

            Or the bridge is unexpectedly closed for emergency repairs.

            Or there’s a fire/explosion nearby, and the emergency services crew have to lay hose across the tracks…

            (All of which happened at least once during my 5 years of commuting to the City.)

            1. JuneBug

              “Or there’s a fire in the tunnel, and the light rail can’t move in and out of the city.”

              Either we are in the same city, or there are way too many tunnel fires affecting light rail systems. :-) When it happened to me, I worked near the fire and came out of the building to a face full of acrid smoke. Then my bus had to go home a different way and the driver got lost. Fun times. I don’t think there’s any way I could have managed my life better to avoid that.

        1. many bells down

          I am a chronically early person – like REALLY early; if I’m not somewhere 15 minutes before I’m supposed to be, I feel “late”. And I can still see something like this happening to me. I rarely oversleep but it has happened. I plan extra travel time because I grew up in Southern California and I still misjudge the traffic some days.

        2. Colette

          Everyone can be late occasionally, but if it’s regularly more than once a week, they’re not leaving enough time (or they need to find a job with hours that better suit their life).

          Similarly, getting evicted doesn’t usually happen to people who pay their rent on time and who are good neighbours.

          1. Emma

            This. I’m surprised at how many people are misunderstanding AnotherAlison’s point – shit happens occasionally, but if every day, or even every week, there’s some great drama preventing you from showing up on time, something’s wrong. If nothing else, you’d think at some point the person would learn to add some buffer time.

            1. Elizabeth West

              Yes, I agree–but one time at the very beginning isn’t enough to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
              And I think employers in a place where public transport regularly has issues might just have to suck it up from time to time if many of their employees regularly use it. Especially when it would cost most of their salary to maintain a parking place for a car (which is why a lot of city dwellers don’t have one).

        3. Jess

          Oh, yes. Once I was an hour late for work because a man and woman on my bus got into a fight that started with yelling, then they threw their coffees, then they started beating the crap out of each other. The bus had to pull over and we all had to wait for the cops to come to arrest them. Another time I was an hour late because my subway train caught fire while I was on it. Even when you leave with what should be plenty of time, bonkers things can happen. Three cheers for the MBTA.

        4. Dust Bunny

          Where I live, the buses take the HOV lane, and if that gets backed up, HA HA HA you might be at work in time for lunch.

      6. Naomi

        This is now making me think of the cartoon “Milo Murphy’s Law”, where the protagonist has some kind of inherent chaos field that makes everything around him go wrong all the time. I wonder what will happen when he’s old enough to get a job…

        1. Newby

          I think I have one too. When I had my wisdom teeth out they got infected and then I got hit in the jaw by a frisbee. I worst part was that I followed the doctors instructions religously while my sister completely ignored the instructions and was fine the next day. It took me two weeks for the swelling to go away!

      7. RKB

        Over the past two years, I:

        – caught the chicken pox
        – had a benign lymph node cyst
        – had all the blood vessels in my left eye burst
        – had to go to court to get a restraining order against my father
        – had to attend parent teacher meetings because my little sister, affected by this incident, began failing school
        – had a miscarriage

        Are you going to tell me this is all because I don’t manage my life well? Because boy, do I have some words for you then.

        1. Anna

          Well, clearly your offerings to Fate were not up to par and that is a sign of not managing your life well. Get your act together, already!

        2. Sookie

          When I first read this I read it as “in the last two weeks” rather tHan twords years. I was ready to Fed-Ex you some ice cream and a kitten to make you feel better.

      8. Lissa

        I see what you’re saying, AnotherAlison, personally. I do think there’s a huge difference between “happens to be having a string of bad luck” and being a person where “there’s always something”. The latter gets really exhausting (and I can already hear the counterpoints about “well it must be even worse to live it” but my point remains that dealing with someone like that is rough as a manager or even a friend.)

        I would never penalize and would always sympathize with someone who did something like oversleep their first day. It’s a nightmare many people have and I’d have all the sympathy. And I feel like we all have had really bad runs in our life where we could list off a bunch of really bad stuff. I still feel like there are those people who are *always* going to have something new come up any time the old thing is solved. I worked with somebody who called in several times a month, and we all knew it would be some story about her dogs or her truck etc. but when anyone else called in sick for anything, she didn’t believe them. The “it’s always something” people tend to think their own crisis is the only/most important ones ever, whereas people who are just having bad luck get that it can happen to other people.

        1. Rusty Shackelford

          I agree. There *are* people who don’t manage their lives well, and it feels like a string of bad luck to *them* but it’s obvious to a neutral outsider that suffering the natural consequences of poor planning does not constitute bad luck.

          But there are also people who just live through a string of bad luck.

            1. Rusty Shackelford

              Which is why you should give someone the benefit of the doubt when this happens on their first day of work. But if it keeps happening, take another look.

              1. Emma

                This. You’re not somehow obligated to treat each incident like it’s completely new – in fact, I’d say it’s smart not to, because patterns. If you’re always late, even if they’re all perfectly legit excuses, I know not to rely on you coming in on time.

        2. Emma

          Exactly. We all have moments or strings of bad luck, but there’s a vast difference between that and somehow never having normal days or good luck. At that point you’re either cursed or not really managing your life well, and you either need to shape up or see a priest.

          I mean, hell, something happening once a month-ish, or having a hellish few weeks – I think we’ve all had that, or we will. But if you somehow never make it into work on time, especially with a string of pathetic excuses (“ohmygosh my alarm failed me again but I somehow inexplicably haven’t bothered to get a new one”), yeah, I’m gonna side-eye that.

      9. Bellatrix

        A lost cat is the worst thing in the world. I know.

        My cat once fell from a second story apartment window. It took me almost a full day to find her (thankfully a Sunday), dehydrated and scared, hiding in a vent. I took her to the vet and called in sick-and-working-from-home the next day so I could keep an eye on her.

        My cat will always be more important than a meeting And yes, sometimes a pattern shows there’s more to the story than bad luck – after all, that was my one and only sick day that year. But you can also have a year of rotten luck and it’s a bit dismissive to say it can’t happen, because it does.

      10. LizM

        This is really unfair.

        I had a terrible month in September. My kid was sick. Then I got it. Then I thought I was recovered and told everyone I was recovered, but it turns out I wasn’t because my body basically shut down, I slept through 2 alarms, and missed an early morning flight, and missed a major work event (like, member of the President’s cabinet was there big).

        And then, once I was recovered, we started the cycle all over again when my kid got an antibiotic-resistant ear infection, and then had a reaction to the stronger antibiotic (and ended up having to be out of daycare for almost a week).

        All of this with a new regional director. Thank goodness I’ve worked for my immediate supervisor for several years and he knew this was all out of character for me, just a really bad month.

        1. Emma

          this was all out of character for me, just a really bad month

          But that’s the point. This was out of character for you. This isn’t your normal. I don’t understand all the willful misunderstanding here – I am pretty sure everyone has worked with or met the kind of constant complainer who is never on time, or somehow never completes their work, and always has some excuse – often something fairly easily resolved. It’s normal for them to behave that way, and that makes them a problem.

          1. LizM

            Yeah, but my point is that our new Regional Director (my boss’s boss) doesn’t know it’s unusual for me. This string of bad luck could have easily started when I was new to a job.

      11. Misc

        As a rare ‘not a one off, but also not a bad employee’ example; I used to oversleep ALL. THE . TIME. If I had something important, I’d just end up staying up all night because sleep deprivation was better than the chance of not waking up, but you can’t do that multiple days in a row for work. I had three alarms. I slept through them regularly or turned them off and instantly blacked out again. If I wasn’t woken up, I could easily sleep 12-16 hours. I was nonfunctional with 6 hours. Add that to chronic insomnia and I was basically a zombie.

        It got worse and worse and I’d get coworkers ringing me to see if I was awake if I wasn’t there on time, but they knew it was sleep issues and I’d be there in 20 min apologetic and ready to cover for them. I don’t think my manager ever knew because all my ‘early’ shifts were when she wasn’t around and I didn’t work fulltime so I used to have non sleeping days and sleep catchup days.

        Turns out I was chronically hypoglycemic and was just walking around with desperately low blood sugar *and* low melatonin, due to food intolerance issues. Now I wake up and I’m actually awake, and I regularly sleep 6-8 hours, and it’s kinda scary D:

        1. Misc

          As an awesome one off ABSOLUTELY not a pattern example:

          I was 2-3 hours late on my first day, because the ‘office’ was a very hard to find driveway halfway along a long rural road, and I just sailed past it without seeing it. And there were no more driveways on that side for about 3 kilometres downhill, so I spent ages looking down sideroads and going up long driveways and slowly pushing my bike back up the hill. Bonus: no phone reception. Fortunately I think they were used to people not finding them, so they didn’t bat an eye when I finally showed up.

    4. hayling

      My husband had a new employee who he wasn’t super sure about, but his own boss had pushed to hire. Very soon after he was hired, they had a Friday “work from home” day before a holiday where the explicit direction was that you needed to be on a 9 am call, then just check your email the rest of the day. New guy didn’t show for the call. Husband was fuming, figuring the guy was a slacker. Turns out the guy had literally slipped in the shower and knocked himself out!

      1. Lily in NYC

        Gasp! Poor guy! I forgot we had an interviewee call and apologize that he was running late – his taxi got in a car accident. He still showed up, and his eye got worse and worse during the interview and he had a huge shiner by the time it was over. I felt so bad.

