what to do about a chronically late employee

A reader writes:

Time is of the essence with our business and so we emphasize punctuality. We have a low-performing employee who is under performance review and is habitually late, as well as a few other late employees who are otherwise stellar performers. These top performers also work after hours, and the low-performing one does not. How does we handle the first person’s lateness without being perceived as showing favoritism/unfair treatment when we don’t make a big deal of it with the others?

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:

  • New employee won’t stop talking about her old job
  • Should I check with a candidate before I give a reference for them?
  • Reapplying to a company whose offer I turned down five years ago
  • How can I talk about achievements in management/leadership roles on my resume?

{ 134 comments… read them below }

  1. LinesInTheSand*

    I wasn’t clear on the nature of the timeliness required in #1. Is it a coverage-based job, in which case every instance of lateness affects everyone else, or is it a job with tight deadlines, in which case after-hours work can help and is reasonable?

    Does it change the answer if the poor performer could conceivably get their job done by putting in extra time?

    1. KHB*

      If the low performer claims that she’s doing her best but just can’t get everything done in a reasonable amount of time, it makes sense to require that she be at work during the same hours that you are, so you can make sure she’s truly working during those hours. Similar to how you’d give a low performer less leeway to work from home.

      But that only gets into strict-punctuality territory if she’s showing up hours late, like working 12-8 instead of 9-5.

    2. Fikly*

      I was also unclear on this. If this is a coverage based job, and you have high performers are late, thus either meaning coverage is lacking, or other people are having to provide that coverage, they are not high performers, because they are failing a key job function.

    3. Antilles*

      My read on it is that the “time is of the essence” is more of a “clients give us projects with tight turnarounds” – like you sometimes get client requests at 8:00 AM that are due by noon, so if you’re regularly 45 minutes late, you’re not meeting deadlines.

      1. KHB*

        That makes sense – and makes it easy to explain why you’re treating different employees differently: “Camilla can reliably start a project at 9:00 and get it done by noon, but Lavinia can’t. Therefore, it’s not a big deal for Camilla to amble in at 8:45, but Lavinia needs to be here at 8:00 on the dot.”

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Based on the fact that OP states the high performers stay late, I’m leaning towards the job not being coverage based, just having tight coverage deadlines. In this case, OP needs to focus on the late low performers. If someone is constantly late in the morning, but stays to complete work, doesn’t miss important meetings and isn’t causing anyone else problems in doing their own job, OP needs to get over it. Unless a job relies on you being at your desk from specific time A to specific time B, and the lateness isn’t unreasonable (like someone is supposed to be in at 8 and comes in at noon) then it’s just not that big of a deal.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        It looks sounds like OP is asking if it’s OK to ignore the high performers’ lateness whilst cracking down on the low performer’s. She doesn’t have a huge issue with bums in seats at a set time in and of itself – her issue is with one person who is struggling to get their work done and working less than they are expected to because they’re always late and don’t make up the time, which seems an entirely reasonable thing to address!

    5. Burned Out Supervisor*

      It could be that the company is very conservative and views punctuality as a reason for low performance (not saying that’s correct, but it is what it is). You have to ask yourself, would I still move forward with a PIP if the employee was on time every day. If you would, punctuality is still important, but I wouldn’t dwell on it as the reason for their inability to perform to expectations.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        But if you always arrive late and don’t stay late to make up your hours, you are working less than anticipated (and paid for), and that can impact the amount of work you can physically get done…

    6. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yes, I feel like they should think about whether they really need to “emphasize punctuality” or if it’s more about making sure people put in enough hours. If it’s the latter then that’s what they should tell the underperformer–that they aren’t putting in enough time to do what needs to be done. If they really need people to arrive on time, it seems like they should mention that to the high performers as well.

  2. AdAgencyChick*

    I hope OP1 ended up firing this employee, but maybe I’m just projecting. I had a chronically late person who was also a mediocre performer, and he fought me tooth and nail on coming in on time. (I’m not talking 15 minutes late — I had to have conversations with him about how when he showed up an HOUR or more after normal start times, it meant other team members had to scramble to cover for him if a meeting happened in the first 90 minutes of the day.)

    Even to the end, I wasn’t sure I should fire him, simply because he was getting *some* work done and we have a chronic talent shortage in my industry, so I wasn’t sure how long it would take to replace him. Thank heaven for our wonderful HR person, who pushed me to do what needed to be done. It turns out he was a millstone around my neck, not someone helping us get the work done.

    I don’t enjoy firing people, but boy did things get better in the office after he was gone.

    1. TiffIf*

      Sounds like you could have benefited from a core hours policy for the company and a department or team standard that you must be at your morning meeting at x time.

      Even if problem employee is gone these things can still benefit your company and team going forward to make expectations clear.

      My company has core hours–if your job is not coverage based (such as customer support) then you may establish your own hours, with managerial approval as long as you are present during core hours, officially defined as 9:30-3:30 in your local time zone (may be slightly different if you are a remote worker on a team in a different time zone.
      I have co workers who come in at 7:30 and leave at 3:30, I come in at 9 and leave at 5.
      Additionally the first meeting of my day is at 9:15 and I am required to be there. (Yes there is flexibility around and accident on the highway or oh no my kid missed the bus and I had to take him to school so running late or whatever.)

    2. lilsheba*

      Sounds fair to me. There is no reason to be late all the time, every day. Just get your crap together and show up on time, period. I always get flak for being early!

  3. Dust Bunny*

    OP2: “She is also printing out orientation pages and telling me what needs to be updated when she was already told what the updates were.”

    Wait, does this mean your orientation packet is outdated and you’re just giving verbal updates? She sounds obnoxious, but update your materials if that’s what’s going on here.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      And then tell her to knock it off right now, if she wants to keep this position. I guarantee you all your other employees are already tired of her, so don’t abuse their goodwill and self-restraint by not addressing this promptly and sternly.