      2. Edith

        I was 40 minutes late to my interview and at least 20 minutes late for my first day of a part time entry-level position. I was mortified and apologetic, and my boss forgave me. Two years later they created an entirely new position so they could bring me on full time. I’ve been here nine years now and am one of the highest performers and have been my entire tenure.

        I was certain that first day I would be told not to bother coming in for a second day, but a little understanding on the part of my boss has lead to a productive and mutually-beneficial decade for both employee and employer.

    5. SJ

      I was (only slightly) late on my *third* day of work, just last month! My boss told me to report at 9:00am on my first day, and then I had an HR orientation session with a bunch of new hires at 8:00am the second day… so I figured that the HR orientation was obviously a unique scheduling thing and that 9:00am was the regular start time. (Plus it had been the start time at OldJob.)

      I was still figuring out traffic patterns and leaving myself a bunch of time to drive to work, so on my 3rd day I strolled in at 8:40am. No one even noticed or commented, but during my first 1 on 1 meeting with my supervisor that day, as she gave me the overall lay of the office-land and we discussed dress code, etc., she offhandedly mentioned that office hours were 8:30am-5:00pm. Eek! I kept my mouth shut, and haven’t been late since, but I’m feeling very thankful that I had been giving myself so much extra time to get to work at the beginning that I was only 10 minutes late. It hadn’t even occurred to me that the report time for my first day might not be the actual office hours.

      1. Not Myself Today

        On my first day of work, I arrived a good 30-40 minutes early, not being sure of traffic patterns.

        I was also invited to a Very Important Meeting first thing the following day.

        On my second day of work, I left 10 minutes later – and arrived 15 minutes late for the Very Important Meeting due to a traffic accident ahead of me.

        Being new, I didn’t have many phone numbers yet which made calling a challenge. Fortunately, I was able to get a hold of one person who agreed to explain that I would be late to the senior VP leading the meeting – but I was utterly mortified.

        No one said anything, and in retrospect, stuff happens (and as the newbie, I wasn’t exactly critical to the meeting). It felt like a MUCH bigger deal at the time.

      2. zora

        That’s on them really, they should have clearly told you your office hours at some point. In the last two new jobs I have had, that was one of the first lines of the offer email, “Your office hours are 8:30am – 5:00pm”.

        That is something people can’t be expected to just psychically know without being told.

    6. Jadelyn

      I was almost an hour late to my first day at a new job once because there was a massive accident on the freeway – one freeway had an overpass over a smaller local highway, and a tanker had overturned and gone over the railing onto said highway. Both the freeway and highway and all the surrounding “back roads” were incredibly clogged. I called and apologized frantically but a lot of employees were from that area and had already run into the traffic jam and called in, so I basically just joined the crowd of people who were an hour late to work that day. Thankfully because it was such a huge thing it was easy for them to verify and nobody held it against me!

    7. Vicki

      The manager wanted to withdraw the offer because he was late to a formality interview or on the first day… because no one could bother to check and they thought a towed car was a fabricated excuse?

      I’m surprised star staffer is still with you – why does he trust your company?

    8. Lowercase holly

      Eek! I have had this happen to me in stressful situations and I’m usually the person who is five min early to everything. It is terrible to the point of nausea. So I would def give another chance, but watch to make sure it was a one off.

  3. Turtlewings

    To be fair to LW #5, whose coworker clocked them in, it doesn’t say that they actually *requested* the coworker clock them in — it’s possible that they took it upon themselves as an attempted kindness. Though it would admittedly make the situation even weirder.

    As far as what punishment to choose, perhaps docking a day of PTO?

    1. Anon1

      Whether it was requested or not, the LW could certainly take that tack, but there are consequences to throwing a coworker under the bus. Much better to simply admit to being late and tell corporate that the clock-in issue won’t happen again. (And then either apologize or have a talk with the coworker.)

      As for “punishment,” since it’s probably an hourly situation and the issue is 15 minutes’ time paid but not worked, she can start by offering to work half an hour past her clock-out time without pay. And see what they say. No use giving up more than she has to.

      1. Charlotte Collins

        I don’t think that’s a legal solution in the US. She should either be docked the 15 minutes or given the opportunity to make it up. And she and the coworker should be written up. (Unless it was done without her knowledge, in which case it’s all on the coworker.)

        And any business with timecards should already have a policy in place for this. Maybe she can volunteer to write one?

        1. MegaMoose, Esq

          Yeah, I don’t think this would be legal or appropriate. Her pay should be adjusted to reflect the 15 minutes not worked, but I can’t see how any state would allow an employer to allow someone to work for free as “punishment”. I think the 13th Amendment might have something to say about that.

        2. Anon1

          Yep, docking pay would work too. I mentioned the half-hour off the clock because many places, especially if they’re smaller businesses or franchises of larger companies (*cough*movietheaterIusedtoworkfor*cough*) don’t care all that much about what’s to-the-letter-legal so much as what will make the problem go away easily and in a manner that doesn’t make them have to cover their butts. The LW really needs to understand her company here. And of course if they didn’t like that solution they could present a more legally palatable one (like docking some pay).

          And three cheers for having and following actual written policies!

          1. MegaMoose, Esq

            I really, really do not think the OP should suggest her employer do something illegal regardless of her understanding of her company. This isn’t fudging the lines or looking the other way, it’s flat out suggesting they break labor laws. The fact that it’s being framed as punishment is even worse. And if any of this were in writing? Oh boy.

            Legality aside, I don’t see how the extra 15 minutes does anything at all to make the problem go away or help the company avoid butt-covering. Adjust her pay to reflect her actual worked hours, put a note in her file (and her coworker’s), warn them that the next time this happens they will be fired, and move on.

      2. Mike C.

        It’s not “much better” to implicitly admit to a serious breach of trust and falsification of time records when that breach wasn’t your fault in the first place. That’s absolutely terrible advice.

    2. EddieSherbert

      Oh, that’s an interesting thought. I assumed OP asked them to do it… But thinking about it, at ToxicJob, I absolutely had coworkers who would have “taken the initiative” to help me (they couldn’t, it was your badge/fingerprint to clock in).

      That would make this situation even weirder!

    3. That Would Be a Good Band Name

      If OP didn’t request it (which I had wondered also), I wouldn’t be comfortable saying who clocked me in, but I’d frame it as “I’m not sure what happened, but I was late and showed clocked in when I got here. Can you fix my time?” If someone wants to research how the person got clocked in, then they’ll find it, but most people would probably chalk it up to something weird with the timeclock and fix the time.

      1. DMC

        I don’t think many people would believe something weird happened with the time clock and it magically clocked the person in on time, all by itself.

        1. Stranger than fiction

          Hmm, if it’s a big enough department, maybe they could say “I caled in to let someone know I was running late but I don’t remember if it was Sue,Pat, or Jane.”

        2. That Would Be a Good Band Name

          You’d be amazed. I work in payroll. I once saw our time clock everyone with a specific hire date all in at the exact same second. Two hours after their shift started. I could have paid our software vendor big money to spend hours researching how that happened or I could fix the punches and go on with my day. Most people, with a one time occurrence on something like that are going to think it’s weird and go on with their day.

          A little secret: lots of managers hate timesheets and will approve whatever their employee turns in without ever checking it. I’ve even heard of people taking weeks of extra vacation because they record a regular day instead of vacation and the manager doesn’t notice or forgot that Bob took Wednesday off last week and it looks like they still have vacation remaining so they take the day again. And again. Yes, people should notice, but sometimes in a big enough corporation they don’t.

          1. Gaia

            I approve the timecards for my team and I’ll tell you right now, I never check which days are PTO vs worked. I look at total hours worked and move along. For that matter, I have two employees regularly working OT right now and do I check that it is accurate? Nope.

            You know why? I trust my people and I do not have time to spend tracking that stuff down. Now, if I had any reason to think something was amiss, I’d be much more careful. And when I had someone that showed some serious integrity issues in another area, their time card was carefully reviewed each week. Because once trust is gone, it is gone.

    4. Persephone Mulberry

      Y’know, I almost wanted to give #5 this benefit of the doubt at first, but if the coworker had punched her in without her permission, wouldn’t the OP have said “another coworker clocked me in with out my permission?” Also, the fact that they’re not asking how to explain the misunderstanding, but rather asking straight up what an appropriate discipline should be, leads me to believe that the OP did in fact ask the coworker to punch in for them.

      (Further, the OP’s carefully distanced language of “another coworker clocked me in” rather than “I asked another coworkers to clock me in” concerns me that the OP is avoiding taking responsibility. Assuming I didn’t outright fire them, I’d be watching the OP closely for similar behaviors for a while.)

      1. Stranger than fiction

        Perhaps the coworker offered, then Op assumed it was something they could get away with.

      2. Gaia

        Unless I truly had a good indication that the OP didn’t ask to be clocked in (and they didn’t know it had happened and neglected to correct it) I’d fire the OP. And the coworker that clocked them in. Even though it is only 15 minutes, this is time theft and indicates a serious integrity issue. My employees would never tolerate me not paying them for 15 minutes they worked, why would I tolerate them being paid for time they didn’t work (outside of benefits or perks, etc)?

        1. Misc

          While technically that’s accurate, ‘clocking in’ often feels like ‘show up on time for attendance’ to me, which makes it very easy to slip into the mentality of ‘I’ll get in trouble if I’m not there so Friend will just answer my name for the roll call and then I’ll catch up when I slip in the back’.

          More of an issue for the underpaid shiftwork that tends to hire/treat people like teenagers, but it can mean there’s something other than ‘how much money can I get out of my employer without earning it’ going on.

          (Disclaimer: I’ve never had to worry too much about this sort of thing, my work hours have usually been pretty flexible, or it’s very obvious if I’m late and it’s more a matter of arranging cover than slipping in unannounced).

          1. Gaia

            It doesn’t matter what the motivation was – it matters that it is time fraud and a massive integrity issue on the part of both.

            I’ve worked jobs where you clock in (and it wasn’t about being treated like a teenager – it was about tracking time accurately to the minute for reporting and billing purposes) and I’ve worked jobs where you self report. In both cases, lying about when/how much you worked was a fireable offense.

    5. Vicki

      A whole day of PTO?

      How about a choice between:
      1) docking 15 minutes of pay because the OP didn;t work that 15 minutes
      or 2) asking OP to work an additional 15 minutes to make it up
      or 3) whatever the standard “penalty” is for being 15 minutes late.

      Because This Is Not Kindergarten.

      1. Gaia

        Working 15 minutes without pay is likely not an option if this is outside of the week that this occurred. That would be illegal in the US. The only legal option is to do a pay correction for 15 minutes.

        Or, fire the OP and the coworker that helped the OP falsify time records.

    6. Dust Bunny

      If the coworker did this unsolicited, then that person should be punished.

      If the LW asked: This is a fireable offense where I work. We changed to an online clock-in system a few years ago and it was made ABSOLUTELY clear that logging in from devices that indicated we weren’t actually at work yet would get us in a whole lot of trouble.

  4. addlady

    Does the advice change for #5 if the worker in question isn’t an adult? For instance, if it is their first high-school job?

    1. Not Karen

      If you are old and mature enough to have a job, you deserve to be treated like an adult – in terms of both respect and consequences.

    2. SarahTheEntwife

      I would really hope not. I mean, you might give more chances to someone just getting used to professional norms, but they should still be treated like a professional employee, not a misbehaving child. I think that sort of thing sounds kind of bizarre even for a misbehaving child.

    3. Hush42

      I supervise an intern who’s 17 and this is her first job ever. I always try to treat her like any other employee in the company. In my opinion the point of her having this job (besides the money) is to learn appropriate professional behavior. If I treated her differently because she’s only 17 that would defeat the purpose. To that end I also try to let her know that some of the things that are perfectly okay here (regularly coming in late or the extreme flexibility she’s allowed) are not necessarily going to be okay in other companies she will work for in the future.

      1. Temperance

        FWIW, I don’t treat my interns like any other professional. I give them the same courtesy and treat them like adults, to be sure, but I don’t expect them to know all professional norms and I make it explicitly clear that they can ask me any questions that they need to.

      1. Vicki

        Generally we are never taught that clocking in early (or clocking out late) is considered “stealing”.

        1. Retail HR Guy

          Not specifically, but we learn the definition of stealing and most of us are able to apply it wherever it fits. Taking wages that do not belong to you is clearly a form of stealing.

        2. Gaia

          Well, OP was getting money for something that isn’t due to her. That is taking something that isn’t supposed to be hers. That is stealing.

          It is also lying by saying she was there when she wasn’t.

          I’m pretty sure that the core of those lessons were in place well before high school.

        3. Phoebe

          The stealing isn’t the act of clocking in late or out early. It’s being clocked in when you aren’t even at work that’s considered stealing time.

    4. Gaia

      Not for me. I would give more flexibility to professional norms in some areas, but not integrity issues. A high school aged person knows it is wrong to lie and knows it is wrong to steal and that is what happened here.

  5. Anonymouse for This

    I actually had a coworker who *bragged* about clocking in for another coworker and having the coworker clock in for her when they were running late.

    Man, we were so glad when she got fired.

    1. Charlotte Collins

      My dad has a story about a coworker (a relation to somebody somehow, but I don’t remember the details) who *brought a timeclock home with him* and would just clock in or out as he felt like it. This was a skilled trade where there was definitely no way to work from home.

      He did eventually lose his job.

    2. Noah

      I fired two people once for this. They already had one warning that this was fraud and was not ok. Another manager wanted to solve the problem by getting timeclocks that required a fingerprint. Nope, how about we just get rid of those who can’t follow the rules instead.

      1. Oryx

        I had a co-worker who used to fudge her timesheet that was just one of many, many things she was flaunting and our manager was too lazy to do anything about it. She was eventually let go during a down sizing and I was so mad when they introduced a fingerprint time clock a couple of months later because that would have solved so many of my frustrations with her and our manager.

      2. Rusty Shackelford

        Nope, how about we just get rid of those who can’t follow the rules instead.

        Oh, how I would love to see more of this attitude.

      3. boop the first

        Uuugggghhh yes, this would make so much more sense than investing in more and more complicated timeclocks that make it impossible to clock in/out outside of the exact minute a computer expects you to, and steal wages from good workers who clock out literally ONE SECOND too early due to there being so many wrong wall clocks around.

        Yes, please. Let’s not make thieving coworkers the accepted standard of employment. Automated time clocks are so annoying.

    3. Gaia

      At OldJob we had a technician with a company van that would clock out (you did it via phone app) from a friend’s house after he hung out for an hour or so at the end of his day. He finally got busted because of the governor and GPS on the van showing him stationary for so long before clocking out (he should have driven home and clocked out upon arrival).

  6. Tiny _Tiger

    OP #1 : I would definitely stick with Alison’s advice. First and foremost because it probably was just back luck. Secondly because you’ve already gone through the hassle to try and find someone to fill this position, do you really want to be back to square 1 already because of a on-off mistake? I ended up being late to my one and only interview at my current job because this office is in the middle of an industrial park with 1 entrance/exit that is not easily found. I apologized profusely before and after the interview was over and the office manager that interviewed me thought almost nothing of it. Since then you can count on 1 hand the number of times I’m late for work within a year.

    1. Moonsaults

      Getting lost in an industrial park is reasonable though and as someone who worked for over a decade in one, I was used to those “I cannot find you!! Can you help me?!” calls from the other side. So “I got lost” always makes sense, especially the first time adventures.

      That job taught me to always scope out the job the day before the interview, so it never happened again.

      However the “overslept” story is another ball of wax to me.

      1. Noah

        Yeah, the local office of a federal agency I have to interact with for my job is in one of those parks with 20 buildings where they all look the same and there are no addresses on the outside of the building.

        The first time I went there alone it was a disaster. I finally just parked and started walking into building lobbies until I found the one I needed.

      2. Stardust

        I think it’s possible that it really is a one-time bad luck. I’d be gracious to him especially since he truly sounded mortified and hold off on making a decision just yet. I would keep an eye on him to see how his attendance is. The point that struck me the most is that he had taken something to sleep. The new hire didn’t just oversleep on his first day; he had taken a sleeping aide. If you haven’t ever had insomnia nor ever taken a sleeping aide I could see why you might think this is the start of a pattern of tardiness.

        I’ve struggled with insomnia at times and I think it’s plausible that this is a one time bad luck incident!

        I have struggled with falling asleep and staying asleep all night. My ability to sleep is strongly effected by stress, anxiety, worry, excitement and definitely find his story plausible. When I’m excited about going on a trip the next day or starting a new job or worried, I cannot sleep. And sleeping pills can really knock someone out that they don’t hear their alarm!!

      3. SystemsLady

        I was once forty five minutes late to something because of a similar situation.

        In this case it was me trying to find where to sign in, nobody at the front desk, my coworker leading me was already in, I didn’t have a contact at the place, and it was no cell phones allowed once you were in.

    2. SpaceySteph

      I was late to my first day of RA orientation in college. This was back before everyone used their cell phone as an alarm clock so I had a regular bedside alarm clock. I actually set the alarm for AM and double-checked that I did it right before I went to sleep… only problem is that I had set the clock itself backwards so it thought 7am was 7pm and the alarm didn’t go off. Truly mortifying to be woken up to a phone call from my new boss wondering where I was. I am very punctual and had totally set the alarm in time to get me there 10 mins early… had it gone off.

      Shit genuinely does happen and nobody is perfect… but then there are also people for whom shit is always happening. If he’s the second type, it should be obvious pretty quickly.

      1. Talvi

        This is exactly the reason why I’ve set my phone clock to a 24-hour clock! Now I just need to find a 24-hour alarm clock and I’m all set…

    3. Lily Rowan

      Yeah, I hired someone who was late for her first day…. and a really stellar employee after that! But man, I gave myself several days of thinking I had made a huge mistake.

    4. Elizabeth West

      Oh, this used to happen ALL THE TIME at Exjob. There are two sections to the industrial park they are in, with two separate entrances and no connection. If they went in the wrong one, they had to come all the way back out and drive a bit further to find the entrance where we were. They would usually call–“Where are you?” So when we gave directions, we were always really careful to tell them they needed to completely ignore the first sign on the left and drive further until they saw the second one.

      1. Annie Moose

        At OldJob, if you put the address into Google Maps, it would take you two or three miles up the road. Dunno why! We had to tell people a specific alternate address to put in Google Maps/GPSes so they could actually find us. This almost tripped me up when I interviewed, but luckily my dad knew the area–I was looking it up on Google Maps, and he looked over my shoulder and said, “hey, that’s not the right place!”

        (I just checked, looks like Google’s fixed it at last. Good!!)