      1. Autumnheart*

        I have to wonder how long OP’s orientation period lasts. Orientation at my company is 3 days long. If this is the new employee’s first or second week, then a little more patience is called for. Yes, it might be a little obnoxious, but it’s hard to be a new person, and to figure out where your existing experience fits in with the new place. If the employee’s been around a couple months by now, then sure–have a conversation with them.

        1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          I think a better way to figure out how closely your experience matches the new environment is to ask questions and listen. Telling your new colleagues about how you’re used to doing it doesn’t achieve that goal.

        2. Fikly*

          She’s not trying to figure out how the new place works – she’s telling them how her old place worked, and how new place should be like old place. That’s massively problematic, because she cannot have any context as to why new place works the way it does.

          1. Autumnheart*

            It’s not “massively problematic”. It’s a little annoying.

            I mean, really, people. Orientation. Maybe give someone a whole week to work out their awkwardness before slamming the door on their future at the company.

            1. andy*

              Agreed. It is sort of thing socially awkward people do. It is not actually harmfull, unless other place working differently is an insult.

              It does not mean it is not appropriate to react, sure it is. But communicating annoyances is better than assuming worst possible interpretation or completely writing off people who don’t get subtle hints.

            2. Guy*

              For. Real. We have a new person in my job. It’s only been a couple weeks and people are annoyed at them asking questions and framing things in context of their old job. Give them a break. They just started.

          2. Senor Montoya*

            She’s new, could be anxious, could be trying to connect her previous experience to current job, could be trying to show she is an eager go-getter (I know…). All sorts of reasons to be charitable about it. But also, to let her know that she has to stop, because she’s making a poor impression.

            She may not even be aware of how often she’s doing it. Speaking from personal experience here, when I was young and naive and an eager go-getter (I know, I know!), I went on and on about how we did things at Last Job. (Fortunately I was savvy enough to know that you don’t correct your new boss/colleagues until you’re sure they will appreciate it.) Until my boss very gently said, you know, Senor Montoya, you may not realize that you talk a lot about Last Job. But you’re at New Job now, not at Last Job.

            I was mortified. But I stopped doing it.

            1. Jedi Squirrel*

              Yep, totally agree. Different people have different personalities. And some of them rub us the wrong way. That’s life with other people.

            2. New AO*

              Ditto! I changed federal agencies, lots in common, but vastly different areas (think Disney World to Universal Studios). It can be hard to not compare old and new, but to keep bringing it up is a bit annoying. I learned to bite my tongue. It’s just about healed!

              1. Liz*

                When I worked for a food delivery service, the higher-ups hired a bunch of people from a similar company that had shut down. One guy constantly said “At OldJob we did this.” He stopped after a few reminders that OldJob went out of business.

            3. learnedthehardway*

              Agree – it’s possible the new employee is verbally processing the differences between this job and her last job, rather than trying to say things were done better at her prior employer, but it’s coming across badly and that should be pointed out to her.

            4. Sleve McDichael*

              That’s it! Socially awkward people will stop when told, so you owe it to them to say something. If they don’t stop, only then do you reframe them as rude instead of awkward.

    2. The Tin Man*

      This jumped out to me too, but I feel like it would be different if this were the only thing. It would also be different if she said something like “I’m being told places where the orientation pages are outdated compared to the current practices. Would it be helpful for me to keep track of those places so someone can circle back and update the manual?”

      Separate from the other problems this sounds to me more like misplaced initiative than a major problem.

      1. andy*

        Yep. In our team, we use new people to basically check documentation and had them tell us what did not worked. It is something old timers can’t really do, cause we know how to fix issues, so we do that without even realizing manual was not suffient.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          Bingo. I write those procedures, and I *love* it when the group I’m writing for has a new employee around to check my documents for accuracy and completeness.

    3. sofar*

      I read it as maybe they have an orientation handbook in a shared doc that gets updated regularly (and employees are given a heads-up when changes occur). But that this employee is relying on a print-out.

      We do similar things with various training handbooks, and, still, employees will be like, “That’s not what it says HERE in my printout from two months ago.” Even though we changed the online version, told everyone we changed it and have a blanket policy of, “These documents change, be sure you are looking at the shared online version for the latest updates.”

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        And this is why I think that all documents of this type should have the effective date in the footer, so there’s never any question if someone has the latest version.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yes, I have NO idea how we’d do any sort of version control without the date – and the current is always posted on the intranet and HR sends update notices if/when changes are made so you know you’re looking at the right one.

  4. Richard Hershberger*

    LW1: You aren’t Mom, who has to be scrupulously evenhanded in all things lest you be suspected of loving one of your children more than another. Indeed, if you love your low performer as much as your high performer, this will likely lead the high performer to look elsewhere.

  5. KHB*

    I’m confused about what OP1 means by “time is of the essence.” Either there’s a business-related reason why people need to be there at a particular time (to relieve people on the previous shift, to prepare to receive customers, etc.), or there’s not. If there is, then habitual lateness is a problem for everyone, high and low performers alike. An otherwise stellar performer might earn the leeway to be occasionally late, just as they might earn the goodwill to make up for any other occasional slip-up. But being late all the time is by definition a performance problem in such a role.

    1. Senor Montoya*

      Possibly stellar performers are able to get the work done quickly, even if they are not there at 9 am on the dot.

      1. KHB*

        If there’s nothing about the role that requires the work to be done at 9:00 AM on the dot (as opposed to 9:15 or 9:30), then the problem isn’t “you’re not here at 9:00 AM on the dot,” it’s “you’re not getting all your work done.”

        Again, this is assuming that the “habitual lateness” is on the order of 15-30 minutes, not hours and hours.

        1. MrsCHX*

          Low performer is not 10-20 minutes late per the letter writer. Hour(s) after a determined start time is insane.