          1. CC

            One of the things I’ve noticed that Google maps does for places that have a fairly large area, is that the placemark is in the centre of that area as determined by the computer algorithm. For a park with a lake, this might be the middle of the lake. For an airport, this might be between the runways. Even for places like malls, or hotels with fairly substantial parking lots, this happens, so I would expect it to also happen with industrial parks.

            Then when you ask for directions to a placemark that isn’t on a road, you will get directions to the road physically nearest the placemark, regardless of access, driveways, fences, cliffs, water, and other impossibilities. I have been directed to a residential street opposite the airport fence instead of the terminal, a highway offramp right behind a hotel when the hotel’s driveway was on a different street entirely, a street with a cliff and wall between it and the park instead of the park entrance, and so on.

            I have learned to zoom in on the destination to see if it is sensible or if it tells you to drive to a spot then “leap” to the placemark with no further instructions given. I have also learned to send problem reports to Google. (They do fix them! I have several “we checked and you were right! we have fixed it now” emails from the maps team.)

        1. Rdb

          I was late for my first day at my current job because I was given the mailing address, which is useless for GPS purposes. (I began as a temp and didn’t have an on-site interview first.) According to my GPS, I’d been assigned to an open field a quarter-mile down the road from the actual office. :-)

    5. Ginger

      On my first day at a former job, I went to start my car and the battery was dead. I lived alone and the neighbors had already left for work. I had to call someone to come help me and ended up being almost an hour late. It was totally embarrassing. I made sure to be early every day for months after that.

  7. Cwath

    #2 Check with your local library or literacy organization – they may have an ESOL tutoring program that would offer free tutoring for your employee.

  8. Key to the West

    #2 If it’s not possible to pay for a course for the employee maybe look in to agreeing time off (non substantial, maybe 2-3 hours a week) if they found a course near the office during work hours?

  9. Some Sort of Management Consultant

    Regarding number 3:

    Is it well-known that the coworker has a disability – as in they have stated that they have one to several people – or is it “well-known” and people are guessing/relatively sure but with no actual confirmation?

    Maybe I’m just sensitive to those kind of “well, everyone knows…” things.

  10. Important Moi

    “In all my years of managing people, I’ve honestly never had this happen before. Most folks wait at least a week or two before they start showing up late. Any suggestions on how to address this with him? In your opinion, how late is too late on one’s first day that would warrant them not having a second day?”

    Wow. I may be too forgiving, but even taking account that you’ve not provided the nature of the position, evaluating whether or not this “would warrant them not having a second day” strikes me as extreme. At the very least, I hope you told this person you considered this so they know this was your inquiry and they can govern themselves accordingly.

    1. Anon1

      I don’t think it’s just you. Sure, it looks bad showing up late on one’s first day, but the reaction in the letter came off…a little high-strung.

      1. Lily Rowan

        The LW was writing before the person had even gotten there that day, and I totally get that panic (see my note above). But that’s why you keep the panic inside your head for a while!

    2. Nico m

      I think, the committed slacker-malingerer is too smart to pull this shit on their first day.

      So the late new employee is either a) quite normal and had bad luck or b) a complete disaster who will confirm this anyway within a few days. And assuming your recruitment is halfway competent a) is 90%+ likely

    3. James

      To add to this, the person called in and explained the situation. This shows an awareness that they DID screw up, and an attempt to identify the problem and find a solution to rectify it.

      Think of what the message in firing this person would be to the rest of your staff: One screw-up and you’re toast. What this would say is that any policies or procedures you have in place for addressing work issues are worthless, that punishment will essentially be arbitrary. I know that probably isn’t what you intend to say, but it’ll come off this way.

      1. Blue_eyes

        This. He called in to explain and sounded mortified. Those are both good signs that he is conscientious and understands workplace norms.

        You could give him a gentle warning that he should be extra careful not to be late at least for a while while he builds his reputation at your company. But given his behavior, he likely already knows this.

  11. academic addie

    I was once late to the first day of a job – I had written down that my first shift was the 16th, rather than the 15th. I was actually in my apartment, picking out what to wear for the first day when I got a call asking where I was. I was so embarrassed – this was my first professional job! I sprinted there, and was only 20 minutes late. I ended up being a really valuable employee, and still on really good terms with the employers, and I visit for lunch when I’m in town. So it does happen.

    I have retroactive mortification just thinking about it.

    1. Charlotte Collins

      I have to admit that now with the prevalence of email some of these things are less likely to happen. Phone calls lead to more mistakes in dates and times on both ends.

    2. Talvi

      I was once late to an initial meeting (as a TA) because I had written the time down as 12:45 and the meeting was at 12:15.

    3. chocolate lover

      I was once half hour late to my first day, because in all the excitement, paperwork etc, no one told me (and I didn’t think to ask) that the office was 8:30 to 4:30 rather than a more common (I thought) 9 to 5. I also still get a little retroactive mortification!

      1. Jennifer is a Thneed

        Yeah, I’ve learned the hard way to ASK what time I should show up on the first day … and who I should ask for.

        Side benefit, it gives me a chance to suggest a time because it is just never a good idea to show up at the very beginning of the work day. Someone will have to do all those first-day things with the new person and it’s just so much better to let them have an hour or so to get their day started.

    4. Elizabeth West

      Haha, I missed two weeks of a class in college because I had noted that it started in July, when it actually started in JUNE. Herp derp. >_<

      It was math, so I didn't really do that well anyway!

    5. Cranky Pants

      Three days into my Old Job, I came down with the flu and missed the next week and then some. I ended up working there for 14 years, receiving multiple promotions, and only left when the company moved to a place I had no desire to work in.

      Things happen! If the things become a pattern, it’s certainly grounds for action but let this one go for now.

  12. The Other Dawn

    RE: #1

    At Old Job, we hired a new office manager. On her first day she called out, stating that her furnace blew up and needed to wait for the furnace guy. I felt it was reasonable to stay home and deal with it, since shit happens. But my boss went on and on about how it was irresponsible to call out on the first day, she should have come in anyway, the excuse was BS, etc. It’s not ideal, but this stuff has a habit of happening at the wrong time. It’s just the way it is. She didn’t last long at our place due to other reasons, but she never had any lateness or absence issues.

    On the other hand, the next person we hired was late her second day and my boss was understanding. That defined what kind of employee she would come to be–I don’t think she was ever on time once after that first day and my boss wouldn’t fire her.

    1. Lemon Zinger

      You nailed it: sometimes awful, unavoidable things happen at the WORST times. And sometimes people show their true colors early on. The challenge is determining which of those two scenarios is what actually happened.

      As a side note, it’s amazing how the first two weeks can show you what a new employee is like. My new team member wasted no time in oversharing about her personal life and asking about other job opportunities. First impressions are everything, but not everyone has that in mind when they start a new job…

    2. Anon1

      What happened between First Late Employee and Second Late Employee that changed your boss’s reaction?

      1. The Other Dawn

        Not a clue. She was with us for about two years and was late the whole time. She reported to me, but my boss kept saying, “she’s got a tough life,” “give her another chance,” etc. So, I couldn’t fire her. He was a bit of a father figure to her, I think, and felt bad for her. She definitely had issues, but at some point you have to think about what the business needs. In the end, the business failed. It was obvious it would happen during the last few months and at that point, why bring a new person on only to have them lose their job in a few months? Not fair to the new person and we were able to deal with the lateness since the volume of work was lower at that point. Had it not failed, she’d probably still be there, though.

    3. Elemeno P.

      I once had to call out for my first day of an internship because I scratched my eye putting my contacts in that morning. It was certainly not ideal.

      1. fposte

        Wow, you must have really gouged; I’ve never done that so badly that I couldn’t just put on glasses and come on in.

        1. Elizabeth West

          It’s easy to do if you get a particulate in there!

          I poked my eye with an eye dropper so hard once that I couldn’t see out of it (my eye refused to open). I had to wear an eye patch for a few days and work anyway (restaurant). Everyone kept teasing me about my new career as a pirate. :P

        2. acmx

          I slept in contacts once and had to go to the doctor. Ended up with antibiotics and an eye patch for a few days!

      2. many bells down

        That happened to a co-worker of my husband’s: he made it into work his first day, but had somehow scratched his cornea so badly that he had to be taken to urgent care after an hour. He didn’t wear contacts, so he doesn’t know how he did it!

  13. she was a fast machine

    I’m not entirely clear on the last question; did you ask your co-worker to clock you in, or did they take the initiative to “cover for you” and clock you in on their own? Because if it was the latter I’m finding it a bit strange that they want to punish you for what your co-worker did to your time card without your knowledge.

    As for the first one, I really strongly relate! I have really strong insomnia that’s exacerbated by anxiety and I’ve never gotten a full night’s sleep the week before/of starting a new job, and I often have nightmares leading up to it where I’m late or I forget to set an alarm or all kinds of scary situations that would result in me getting fired. I’m extra paranoid about setting triple alarms and refusing to take my sleeping medicine on nights when I’m starting a new job because of that fear, but for someone who doesn’t have it intense like me I can easily see how it might happen. It’s pretty much my worst nightmare though, and sadly has happened(not on my first day though!) before where my sleeping issues cause me to be late. It’s so humiliating and embarrassing to try to explain, especially to people who don’t have disordered sleeping. Anyways. I relate, and I do agree to give him a break here but to monitor it from here out to catch anything else.

    1. Charlotte Collins

      I set a battery-operated travel alarm when I really want to be sure to wake up. Because that’s when a power outage is likely to happen. (I grew up in an area where these were common. Luckily, when I was in HS, the school was on the same grid. If our power was out, so was the school’s, and classes wouldn’t start until the power was on. School would be cancelled if the power was out 2+ hours after start time. It usually happened in the spring, so it would be a nice day off…)

      1. Elizabeth West

        We get bad storms in the spring and they sometimes knock out the power. My clock has a backup, but when the power goes out, it smokes the alarm even though the clock comes back on with the correct time. If the weather looks as if it might be rough later that night, I will set the alarm on my phone.

    2. Charlotte, not NC

      I exclusively use battery-operated alarm clocks, one regular and one back-up. I live near a dangerous intersection that frequently has someone knocking down the poles, and I woke up to blinking clocks once too often.

    3. Emma

      Internet fistbump of sympathy. My particular sleep disorder means that unless I’m working a night job, I have to call out sick about once a quarter to sleep literally the whole day, and if I stay up too late I basically just cannot allow myself to go to sleep or I’ll not wake up until late afternoon. My body is absolutely convinced it’s nocturnal, and no medicine will convince it otherwise, apparently.

  14. MegaMoose, Esq

    Unrelated to the specific questions, but I really appreciate the addition of the “Other questions I’m answering there today include:” section, especially when I’m using Feedly. Now, to click through!

    1. Annie Moose

      It is quite nice. I like having a head’s up of what I’m going to see. I usually end up clicking through anyway, but sometimes there’s a specific one that really catches my eye, even if it’s not the headliner!

  15. Moonsaults

    #1 gives me anxiety thinking about. I have given so many new employees the benefit of the doubt over things like arriving late only to get bitten in the end, most punctual and reliable people do not have these incidents happen to them.

    I’m glad from the above stories this can be a one time thing and that I just have rotten luck.

    1. Mike C.

      People don’t chose to have things happen to them, regardless of their professional punctuality and reliability.

    2. Lissa

      People are reacting really badly against the idea that being late early on can show a pattern, but I do think your experience isn’t uncommon. I *absolutely* believe in giving somebody the benefit of the doubt because of something that happens the first day, but noting that in your experience it hasn’t worked out is just..noting your experience, not saying “all responsible people ever would never have this happen” or “people choose their own misfortunes deliberately.”

      Nobody here has suggested firing somebody due to showing up late on their day, just that for some people it’s not just a horrible coincidence, and I don’t see that keeping that in mind is unreasonable.

      1. Emma

        This. And also, while yeah, sometimes shit happens and being charitable the first time rarely hurts, usually those first few days/weeks are when people are on their best behavior. One understandable incident, okay. The week from hell, but the person seems embarrassed/seems to understand that it’s a problem? Sure. Just blowing in when you feel like it, with really bad excuses? Nope.

        And sure, there’s the middle ground where it’s hard to tell, like the people really good at spinning sob stories about their shitty luck, but that’s when you forgive at first, but look at longer-term patterns.

        I don’t understand the hostility today to the idea that punctuality is important, and that getting your shit together is also important.

        1. Lissa

          Probably it’s people remembering their absolute worst string of terrible luck and knowing how much they would have/did appreciate people giving them a chance…which I get, but I doubt the posters here who are giving their own bad experiences with early flakiness mean they are totally intolerant to any extenuating circumstance. The original poster in this thread even said they appreciated hearing these stories that counter their experience, so I don’t get the negativity towards that.

          And I’m saying this as someone who does think it would be pretty cruel to fire somebody for being late on their first day! I just don’t see any posters advocating doing this, just pointing out it can in fact be part of a pattern.

        2. Anon for this

          That’s a strange way to frame people whose take on this you happen to disagree with.

          Anyway, some of us are flashing back to our own streaks of bad luck and imagining how we would look if that happened during our first week at a new job. I understand that it would make a terrible first impression but I hope that it would not be held against me indefinitely. I don’t think that’s difficult to understand.

          1. Emma

            It reads hostile to me, sorry. I disagree with a lot of people in comments here all the time, but people are pretty aggressively pushing this notion that it’s never okay to be skeptical about lateness or people’s shitty excuses.

            I get that. That’s why I talked about being charitable at first, and attitude mattering a lot, among other things. (Like, if you are totally unconcerned about the fact you showed up late, that’s a huge red flag.) We all understand that sometimes shit happens.

            What I don’t get is how people are weirdly insistent today that because bad shit sometimes happens it is somehow never possible to determine bad fit or potential red flag right off the bat, and some people are acting like there aren’t people who do need to grow up and adult. Sometimes, yeah, it’s just bad luck, but not every time is bad luck. Not every streak is bad luck. Many times, it’s someone who doesn’t want to bother coming in, or someone who thrives on drama, or someone who just cannot get their shit in order and it’s spilling over into the workplace.

            If you’re late once, fine, as long as it’s clear you recognize it’s a problem. If you don’t care? If you’re chronically late because of traffic, or your alarm clock? If you only have a dramatic problem when you’re finally taken to task for lateness, and then it’s all about how I’m unreasonable for criticizing you? There’s a big honking issue.

            None of you have ever worked with someone who constantly shows up late, or calls off repeatedly, or leaves early? None of you have ever gotten stuck with covering for them, then having them claim (with various levels of dramatics) that various random crap has happened, or that somehow traffic is totally an inexplicable thing to understand even when everyone else manages it fine, or that they just can’t seem to bother waking up on time? People here are repeatedly taking the side of the late worker, and not thinking about the rest of it. Being on time for your job is kind of the bare minimum of professional standards.

    3. Gaia

      My most recent hire was not only late to his third interview, he was late on his first day. In both cases he was apologetic and had reasons that seemed understandable.

      Why did I give him another chance? He has a really unique skill set and I saw potential. A few months in, he is early every day and has been an amazing performer given his tenure. Sometimes bad things really do happen at bad times. Look at the big picture.

      1. Emma

        Look at the big picture.

        Exactly. Sometimes, that means the person just had bad luck, sure. But often, it means the person is a slacker, a drama llama, or a walking disaster.

  16. Lillian Styx

    Once I accidentally left myself clocked in all night and the next day when I went to clock in and already was I figured my coworker did it for me (we carpooled and arrived at the same time). When I got my check and saw that the hours and pay were unusually high I realized my mistake and went to the boss. She said forget it, it would be too much trouble to fix and I could keep the money! The rewards of honesty!

    1. Katie-Pie

      Something similar happened to me once. I’d worked .25 hours of OT, but they entered it as 25–SIGNIFICANT pay. When I took it to my bosses they decided to let me keep it as a bonus because they appreciated my work. Yay honesty!

    2. Gaia

      I think the difference is that both you and Katie-Pie brought the issue up and in both cases it was a true mistake or system error – not fraud.

  17. Tomato Frog

    Re #1, first days are weird and stressful. I can think of circumstances where it might not be worth it to give an appropriately apologetic new employer the benefit of the doubt… but mostly I don’t see why you wouldn’t.

    1. afds

      Yeah the explanation given seems highly likely. I’m always nervous about things like first days or early flights where I absolutely have to wake up at a certain time, especially if its different from normal, and I’m horrible both at sleeping and waking up to alarm clocks. In college I’ve considered staying up all night if I can’t fall asleep by like 4 am and something is at 7 or 8am

      1. Blue Anne

        Yes, exactly my thinking. I can completely understand someone oversleeping or being tired on their first day, because if they’re anything like me, they spent the night before tossing and turning with nerves.

      2. KR

        I like to schedule my flights for early in the morning, so to ensure that I sleep on the plane and don’t miss my flight I always stay up all night before I have to go catch the bus.

    2. Gaia

      I would 100% give the benefit of the doubt especially with the reason given. I take any sort of medication with a side effect of sleep or drowsy and I am OUT. Nothing short of a nuclear blast is going to wake me for a solid 8 hours. It happens. It sucks, but if there are no other flags? Eh. Give the guy a break.

  18. Jesmlet

    #5- I was once in a salaried position where for whatever ridiculous reason, they had us clock in on our work cell phones. This was not a very tech savvy company so it’s not like anyone was ever checking the location of where we were clocking in from. Add to that the fact that we all worked from varying locations throughout the day. Needless to say, we had a lot of people clocking in and out from home every day.

  19. chocoholic

    OP #1 – definitely see if it is a pattern. My husband’s first job out of college, he started the week of Thanksgiving and we already had plans to fly out to Denver (where we now live) to visit his aunt for Thanksgiving, so when he got the offer he had to ask for Wednesday afternoon of that week off. Then, literally the day before he started, his grandmother died, and her funeral was going to be Wednesday morning. So he showed up on his first day and had to ask for Wednesday morning off too. He didn’t take any time off for about 6 months, other than the holidays that were in there because he was so worried about changing a bad impression of him there.

  20. Pwyll

    #1: My cousin did this, having put into her calendar to arrive at 9 when they had instead asked her to report at 8. Which was INCREDIBLY out of character for her. She was truly mortified (her mom heard her crying in the bathroom during her mad dash to get ready– she was already late by the time she realized she screwed up the time). She called and apologized profusely, showed up at 8:45, and apologized some more. She’s been there for 5 years now, and loves it (and they love her).

    Alternatively, we once hired someone who not only showed up late on her first day, but also left (hours!) early. Because there were two people training her, each thought the other had given her permission to leave. She was late on her third day, which is when we had The Conversation(tm) with her about professional norms. We let her go when she was late 7 of her first 10 working days. Her last day she didn’t even show up, and just sent a text message to her boss apologizing for “wasting our time” and “resigning immediately” at noon. To make matters worse, months later she asked to get coffee with her boss to apologize and explain herself, he agreed, and she never showed up.