          I’m in the office anywhere between 7 and 8 and leave between 4:30 and 5:30 most days. Some are long, some are short, I’m here *on time* if there’s something scheduled first thing.

          But as a high performer I’d be annoyed if I was told 7:45 isn’t okay, it must be 7:30 everyday, no matter what. Because that sounds like “butts in seat matter most” and my position doesn’t really match that mindset.

    2. Marthooh*

      I assume that means “The work has to be done today.” Alison didn’t directly address this, but the real issue is making sure the work does get done — and I notice the top performers stay after hours when needed. Maybe the chronically late employee isn’t aware of that, and needs to be told.

  6. Gaia*

    I’m a stickler for timeliness. If you work shift based hours, it drives me insane when people that report to me are late. That said, I’m going to keep that to myself and not let it impact an otherwise high performing employee that also stays late. But if you’re not high performing, this will be a final straw for me.

    It is completely fine to treat high performers differently than average or low performers. I think some people get caught up in this idea that they will be doing something wrong unless everyone bus treated exactly the same. But as long as you can justify why there are differences (and those reasons have nothing to do with favoritism or protected classes), it is totally fine!

  7. Uncle Bob*

    I am frustrated by companies/managers who won’t “show favoritism” to top performers. Top performers should get more leeway on things, they should be paid more, and they should be given more opportunities for advancement. Your goal should be to make choices that ensure that they are top performers. Too many times companies hide behind policies that handcuff managers and guess what – your top performers leave.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*


      All employees should be respected and spoken to with dignity at all times. But top performers get that extra wiggle room with regards to flexibly that they’ve also shown you they’re giving in both directions.

      My issue is really this person wants to show up when they please but leaves at their scheduled out time. That’s not acceptable. You have to give with your takes.

    2. Sarah N*

      Totally agree. It’s bad to show favoriatism to, say, your friend you go out for drinks with every Friday, or people who went to the same school as you, or your golfing foursome, or whatever other non-performance-based reasons one might have. It’s a good thing to make sure your top performers are being compensated appropraitely for that excellent performance, both in terms of their pay and their perks.

    3. Uncle Bob*

      Ugh I screwed up an edit but I meant to say “Your goal should be to make choices that ensure that they stay top performers.”

    4. She's One Crazy Diamond*

      This is exactly why I’m job-hunting. I’m tired of “equitable and fair” policies making it so that you get punished for being reliable and rewarded for doing the bare minimum.

  8. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    re: 2, “at my old job” – does LW have a way for employees to make suggestions? There are lots of workplaces where We Do Things This Way Because We Always Have, and it may not be obvious to a new starter whether that’s in play here.

    Like maybe it does make more sense to sort by client, and you only sort by job type because at first you only had two clients. The number of times I’ve encountered “oh yeah, we do XYZ because [computer program three IT generations ago] couldn’t support ABC” …!

    Or maybe you always send out invoices electronically on Thursdays because Mary works long hours on Friday so it’s the best day for her to process client queries – maybe half the company has no idea that’s why, but obediently schedules invoicing for Thursdays. Having some kind of process for challenging/questioning processes and procedures, and changing them up as necessary, is a sign of a healthy business.

    “At my old job we sorted our files by client.”
    “Here we sort by job type – please sort by job type for now, but you could put a suggestion in the Big Ideas Box and the Ideas Fairy will review it in the next cycle.”

    1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      “Having some kind of process for challenging/questioning processes and procedures, and changing them up as necessary, is a sign of a healthy business.”

      Agreed, but challenging processes when you’re still learning what they are (you’re still in orientation!) and have limited/no context really isn’t useful. It’s much the same as having someone explain how to fix your company in the first interview. Not a good look.

      1. Close Bracket*

        That’s the best time to challenge the status quo. An outsider’s perspective can really be valuable, if you are willing to listen. By the time someone has all the context, they have also lost the outsider perspective.

        1. WellRed*

          She could at least wait until she’s been there for a few days (weeks, months) before deciding her way is better.

        2. Mr. Shark*

          But if the person is coming in from outside the business, they don’t know what they don’t know. They may think that what they are suggesting is better, but it may be that what they are suggesting has been tried before, and didn’t work. Or there is a specific, good reason why they are doing it the way they are.
          I think they can make a note of it, and then a little down the road, if they see what they determined was a better way and understand the process with a bit of experience, then they can suggest a change.
          On AAM, everyone has talked over and over again about new people coming in and talking to much or making too many suggestions rather than shutting up and listening and learning.

      2. Wintermute*

        Yes and no. It really depends on context. In my job, even fresh in the door if you know ITIL and have worked other shops, you know the way a good shop ought to work. I spotted a major potential security hole fairly soon after starting when I was asked to do a routine task, everyone else was so used to it they never thought to ask “wait… is this a dangerous command stored someplace a lot of people could edit it to make it do bad things?”

        Now, IT is different here, ITIL, Agile Framework, Waterfall Model, there are lots of theoretical frameworks and a well-run company will use one of them, or a homegrown variant on one of them, but if you’ve knocked around the industry a while you can quite easily spot “THIS IS NOT RIGHT” even if you know nothing about the business, because you know it’s wildly out of standard or actually matches an “antipattern” (a destructive system design paradigm) that they explicitly warn you about in the courses for those framework certifications. I wouldn’t be surprised if other fields have their own versions of this, though.

      3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        That’s why it would be helpful to LW if there were a formal process for suggesting change. So it becomes “do it our way now, and go through the proper process to tell us what the better way might be”.

        Alison often has good scripts for “we can speak about XYZ later: for now we are talking about ABC”. People accept that best if they believe you will actually address XYZ later, and you stay on track better if you aren’t distracted by XYZ in the moment.

        I’m assuming the LW’s new hire isn’t highlighting safety/compliance issues, but more like “at my old job we trimmed the llamas’ hooves after we bathed them” which might be mere preference or might be an efficiency factor. “Er, you guys do know that alpaca shampoo is literally toxic to llamas, right?” is not something that can wait until after orientation or probation.

    2. Burned Out Supervisor*

      I worked with someone who was very aggressive about bringing up a particular perk they got at their old place of business. We’re a similarly sized company, but that perk would not be available to staff any time soon (it’s just a culture thing). It was even discussed when she interviewed, so it’s not like I dangled a carrot or anything. It became extremely frustrating addressing her comments about it (she would bring it up as a solution for everything) because it just wasn’t going to happen (I mean, anything’s possible, but I just seriously doubt it). It got to the point where I wouldn’t even respond to it and nearly got close to asking her why she she even left a place with such a personally important perk. I was kind of glad when she moved on.

    3. Meagain*

      Y’all have obviously never worked in an academic science lab. We had a jar for new people every time the said … in my old lab….

      Didn’t matter who it was-post doc, undergrad, grad student … in my old lab…

  9. ShortT*

    OP#1: Is any of the top performers doing extra work because the chronically late person is late and works slowly?

    1. sharon g*

      I would like to know that, too. I worked with a someone who was always late/left early/called in sick. I was stuck with a lot of her work, with no raise or praise. Irritated the hell out of me.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Or could what the late low-performer be responsible for be the morning opening tasks in the process that everybody else builds on through the day? In which case low performer being late then makes everybody else late for the rest of the day?

      (I once worked somewhere that had a morning report that looked at everything that came in overnight and sorted it out to the places where it matched current tasks best. This report basically set up everybody’s day – and was supposed to be in the boxes by 9:00 (and the person responsible for the report was expected to be at work and ready to start by 8:30 for that to happen), but yup all loyal AAM readers know this was the person who was always late, so other people who depended on that report started creeping in late to make up for the fact they were always having to stay late to finish things up – because that morning report was always late. It was a viscous cycle that lasted until report person was terminated for chronic underperformance.

    3. cncx*

      yup, i had a job where i had to work later literally every day either because an underperformer didn’t show up at all or showed up but didn’t or couldn’t do a complete job. we were an international company so i had to finish stuff up enough for the office seven time zones back to pick up and pass back to me the next business day.

  10. Fikly*

    New people really shouldn’t be making suggestions until they have been at new place for long enough to have context for why a different way might be better. Orientation is not long enough.

    I’d say a minimum of three months. If you do not understand that different work places work differently for valid reasons, and this is not your second job, this is likely a sign of larger judgement problems.

    1. Annony*

      It also depends on the level you are coming in at and the type of suggestions you are making though as well as how many people would be affected. If you are a subject matter expert and want to change something that should only affect you, I don’t see why you can’t make that suggestion right away. If you are entry level, definitely not. And if it affects the workflow of other people, wait and see how everything works at this particular place before trying to change anything.

      1. James*

        I know of at least one person in my office that was specifically hired to revamp certain processes. He was making suggestions before he was hired. Dude wrote the regs those processes were based on, and the regulatory guidance manual, so folks tended to listen.

    2. Close Bracket*

      When you are fresh at the company is best time to challenge the status quo. An outsider’s perspective can really be valuable, if existing people are willing to listen. By the time someone has all the context, they have also lost the outsider perspective.

      1. Annony*

        I think the phrasing is part of what is rubbing the OP the wrong way. It may go over better if it was a question instead of a statement. “Have you considered doing X instead of Y? In my experience, it is faster without sacrificing quality.”

        1. Antilles*

          Agreed. Also, whether you’re providing reasons or just a blunt “XYZ used to do it differently”.
          ‘My last job did our invoicing on Wednesdays’ is a much stronger and more annoying statement than ‘At my last job, I found a bunch of clients liked to get invoices mid-week to give them more time to review, so we’d try to finish them on Wednesdays’.

          1. 'Tis Me*

            If somebody can provide a compelling business case for why doing something differently may work better/definitely achieved results elsewhere, ignoring that because the person is new is a bit silly. It may be the case that due to other factors, the status quo works best for their new company – but part of the reason they were hired is presumably their experience.

            But there is a huge difference between “At old company we did X.” and “At old company we investigated metric P, then moved from doing Y like you to X; the net benefit was F, from memory. Is that a change you’ve also considered?” Even that isn’t something I would want to interrupt orientation with – I’d make a note of it and either speak to my line manager or the trainer at the next break, rather than interrupt the flow.

            (I also have the self-awareness that I have checked in with the people running training that I had some knowledge of to make sure I wasn’t dominating the conversation or group activities, and was genuinely being helpful by drawing on my prior knowledge.)

        2. NW Mossy*

          Or even just “oh, it’s interesting that that you do X – how did that come about?” I ask this of my direct reports often because they have way more historical context for why they do things a specific way than I do, and keeping my inquiry value-neutral makes it clear that I’m just fact-finding, not deciding or implementing a change.

          The key is that the words and the tone should communicate “I’m curious about this and interested in learning the why behind it,” not “I have already judged the situation and decided how it should be.”

      2. BRR*

        I agree but I do think you need at least some context. I am less likely to listen if someone doesn’t at least have a partial understanding of the why something is done a certain way (and after typing that I will be doing some self examination).

  11. Bunny*

    Is time of the essence or punctuality of the essence? Because if they aren’t missing appointments/meetings/deadlines punctuality is not of the essence, time management is. If you have determined that they have an appropriate amount of work, it is being completed well and they are meeting their workplace obligations who cares if they come in a little late? It’s silly to make them be in at 9AM sharp so they can surf Facebook and drink coffee for 30 minutes.

    However if they aren’t then it is an issue and that seems to be the issue here.