    1. AnotherAlison

      “To make matters worse, months later she asked to get coffee with her boss to apologize and explain herself, he agreed, and she never showed up.”

      Oh my God. I think we hired her. The difficult person that I work with calls meetings to discuss problems people because no one is communicating with her (she’s notoriously difficult to get to respond to IM, email, or calls), and then DOESN’T SHOW UP.

      1. Pwyll

        I know you were kidding, but you definitely do not work with her. It’s been 2 years and this person still hasn’t found employment. I know this because I keep getting reference calls (not verification calls, but actual references!) after the company clearly told her not to list them as a reference, to remove them from her resume, AND I personally haven’t worked there in 2 years (still can’t figure out where she got my cell phone number).

        There were sooooo many other things that went wrong with this hire, but the details would be a bit too revealing. I honestly feel bad for her, as she’s really feeling the brunt of having never worked throughout her entire life.

    2. Mike C.

      The thing I see is that if it’s actually a problem rather than a one time thing, it’s obvious immediately. So I don’t really understand the rush that some have to just fire the person RIGHT NOW.

      1. Pwyll

        Yeah, I think that’s right. It’s information you have and consider, and certainly address if it’s a pattern, but unlike very specific behaviors (violence, fraud) it’s not an immediate fire.

      2. Retail HR Guy

        When it’s the first day or two, there may be the temptation to end employment right away so as to see if the second choice candidate is still interested in the job. Skips another long hiring process.

    3. NorCalHR

      One of our new employees was late every scheduled day in the first pay period. The supervisor and the dirctor had several conversations with Pat, who was warned several times, and finally fired on the 18th consecutive day late. At the exit interview, the only relevant comment offered was, “Wow! My college professors never care if I’m late to class, eat during the lecture, leave early, text/play games on my cell phone during class time, even make personal calls during the lecture. You’re a “really tough grader!”” Had to explain that business ran on different standards :-<

      1. Adlib

        Wow! I had college professors who would shut and lock the door to class once it started. Then you had to go to the office to see if you could get the absence excused. Fortunately, he stopped doing this once I started school there. Still, our professors were all business when it came to training us business students what was expected of us (on time, professional norms, etc.).

      2. Moonsaults

        That person is going to have a hard time paying off those student loans if they don’t break that horrible thought process.

  21. seejay

    In regards to LW#1, I was on my way to the first day of my new job when I had to pull over and yark my breakfast up all over the side of the road. I made it to work on time but I knew there was *no way* I could stay and told my boss I had to go home. I had some sort of stomach flu that kept me out for three days. I’m pretty sure they were quite happy for me to stay home instead of throwing up for the day.

    And for my first job out of university, the day before I was to start, I had a bike accident that sliced open my ankle all the way down to the bone. I made a decision* to not go to the hospital and hoped it would just scab up overnight. I showed up to work with a huge bandage over it and it still actively bleeding. I had to keep leaving every hour to replace the bandages. They sent me to a clinic by lunch so I missed the entire afternoon of my first day.

    Sometimes shit happens.

    *I made the decision to not go to the hospital for multiple reasons, one of which was that I was worried I wouldn’t get seen until 2 or 3 in the morning (the accident was late in the evening) and the super late hour would impact my ability to get up in the morning and make it to my first day of work on time. LOL how that worked out eventually.

  22. Mental Health Day

    OP#1, sure it’s not ideal to be late on your first day. But, I think you are missing a larger issue here. The employee owned the mistake and didn’t make up some lame excuse. I wouldn’t be thrilled if one of my direct reports was late their first day, but honestly, I would be pretty relieved to find out that I’ve hired someone that at least demonstrates the capacity to own mistakes and be honest about it.

  23. michelenyc

    LW1 I agree with Allison give the new employee the benefit of the doubt. Living in NYC and being at the mercy of the subway system. There have been more than a few times that my 30 minute commute turned into an hour or longer due to train issues. It can be a nightmare especially if you have a meeting or conference call first thing but the one good thing is it usually affects a number of people.

    LW4 I would lean towards speaking to your previous employer about the real reason you left. The chances are high that they are probably working on a management issue. This happened to me once and since I had still had friends at the company I asked if they knew what was up. They were in fact trying to figure out why my old department had such retention issues. The only odd thing about the request is I had been very honest about why I was leaving it was solely because of the manger. She never should have been hired to manage people. She was a great fabric/R&D manager but her management of people of was horrible.

  24. BritCred

    I was once 11 *days* late to starting a new job… short version: weather changed over night, tried to get there on a hour long bus journey which crashed and the bus company withdrew all services for future notice due to danger and it took 10 more days before the buses were running again! The ironic thing is the people who worked there that lived around the corner didn’t actually bother getting into the office anyway! I honestly should have seen it as an omen as that employer was awful in retrospect!

    Give the poor person another chance at least though LW1, at least give a chance he’s not a flake!

  25. Cheesehead

    I was actually late to my first day of my first ‘real’ job out of college. Oh, so mortifying! But I was in a car accident on the way there….spun out on black ice. And this was before the days when I (or almost everyone) had a cell phone, so I think I had to rely on someone else to call them and let them know. I know, probably forgivable, but it was still really embarrassing when I was trying to be professional and ended up rolling in late to my first day with a semi-wrecked car.

  26. De Minimis

    #1–Commuting is such an issue here where I live that a person can plan ahead and do everything right and still be late. People are at the mercy of traffic and also a rickety public transit system. I would be really hesitant to hold tardiness against someone, especially when they are just starting. Even after that I probably would be unlikely to worry about it unless it was really excessive–it’s just a reality of living in a major city with commuting problems and where most people can’t afford to live near work. Your mileage may vary.

    1. TheTallestOneEver

      Agree about the traffic issue. I was late once for the first day of work. I’d driven the route the weekend before and somehow still managed to miss the turn into the facility. One plus of the job was that I was driving against traffic, but turning around to get back to the building placed me right in the middle of DC gridlock, and made me 15 minutes late where I would’ve been 15 minutes early without the missed turn.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale

      This whole thread, but especially this comment, reminds me of something I forgot– I was late my second or third day of a job where I ended up staying for 8 years. My train got stuck (I lived in New York at the time, stuck trains were a regular yet unpredictable occurrence, as you never knew how long you’d be stuck for). I had showed up 15 minutes early on my first day, then on day 2? Oof. I finally got out of the train 30 minutes after my start time. I hauled ass to my office and opted not to call my supervisor because I didn’t know her number yet (and this was pre-smartphone, so I didn’t have an easy way to look it up). She called me and was extremely understanding– she wanted to know if I was ok– and I later earned a reputation for being ridiculously punctual and often the first person in the office.

      TL; DR: public transportation requires some flexibility and leeway!

      1. michelenyc

        I live in NYC and I told my new assistant that I don’t start to worry about where she is till about 10am. At that time I send a text to make sure every thing is OK. The trains have been a pain lately!

  27. Menacia

    With regard to OP1, I work with a guy who had to scale the building he was working in (well, he used the fire escape) in order to make it to work on time. I have no idea why he could not get into the building any other way, but he was determined to get in! He has worked for the company over 20 years, so this happened when he was around 19 or so. He’s been very entertaining in other ways beyond this first day of work story, he always shows up with a smile on his face and is ready to help anyone and everyone…

  28. Menacia

    Oooh, just remember another one, when I worked at a large university we had an opening for an admin asst. When the woman showed up she was a little disheveled, and then we noticed she had a large (and bleeding) scrape on her knee and her pantyhose were torn. She fell on the way in to work, but she was determine to get to the interview. She cleaned herself up in the ladies room, went to the interview and got the job. :)

    1. AvonLady Barksdale

      Poor thing! I’m so glad it worked out!

      I once showed up 45 minutes late to an interview because it was pouring and all of the trains got seriously effed up. It was my third interview for the job, and something like the third position I was interviewing for at that company. I raced in and the receptionist– who knew me at that point– told me not to worry, the hiring manager had given her strict instructions to tell me to take my time, have a glass of water, and sit down for a few minutes. I didn’t get the job (internal candidate), but I had a great interview and that compassion meant a lot.

      1. zora

        My pouring rain story is almost the opposite. It was my first day at a temp job, and that morning it was raining 40-day-flood style. It was so bad there was flash flooding, etc. I would normally have taken the bus to the location, but I decided to drive instead, knowing that there was a paid lot across the street from the building, but that it would cost me $15 for the day which was a healthy portion of my daily wage. But I figured it was better than ending up super late if there were bus delays, and I would get less wet.

        I get to the door a few minutes early, but the building is totally dark and no one is at the reception desk. I knocked on the door for a while, eventually someone was walking through and saw me, let me in and then went to get a director. It turned out they had closed down for the day because of the weather, but no one had gotten in touch to tell me! The director apologized, told me to come back tomorrow, and that they would pay me for the day anyway since I had come all that way. So, I guess my employer missed my first day?

        Side note: HR rejected my timesheet for that week because I put that first day down on my timesheet, and they refused to pay me for that day. And I didn’t know the name of the director who had greeted me on my first day, so they wouldn’t believe my story. I let it go but that was kind of annoying.

    2. C Average

      This happened to me once. I was wearing heels, and I hit a patch of ice and just ate it. Snagged my nylons, skinned my palm, got mud on my skirt. I think I actually got blood on one of the interviewers when we shook hands. I did not get the job.