  12. Boudica*

    As a verbal processor, I definitely have stuck on the “we did it this way” but only because I was figuring out how it was different and verbally reinforcing I’d no longer do it that way. I very much told my trainer that it would go down dramatically in a few days-it was for my own highlighting of the differences

    I also apologize a lot because I can’t remember that sort of thing if I don’t repeat it a few times/ “old place did this” “new place does this”/”this is the part I need to pay special attention to get it right”

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I was thinking that as well (I definitely talk to myself a lot), but we’re missing some context.

      If the employee is saying it to no one in particular, that’s less of an issue and more of a “please keep it down” situation.

      If she’s saying it loudly to others with the implication that Old Company did it better than new company, that’s a more serious issue.

      Allison’s wording gives the employee the opportunity to indicate which it is.

  13. Workfromhome*

    #1 Is the employee performance issue related to being late? If it isn’t then focusing on their lateness isn’t really helpful. Its just extra annoying because they are a low performer.

    Either punctuality matters for job performance or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t and you focus on it you are going to send the wrong message to your high performers. If one of them hears Jane was fired because she was always late it might led them to question if they will be fired for being late even though they stay late and perform really well.

    If its not being late that is the issue but performance then focus on performance. That way if you do need to let the low performer go the message is “if you don’t get the work done you’ll be let go” and all your high performers will have nothing to worry about.

  14. Not All*

    I had such mixed feelings about the new employee pointing out things were done differently at her last company the first time it ran & I still do. On the one hand…yup it’s annoying & my usual expectation is to wait at least a few months to learn the lay of the land. On the other hand, I came into a new job & started doing a lot of this myself because what I really wanted to do was scream “oh dear god you know this is in direct violation of executive order/federal purchasing regulations/CFRs/etc?!” Stuff so egregious that federal employees actually HAVE lost their jobs over it. If course, I was told I was just negative and they’d always done it that way.

    I left as soon as I could. Which, in federal service, was not nearly soon enough but at least before the OIG started investigating.

    1. James*

      Even if it’s not, having a new person can bring fresh ideas to a group or company, and that’s often a very good thing. I get that it’s often annoying–just today I had a coworker rant for 20 minutes about how I should do a process, despite my repeated statements of “I get what you’re saying, but I have no control over this”. On the other hand, I also had a coworker who proposed a new piece of equipment that made a process faster, safer, and cheaper.

      Shutting folks down is a good way to stagnate. It means that you have no new ideas coming in. You have to strike the right balance, though. Maybe you could find something useful the new worker is saying, and say “That sounds like it would be really effective here, too! You should suggest that to our manager!” It shows you’re listening, that you’re evaluating the ideas, and that you’re not the right one to talk to.

      1. Not All*

        Yes. And my current office (which I *love*) is very proactive about constantly asking new people (and long-term ones) for ideas on how to do things better. There can be a lot of it in the delivery a cheerful “I’ve seen it done Y in the past and it seemed really effective…is there a reason we do X here?” is usually taken pretty well.

        The office I referenced was dysfunctional in a myriad of ways from the “bring me another rock” manager to people being reprimanded for asking any question (even just clarification) that could be remotely seen as anything other than rah-rah-rah about every single idea/process to 2 of the 4 members of the management team being horribly misogynistic. I’m not sure how much money it would take to make me work for that agency again…but I know it’s a lot more than anything on the federal GS pay table!

  15. Buttons*

    There is nothing worse than making a rule to address one person’s bad behavior. People hate it, and they always know who caused the rule and they are always annoyed that management didn’t just deal with the problem person instead of punishing everyone.
    Reward and recognize good behavior and address bad behavior. As Alison said, high performers have earned their trust. Low performers don’t get the same perks, trust, or benefits as the high performers.

    1. Just Another Manic Millie*

      Sometimes management can’t deal with the problem person because the problem is that the problem person is gone. At a previous job, we were given our paychecks on Thursday afternoon. The paychecks were dated Friday, so we could deposit them before work on Friday. One Friday, an employee called in to say that she was never coming back. She had already cashed her paycheck by then. The owner was furious that she had stolen one day’s pay from the company, so, in order that it would never happen again, the paychecks were thereafter given out on Friday.

      We did not have direct deposit, because the controller was a lazy piece of garbage who told the owner that in order for us to have direct deposit, every single employee would have to have an account at the same bank. If I had dared tell the owner that that was not the case, he would not have believed me. In fact, he would have gotten very angry at me for daring to contradict the controller.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        That kind of stuff has a long history. I had a friend who worked for a major financial/technology consulting company back in the early 90s, the kind of place that helps you streamline your business processes to save money/time/other resources. He was “on the beach” between projects (he was mostly out of town during the week) and said he’d meet me for lunch after he stopped by the office to pick up and then deposit his paycheck.

        “Hold up, you don’t have direct deposit?”
        “Yeah, it’s not an option at this company.”
        “Don’t you help OTHER companies design/select/implement electronic payment procedures?”
        “Yep, all the time.”
        “So how come you can’t do it for yourselves?”
        “Senior partner doesn’t trust it.”

  16. WellRed*

    We’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: treating everyone fairly/equally does not mean treating everybody exactly the same.

  17. anon4this*

    What if all your “high” performers are men and your “low” performers are all female/minorities/protected class? I’m kind of surprised AAM doesn’t ask or mention this, but def check this before acting.
    Also…you “emphasize” punctuality, but your highest most outstanding performers are not/never on time? Meaning the emphasize on punctuality is…pointless? And timeliness doesn’t actually matter if your performing “high” enough… but it does matter when your not?
    And AAM’s advice was to blatantly show favoritism to your higher performing employees because its “reasonable” (to inconsistently handle issues based solely on current performance)?
    Yikes all around. Why not treat everyone the same and reward higher performers with a bonus/additional time off/various incentive? And just fire the “late” employee you that is not meeting expectations? It feels like you’re looking for an excuse (tardiness) when they’re really just bad at their job.

    1. Blueberry*

      “What if all your “high” performers are men and your “low” performers are all female/minorities/protected class?”

      Why is this situation always seen as so likely? People never cite the reverse as a hypothetical (because they never think it could happen).

      1. anon4this*

        Because it doesn’t matter if the situation is reversed. Men are not a protected class, especially compared to women, who are paid less on the dollar.
        I never expressed the likelihood of this happening, just wanted to make sure it wasn’t happening in this situation. I mean, who knows? Very few details were offered.

        1. hbc*

          Neither women nor men are not a protected class, sex/gender is. Men are just as protected as women are in the workplace in terms of discrimination law.

          This situation doesn’t change at all if you divvy up genders or races or whatever how you describe. Yes, you’re slightly more likely to have a lawsuit or complaint if the high performers happen to be one type and the low performer is another, but if you have justification for your different treatment based on performance, it’s very unlikely to go anywhere. It’d be different if it was a group of 30 and all the supposed “low performers” just happened to be of one type, but I can say from experience that handling a claim like this is relatively easy compared to continuing to manage the poor performer.

        2. Hanna*

          Men are not a protected class,

          What? No, that’s completely untrue. If a female manager decides one day that she no longer wants any men on her team and fires all of them, that is 100% illegal, just as it would be if the genders were reversed.

          1. anon4this*

            Ish. The civil rights act, equal pay and title VII all kind of differ and point to different points being made. But none of this was made to protect white straight males, even if they’re technically counted as part of the protection under race and gender.
            However, generally speaking, when the claimant is not a member of a minority class, federal courts differ with regard to what the victim must prove to have a prima facie case.
            There’s really no 100% anything in american law.

              1. anon4this*

                Huh? It’s like you’ve never heard of affirmative action, reverse discrimination/sexism, etc and think these legal issues are black and white and 100% treated consistently in the court system. They are not. For example, when the Federal Government had to consciously hire more women because it was so male-dominated, plenty of white males applicants were denied “equal” opportunity and had no legal recourse for this.
                My statement was to say broadly that the Federal Court have differed in their opinions regarding all of this. This is a true statement and backed up by tons of cases since Affirmative Action and Reverse Discrimination came on the scene in the 1970s/1980s. I’m not going to quote hundreds of employment cases but there are plenty (especially in the 1990s where Reverse Discrimination cases more than doubled).
                Instead of demanding quotes from statements you don’t like, maybe try reading about it or providing an actual opinion that’s more than “You are wrong and can’t back it up. Quote something!”
                Also, this is getting way off track and not helpful to OP so I’m not going to continue responding.

                1. Hanna*

                  In other words, “I have nothing, so I’ll just tell you to do your own research.”

                  Thanks for confirming.

                2. anon4this*

                  To Hanna’s comment above: “Although a plaintiff may prove a claim of discrimination through direct or circumstantial evidence, some courts take the position that if a white person relies on circumstantial evidence to establish a reverse discrimination claim, he or she must meet a heightened standard of proof. ” This quote is directly lifted from the EEOC.gov website. This quote exists on their website because of the inconsistent handling of these cases by the Federal Courts (some felt whites were discriminated against, others did not agree, etc.).
                  There are many other instances and court decisions which reflect this inconsistency.
                  And that’s just for “race” Hanna. There’s plenty of cases handled inconsistently for sexism, perceived sexual orientation and religion/culture.

                3. Hanna*

                  You left out the quote that follows it, which states the actual legal standard of the EEOC:

                  The Commission, in contrast, applies the same standard of proof to all race discrimination claims, regardless of the victim�s race or the type of evidence used. In either case, the ultimate burden of persuasion remains always on the plaintiff.

                  You stated that men are not a legally protected class. You are wrong, according to your own source.

                4. anon4this*

                  I said “ish”. Race is a factor that can be considered when gender is involved. In my example, a “white” male could be left with a higher standard of proof than “non-white” males.
                  The federal courts have been inconsistent with how they’ve treated this.
                  The EEOC is a plaintiff in these law cases, not a judge actually deciding federally enforceable laws, so it doesn’t matter how a plaintiff/the EEOC chooses to proceed with burden of proof because they aren’t the ultimate deciders.
                  “You stated that men are not a legally protected class. You are wrong, according to your own source.”
                  I’ve responded to this numerous times. It’s not a black and white, right as rain issue. Men aren’t just “protected” in employment law, no questions asked. The race of that man is a consideration and has been treated inconsistently by the Federal Courts.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Posted up above (and suggesting this because I lived it) what if the low performer has some starting task that all the high performers need completed before they can start their day? If so, and they are staying late constantly to finish up things then it may also make sense if they have started tricking in late to compensate.

  18. Tasha*

    Regarding #4: I twice turned down a job with a company, accepted the third time a few years later. No hard feelings. Then I left after six years, worked elsewhere, and returned. If you’re a good employee, the previous “rejections” shouldn’t matter.

  19. azvlr*

    #1 – OP didn’t specific in their letter how late their employee is and the employee’s attitude about being late. A friend of mine has a long bus commute. The bus runs infrequently and is unreliable, so sometimes she misses the bus and she lives in terror that it will be her undoing.
    Her job is a call-center type, so she needs to be there on time, but on the other hand, frequently stays late (and misses the return bus as a result) when lengthy calls come in at the end of her shift.
    She is conscientious, hard-working and reasonably good at her job. If I were in her shoes, my stress about being late would have an effect on my performance.

    OP, it’s worth learning the root cause of the lateness. If you have any flexibility and feel they deserve it, you should offer it.