  29. paul

    I had to call in sick on the first day of a McJob I had in college; I’d gotten bitten by something or other in my sleep and woke up with my left eye swollen shot, oozing puss, and a giant blister on that side of my face. God, I was mortified. Brought a doctor’s note the following day after having the blister lanced at the student medical center. Even as crappy as that job was, it understood things like that can happen

  30. TootsNYC

    A friend of mine got a job as support staff at a big financial services firm, and subway delays made her 15 minutes late. They fired her before she started.

    1. SJ

      Ugh, that’s just so awful. Like, of course you should leave yourself extra-extra time to get to an interview or a new job, especially if you’re taking public transportation, but sometimes things are just SO messed up that even your big travel time buffer is ruined. What are you supposed to do, leave yourself four hours for a one-hour trip JUST IN CASE?

      1. KellyK

        What are you supposed to do, leave yourself four hours for a one-hour trip JUST IN CASE?

        And even then, you can’t win, because showing up an hour early doesn’t look good either.

        1. Syd

          I tend to give myself a huge buffer like this whenever I can (hello, anxiety). Then I just walk around or go to a coffee shop until it’s socially acceptable to show up.

    2. Venus Supreme

      This reminds me of a time when Toxic Job had a weekend-long event and I couldn’t make it due to extreme weather and the governor calling a State of Emergency. Public transportation was down.

      I called out and didn’t think twice, especially since I didn’t hold any important leadership positions for this event. OldBoss still gave me hell, though. (What did he want me to do, walk 35 miles in a blizzard?!)

  31. Retail HR Guy

    Regarding #5: please, please people, fire employees when you catch them stealing from the company. It is very hard to catch employees in the act, so a caught employee is likely one that has stolen from you many times before and in many ways. That “not a big deal” 15 minutes of pay they stole today will tomorrow turn into a fraudulent workers’ comp claim, faked expense reports, or a bunch of product vanishing off the back dock.

    If you need additional reasons, here’s a couple more: their lack of morals means you won’t be able to trust anything they say anymore, so what kind of productive working relationship can you have? Lastly, letting thieves off with a warning is a horrible sign to send to other employees, because you’re telling them that stealing from your company is a low-risk behavior–either they get away with it, or they get caught but nothing happens.

  32. Elizabeth West

    Re the written communication guy–I’ve seen many people for whom English is a first language who can’t write a coherent email to save their lives. Many of them could have benefited from a little skills training. For the OP’s guy, it should probably have an ESL component. If the company can either pay for it or find a free option that doesn’t suck, that would really help both them and the employee. If they really value this guy and he’s otherwise great, it’s worth it to invest in his success. I would be really happy to work for a company like that. :)

    1. Blue_eyes

      I was going to say this. It may not be an ESL issue, it could just be his communication preference. Don’t we all have the one coworker who will never respond to emails and always stops by your desk instead? For me at least, I actually like writing in my second language more than speaking sometimes because I can take the time to make sure I’m saying what I mean to say. Sometimes it’s harder to speak coherently off the cuff in another language.

      1. michelenyc

        My VP doesn’t respond to e-mails in the order received instead he does it by person. So when he was in Asia last week he finally started responding to emails I sent him a month ago when I first started my job. Everything he e-mailed me about had been resolved weeks ago. On top of that I found out 3 weeks into my new position that he had been in a serious motorcycle accident 10 years ago and has zero short term memory. He will completely forget a conversation he had with you 5 minutes earlier. I was so frustrated and then my wonderful assistant told me what the deal was so it is a bit easier to manage him now that I know what the issue is and that it is not me going crazy. Plus I take crazy notes.

  33. Jane D'oh!

    Several jobs ago, I was 50 minutes late getting to the facility for a pre-hiring drug test. The hiring manager had transposed two numbers in the address, and I had been looking miles in the wrong direction for a building that didn’t exist. (This was pre-GPS and pre-cell phone.) I was told that being an hour late was an automatic failure and I was “lucky” to have made it. Sometimes crappy things do happen.

  34. Long Time Reader First Time Poster

    My new manager at ExJob was 90 minutes late on his first day. He had just moved to the area and apparently didn’t bother to find out what traffic would be like at rush hour.

    Some other posters mentioned traffic as a legit excuse, but I see my example a little differently. This guy did zero research into what it would be like commuting. My city is well known for its awful traffic, he should have known that he wouldn’t be able to just zip into town like you do on a Saturday afternoon. He was just SO far off in his assessment, it made him look really bad.

    He turned out to be an employee that didn’t put much thought into anything he did, this was just our first peek at that.

    1. BPT

      I tend to agree with you – traffic doesn’t really seem to be a legit excuse for being late on the first day of work except in the rarest of occasions. I know people don’t want to be too early for work, but on your first day, I’d plan it so that I could be 30 minutes to an hour early if necessary to make sure I’m not late. On a more normal workday, I’m understanding of people doing the best they can to get in and some days they get there 15 minutes early, sometimes 15 minutes late. But on your first day, you plan for the worst case scenario.

      I’m even a little more understanding about oversleeping – if you couldn’t sleep because of nerves AND you took a sleep aid, sometimes your body just won’t wake up when you need it to. I’ve been there. As long as it’s not a recurring thing, I’m not going to hold you responsible for your body being unconscious. But assuming that you’re awake, traffic doesn’t really cut it for me on the first day.

    2. KellyK

      Yeah, I think it depends. I think you’re right about this guy, and being late by an hour and a half is *a lot.* If that was pretty normal for your area, then it was reasonable to expect him to allow extra time for it. But, if traffic is unusually horrible, I think that’s a valid reason to be late. It’s not realistic to plan an extra hour into your commute just in case an accident backs everything up.

    3. Gaia

      There are two types of traffic excuses in my book:

      “I was late because of normal traffic patterns I did not anticipate” – Not Okay.
      “I was late because of an unusual traffic situation I could not have anticipated” – Acceptable.

      The same is true for public transport. Late because you’re supposed to be here at 8 and the bus is scheduled to drop you off at 8:15? Nope. Late because you’re supposed to be here at 8 and the bus should have dropped you off at 7:50 but there was a delay so you didn’t get dropped off until 8:15? Okay.

  35. Science!

    I was late to my first day of work, which was orientation. It was a complete mix up and entirely unintentional. The only communication I had of what time to show up was in an email that was sent 2 months earlier, all of the subsequent communications just specified the day and not the time. I just assumed a normal starting time. On top of that, my husband (and SAHD) had to make an emergency trip down to our previous state (a 11 hour drive) to deal with our house down there and returned home at 7am on the day I was supposed to start work. I let him sleep before taking on child watch of our 1 year old.

    Turns out my new place of employment starts early, so orientation begins at 7:30am and I was supposed to show up some time before that so they could walk me to the correct room. I was mortified but I told the coordinator of orientation that I would absolutely come back the next time they had an orientation to make up my missed portion and everyone else thought it was funny. Where I work, most people make their own hours, so I’m never “late” unless I miss a meeting. As long as I meet my project requirements and get the work done no one cares (and I’m salaried exempt so I usually work >40 hours a week anyway).

  36. Girasol

    #1 I was late on a first day. I allowed 75 minutes for a 45 minute drive. It snowed half an inch unexpectedly and with so little snow people drove like maniacs. The freeway was a string of pile-ups. It took two and a half hours to get to first-day orientation. As Alison says, sometimes it’s just bad luck. That said, if the fellow oversleeps again anytime soon it would be worth more attention.

  37. Syd

    I live in NYC so it’s not uncommon in my office for people to be 10-15 minutes late once every two weeks due to train/bus issues. It’s the people who are 45-90 minutes late twice a week that are troublesome… We all know the trains can go kaput at any time, so most of us have learned to just go ahead and leave our homes 30 minutes early to deal with it. But you’ve always got those couple of people who somehow think if public transportation is the reason they’re late, they never have to plan around it and shouldn’t be held liable.

  38. MissDisplaced

    40 Minutes Late: Yeah, I’d tend to give it a pass just this once. It is a bit of a lame excuse (as opposed to being stuck in gridlock or something out of their control) but then again, first days can be nerve wracking for a lot of people trying to get into a new morning routine. Plus, he did call. But I would definitely watch and see if this is a pattern.

  39. Boss Cat Meme

    I would have to agree with people who say that problems occur that are completely out of your control. Believe me, I could tell you some craziness. But the real test is how well people are able to respond to these problems and find solutions. You can be the lightning rod or the lightning bolt. Do you take control and fix what you need to in an efficient way, or do you let sometimes minor problems balloon into major drama?

    I have worked with people who treat minor everyday problems like it’s the worst disaster of their lives, and others who are going through the worst time of their lives cool as a cucumber at the office. It’s frustrating to see people seemingly throw up their hands when it comes to managing their own lives. I’m not talking about major catastrophes or accidents either but people who take small incidents and make them into huge problems all on their own. You just wish you could say to them, “Why not just do x or y and then it will be solved?” For example, one woman called out because she said her car door was frozen. Being a Wisconsin native, I told her what to do to fix it. Well, then she had to call her husband, and then she had to go here, and then she had to do that, and if she couldn’t reach her friend she was going to do this, and I finally stopped her and said, “Look, just do THIS, first and when you get your door open, you can drive to work and you’ll only be a little late and it’s not a big deal.”

    I know all kinds of unexpected disasters happen to ALL of us, but I would rather depend on a person (or not) who can find solutions to their problems. I mean, that IS what it means to manage your life, right?