    1. Anon for this*

      We once had a stellar employee who was almost always late for the first meeting of the day, regardless of whether it was at 9 AM or 1 PM. After we talked with them about it, things improved slightly, but then regressed. About a decade after we hired them, the problem disappeared suddenly after they were diagnosed with and treated for a sleep-cycle disorder that they didn’t know they had. Now they come in for 8 AM consistently.

      1. Giant Squid*

        Do you have any more details? What was the name of the disorder, how they sought out treatment, etc. This is something I *struggle* with, though not as badly.

        1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

          I personally found out, after sleep studies, medication, etc, that I actually had a thyroid condition. There are a lot of things that can affect sleep, energy levels and health, so the best advice is to be aware if something feels genuinely off over a longer period and consistently push with your doctor to work to resolve it.

    2. Pobody’s Nerfect*

      I used to work in a call center. If we were even one minute late, we were docked 15 min pay. If we were 1 minute late 3 or more times per quarter, we got written up in our performance evals. They monitored how many minutes we took for restroom breaks. It was flipping miserable and the definition of micromanagement hell. I will never again work in that environment and I feel really sorry for those that do.

  20. andy*

    I feel uneasy about high performers having special perks like “punctuality is super important, except it is actually not and high performers don’t need it”. First, it is confusing to both high and low performers. Low performers can’t mimic high performers and are basically lied about what is important. What management says and what you can observe does not match. High performers are not sure about what the real behavioral guidelines are.

    Second, it can produce quite epic primadonnas which harms overall culture more then benefits. High performers don’t start as those primadonnas, they graduly become them as increasingly bad behavior is tolerated. Also, when some people tended to have more say in own rules then others, former group ended up having structural bias advantaging them. It ceased to be possible for new people to compete with former high performers.

    Where I have seen this going down, good workers tended to left and possible future high performers tended to left. They have seen from get go that rules are not applied evenly, it was hard to figure out what matters and they did not seen

    I think that when there is mismatch between high performers needs and a rule, then it is time to rethink the rules. And also inform the low performers that issue is lack of output rather then exact minute they come to work.

    1. KHB*

      I also agree with this. If it’s possible to be both habitually late and a high performer, then punctuality can’t actually be a business requirement. There are various legitimate reasons (mentioned throughout this thread) why it might make business sense to be stricter about punctuality with low performers than with high performers. If one of those applies, though, OP should be able to clearly explain it to everyone involved. “High performance earns you entry into the secret Golden Child club where the rules don’t apply to you” is not a legitimate reason.

    2. Monommy*

      Part of the issue is that the high performers stay late but the low performer does not. So high performer + staying late = flexible start time.

      1. Julia*

        This. If I stay late, I would be annoyed if I had to come in early again the next morning. Especially if my work earned me comp hours, I’d use them for that.

        If you never stay late, but also don’t arrive on time, you’re probably not even working your full hours. That’s what I’d focus on if I were the manager.

      2. andy*

        “You don’t work full hours” and “you are not punctual enough” are very different complains. The former would make sense and does not require one group of people being treated differently. The latter is what letter writer asks about.

  21. Leela*

    OP #4 – if a company was smart, this would be at worst a yellow flag that they should maybe keep in mind to see if anything else comes up.

    If they’re smart, they’ll realize that you were a good fit and are worth talking to. It would also be smart of them to consider if you’re a flight risk but they should be probing into that with other questions like seeing how aligned you are with their culture and work. It would be very, very not smart of them to go “oh yeah? Well you turned down our offer once so no dice, so there.” and you’d be dodging a huge bullet if they did.

    It is possible that ultimately they’ll still worry since you turned down the offer for sure, and if there’s a stellar candidate who has never turned down an offer from them specifically you might wind up behind them for that reason, but there’s no reason this should take you out of the running if everything was handled well at the offer/decline offer stage!

  22. Chronic Overthinker*

    My job is a “butt-in-seat” job. If I’m not here on time phone calls will be missed and the quality of work of my co-workers will be affected as they have to cover my portion of work and neglect theirs. This doesn’t sound like a butts in seats issue. It does seem like it’s a motivation/performance issue. Are there metrics being measured? Can you sit down with your low performers and go over the numbers with them? Is there an underlying issue as to why they are chronically late/leaving on time/early? Could it be they don’t have reliable transportation? Definitely worth looking into the situation and figuring out if there is something else going on or if it truly is a performance issue.

  23. Heffalump*

    I’ve been known to make the occasional “this is what we did at my old job” comment, but people seem to understand that I’m not saying that my old employer’s way was right and my current employer’s way is wrong.

  24. Mary*


    >>my entire job now is setting up structures in which others can be successful, providing input at key stages that shapes the project but without micromanaging it, hiring and developing good talent, etc

    I am pretty sure you just answered your own question! This is a great description of what you personally have contributed to the achievements of your team.

  25. NeverLate*

    I just love how we are supposed to trust the letter writers have the context about WHY things are a certain way, yet we have SO many people trying to 2nd guess and straight out say timeliness doesn’t matter and people should be allowed to be late.

    The employee can’t be bothered to get to work on time, isn’t doing a good job, and doesn’t work past their end time. They are a lazy employee.

    The OP stated that being on time is important. To all the commentors; it’s not your place to judge that lol. Seriously.

    1. James*

      If folks were saying that without context, I’d agree. There are plenty of jobs where being on time is critical. But in this case, the statement that being on time is important is (at least apparently) contradicted by the statement that the best performers are usually also not on time. I don’t think anyone’s arguing that the other two issues (not doing a good job and not making up the hours) aren’t issues; it’s that apparent contradiction that people are questioning.

      And none of the comments have been malicious. It’s more the idea that this is an opportunity to ask yourself, as a manager, whether it’s actually important to have your butt in the seat at 8 am. Maybe it is–and therefore the top performers should have their butts in their seats at 8 am as well. Or, maybe it’s not–and you can officially introduce a more flexible policy. It’s an opportunity to examine your policies and make adjustments if necessary, which is usually a good thing as a manager.