  40. Chelsea

    I wish Allison would pick a different website to periodically post to than Inc.com – I’m not about to pay for access to their website but I do so enjoy reading Allison’s responses :(

    1. President of the Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club

      Just disable your adblocker temporarily and re-load the site and you’ll be able to read it without paying for access. :)

  41. Dzhymm

    Re #1: I had the opposite happen. I was told to show up at 9AM for my first day. I was running few minutes late and was hoping that it wouldn’t be a problem… only to get to the office and there’s hardly anybody there, certainly not the admin or my new boss. They eventually drifted in and things got underway, but that was a bit awkward. Not as awkward as another job I had previously, where I showed up for my first day and NOBODY in the office knew what to do with me. I was working in the East Coast office but the rest of my group worked in the West Coast office… and my boss had done NOTHING to arrange office space or a computer or anything for me…

    1. Evan Þ

      That happened to me too! It was a startup, I was the summer intern, and I was apparently the only one who would voluntarily get to work before 9:30 or so.

  42. Annie

    Let it go this time but be on the lookout for other “over-excited” / can’t handle stimulating situations and then recognise this as the start of the pattern.

  43. GrandBargain

    #4. Something in the way you describe the situation at your old company makes it seem possible the company is investigating serious incidents or behaviors. If that is really what was behind your departure, and if you do want to let them know, it might be worth talking to an attorney. Your conversations with the company would not be legally protected. It might be sensible to have an indemnification or hold-harmless agreement from the company that would protect you from any liability. In that agreement, the company would release you from any liability to the company itself, and would also agree to pay any attorney’s fees or judgments that any third party might secure against you based on the information you relate.

    1. Jerry Vandesic

      If the OP is willing to speak with former employer, they need to ask to receive the questions beforehand via email. The will help minimize the chance that the OP is ambushed.

  44. k

    Sometimes things happen and people are late. If it’s a one-time thing I would caution against an overzealous reaction. In a job many years ago, a coworker who commuted quite far by train was very late because someone had been hit by a train, causing serious delays. Boss actually made her find a news story about it to prove she wasn’t lying. Everyone thought it was insane and Boss had a much worse reputation around the office from then on.

  45. Nolan

    A few years ago I moved from a car-centric area to a major city with public transit. I was working retail and had transferred to a new location in the city. The transfer was pushed through kind of last minute, and as a result I only had a day or two to get my stuff across state lines and into my new place between my last day at the old location and my first day at the new one. So I did not have time to go there before my actual first day.

    Well, I knew roughly how long the commute was going to take, and knew which trains I needed to get there, and I gave myself an extra 40ish minutes. The store was a short block away from a major station, and I was semi-familiar with the area in general.

    I stepped off the train right on schedule, but accidentally left the station from the opposite exit I needed to. So I spent 20 min wandering around trying to find my new store, about six blocks east of where I needed to be. And while I had a smartphone, this was right after Android made free Maps a thing, and my next upgrade was a couple months away, so I had maps up on my phone’s browser, but that didn’t really help to get my bearings.

    Eventually I called the store, and after a while my new manager was able to point me in the right direction. After all was said and done, instead of being 30 min early, I was 15 minutes late! But after that I became one of the most punctual employees there, and we all had a good laugh over it.

  46. NicoleK

    #1. Same job; I canceled an interview at the last minute and called in sick on my first day.
    It was a frigid day. I locked my keys and purse in the car with the car running. I didn’t have a spare on me and had to go next door to a gas station and borrow their phone to call and cancel my interview at the last minute. I rescheduled and made it to the interview with no issues. They offered me a position and I accepted. The weekend before I was to start new job, I came down with a terrible cold. So I called in sick on my first day. I did show up to work on my second day, coughed the entire time, and went through half a box of kleenex. Things worked out fine, I stayed at the company for 4.5 years.

  47. LizM

    My husband was a week late to his first day of a job once…

    We had a vacation planned. When he accepted the offer, he negotiated that he could work for 2 weeks, then take this week vacation ,then start his new job. So 3 weeks between accepting the offer and starting.

    Somehow wires got crossed between the person he negotiated his start date with and HR, and HR thought he was started 2 weeks after accepting the offer. We got a call while we were about 3,000 miles away wondering why he wasn’t in the office.

    Luckily, this exchange had happened over email so he was able to show where the company had agreed to a start date a week later than what HR had on their paperwork.

  48. Emma

    Everyone’s talking about how sometimes things happen so you should forgive being late on your first day, and I mostly agree, but with two caveats:
    -if it’s a problem a mature adult should’ve been able to anticipate and fix (normal traffic, for one; not waking up on time for another), that’s a red flag.
    -if they are entirely unapologetic OR treat it like some breathless tale of martyrdom, that’s also a red flag.

    Shit happens, sure, but there are ways to handle a lot of your shit so it doesn’t impact other people, and also generally when that impact is unavoidable, one is apologetic about it. I’m not saying “fire immediately because Hepsibah couldn’t set her alarm,” but it’d definitely have me keeping a sharp eye on them for patterns.

    Forgive the first time? Sure. If they’re late every day for two weeks? Nope.

    Also, at some point, even if the excuse is legit, it can be an indication of bad fit. If I need you in at 8, and you just cannot make it in at that time, we might have to part ways. Doesn’t mean you are a horrible person, necessarily, but it does mean you’re not right for that job – and that’s okay.

    And, as someone with a sleep disorder, I sympathize greatly with sleep problems and being unable to get one’s ass up in the morning. I really do. But if that’s a major problem for you, you need to take ownership of it and deal with it. Maybe that means negotiating a different start time or not taking jobs requiring waking up early. Maybe it requires actually informing your boss you have a sleep disorder. But I do get a little sick of people tossing out excuses like they expect everyone else to just have endless patience with them – at some point, yes, you are responsible for taking care of the issues in your own life, whatever that looks like. It is not fair of you to decide to slack off, or to make everyone else deal with your chronic lateness, or whatever.

    My general rule of thumb is that, unless we’re talking truly uncontrollable stuff here (illness, kids and the weird shit they get up to, public transportation issues, #$%^*&@ I-95), if I’ve heard the same excuse from you more three times, especially in short order, you lose most of my sympathy. At that point, it’s a pattern that you should be taking steps to deal with.

  49. KH

    #2 – I was the “non-native language” employee when I lived and worked in Japan a few years back.

    I spoke reasonably well when I moved there and was essentially fluent after 15 years. Let me tell you, even after 15 (FIFTEEN) years, writing emails in Japanese was still very hard. I could get my point across, but it was not something that could be presentable to a customer – I know that there was quirky grammar and non-native speech patterns that would make it difficult for a native speaker to read.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is – be realistic in your expectations. Not everyone has a knack for picking up languages and improvement can take a long time. Language is also harder to acquire as one grows older – expect slower progress for older folks. (I know lots of people – Japanese and other nationalities – who came to the US after age 25 or so and they still haven’t lost their accents. People I know who came here before that age have much more mild accents and more natural speech.

  50. Milton Waddams

    It’s important as a manager not to develop a clock fetish — work should be based on demand, with times as useful tools, not based on time itself. Is there really work that must be done at 9am that becomes impossible at 9:40am? Those are some fairly tight margins — is it really wise to schedule that way? I would assume most folks would rather schedule tasks by the day or at least the hour, rather than the minute — if given the opportunity.

    Even in customer-facing positions, an employee who shows up punctually at 9am to stare into space until the first customer arrives at 10am is no more useful than the employee who shows up 40 minutes late yet is ready by the same time. Yet often schedules are not based on demand cycles, or if they are, it is to just place the employee perpetually and unpredictable on call rather than to design a reasonable schedule that has some consistency and stability, yet enough give built-in to allow for flexible start and end times.

    Schedules that are predictable without being tyrannical are a great way to boost employee morale.

    1. James

      I would disagree with you about the customer-facing position. Having someone at the store/counter/telephone/whatever at the scheduled time is critical, for several reasons. First, it’s what you promised, and integrity should never be downplayed. Second, particularly in positions where the customer can see the employee, not having someone there can affect your image or even bottom line–if they don’t see someone in the store, or if no one has unlocked the doors or the like, the customer won’t shop there. Third, there is other stuff an employee can be doing rather than looking off into space. I’ve yet to see a retail outfit that doesn’t need to be swept, the shelves restocked, or the like. (I worked a few jobs like this, back in high school/college.)

      All that said, I fully agree that being late once–with a not-outlandish reason and full acknowledgement that it was wrong–should not be the death-knell of one’s employment even in such positions!

      1. Candi

        When I worked at a family-owned dollar store, I started an hour before close because stocking, getting the till ready, cleaning, starting on balloon bouquets, etc., had to be done -and this business was often close to the red. The extra time to get things done is that important.

        If you see an employee staring off into space early in the day, they are that good, and/or the night staff are that good, or someone might be skimping on their work.
        (My boss would let me read if no customers were in the store.)

  51. Ayshe

    I was actually late on my first day of a new position at my current job.

    Some back story. My previous role was a 4pm-1am shift. I loved it but I was bored of the work. I never needed to set an alarm to make sure I was up on time but I always set one for like 2pm just in case my body decided it needed extra sleep. My new position was a 11-8 training shift. My issue was not that I was nervous or excited so I couldn’t sleep. My issue was that on my phone when I set my alarm, in all honesty I forgot to click the am button so it was still on pm. My mom woke me up at noon and I FREAKED OUT (I abhor being late) I immediately called my team leader freaking out while getting dressed. She, thankfully, understood. I don’t think I was late again for the next 3 months

Comments are closed.