      I also think that part of it stems from a reluctance to write someone off as lazy (the whole “be kind” thing). There are good reasons to cut out early. They may have a sick relative, or a medical condition that requires routine monitoring (those aren’t always obvious–I know several people with MS that show no obvious symptoms, for example), or maybe traffic patterns are such that staying later isn’t an option (happened to me in California). Further, an employee is an investment, and it’s worth at least asking if there’s a way to salvage that investment. Writing an employee off isn’t cheap; it’s often better to find a way to fix the problem than to terminate employment.

      1. WellRed*

        I think if an employee has concerns that impact their ability to arrive on time or stay late, it’s on them to ask for accommodations. I say this as someone who thrives on flexibility and happily helps fill in for coworkers.

  26. She's One Crazy Diamond*

    Sorry to sound like such a grinch, but can I ask why it’s so unreasonable to expect people to be on time for work? I live in a big city where everyone relies on public transit and people work with their manager to adjust their schedules to line up with their commute, if the bus is late then they are expected to notify their manager. I have ADHD and have issues with time blindness, but I set several alarms, take a bus and a train, and still manage to get to work on time. It’s just so banana crackers that adults are so cavalier about being late. I’ve never been a manager, but I refuse to maintain friendships with people who are chronically late with no communication…it’s just so rude to the person who was on time.

    1. WellRed*

      I don’t get why it’s an issue, either. Companies have the right to set schedules. That said, I am glad to have a job that is not butt in seat ( arbitrarily or otherwise) and allows me to be an adult. Course, I’m more likely to be in early out early but have no issues about the in later crowd.

    2. Talia*

      The issue’s not expecting people to be on time; that’s totally reasonable– the problem is expecting some people to be on time and not others. Either your start time is flexible or it isn’t, but that should be applied across the board and then performance should be addressed as a separate thing.

    3. Pobody’s Nerfect*

      Thank you! To me, being on time and working for the time they are paying you is a sign of respect, responsibility, and maturity. Those that constantly game the system to see how late they can “get away with” create an unfair work environment for those that make the effort to be there on time. Once in a while, no big deal; every day = completely unacceptable.

    4. ShortT*

      I was about to say the same thing.

      I come from a culture that is notorious for being “relaxed” about time. When it comes to others’, including employers’ time, I draw the line. I refuse to partake in relationships where others are chronically late without notice, as well. Even more so relationships where the other party is prone to unapologetically arrive late, or externalizes responsibility in lame attempts at apologizing, only to express amazement when I have the chutzpah to not remain later to make up for the time that was lost due to her/his/their tardiness. Sometimes, the only time SO and I can make for each other, or I can relax and talk to my friends and relatives overseas, is at certain times. I’m not going to keep them waiting because, for whatever reason, someone doesn’t manage their time well.

    5. Close Bracket*

      What exactly happens at your start time at work that you have to be there at that time? Are you opening a shop, such that you have to be there when customers arrive? Do you teach a class, such that you have to be there when students arrive? Do you sit at a desk by yourself, such that nobody would even notice whether you are there or not? If it’s the last, as it is with me, who cares when I get in? Why are you so fixated on something that doesn’t matter?

      Sure, a company has a right to set a schedule, but if there is no reason for it, it’s just arbitrarily controlling people’s lives bc they can. Doing the work that I am paid to do is a sign of respect, responsibility, and maturity. Subjecting me to arbitrary rules because you hold certain beliefs about how things should be is not.

      1. James*

        In many lines of work, setting arbitrary start and stop times is a sign that the company disrespects the workers. My company doesn’t set a specific start time for my day (or end time) because they know that I’m capable of making that call myself–I’m “boots on the ground” and have the most immediate information available. It’s extremely common to shift start/stop times based on things going on that we have no control over. If the company arbitrarily said “Your day starts at 8 am” it would be a sign that they don’t trust me (and I would immediately push back, because industry standard is 7 am or first light, depending on how big a rush we’re in).

        Of course, this depends on seniority. I have a lot more flexibility than those working for me–I tell them when to show up, because their jobs DO require them to do certain things at certain times (and part of my job is to train folks to think about what needs done when). Those above me may cut out two days early–because they have other obligations, and they trust that I can handle my work without them babysitting me.

        I’m using my job as an example because it’s what I know best. The point is, respect is a two-way street. Sometimes showing up on time is necessary, and tardiness is disrespectful. Sometimes, demanding folks dance to your tune is.

      2. She's One Crazy Diamond*

        Well, I work for a public agency, so even if you’re not a receptionist who has to greet walk-ins, there’s still a really good chance you could get a call from a taxpayer at 8:00 am on the dot, and if you’re not there, the receptionist gets cursed out for transferring them to a voicemail box instead of a live person and a lecture about how government employees are so lazy and can’t be bothered to answer their phone (I might know this because I cover for reception sometimes).

    6. Spencer Hastings*

      I live in a big city where everyone relies on public transit

      There’s your problem right there. I used to live in a big city where everyone relied on public transit. Now I live in a smaller city where I’m part of a small minority relying on public transit, and it is considerably harder to deal with.

    7. Jennifer Juniper*

      Thank you! I was such a stickler for getting in on time I would borrow strangers’ cell phones to call my boss if I even thought I was going to be late.

      I also have autism and one of the biggest triggers for meltdowns is running late. I associate running late with punishment and being seen as bad and rude.

  27. Electron Whisperer*

    I am the chronically late employee BUT if the deadline needs a one am special three nights on the trot, it will happen, and management know that I will get it done.

    The electron whisperer might mooch (technical term of art!) into the office at midday, but everyone well knows that he probably also locked up the office at way the wrong side of 10pm.
    Turn up to meetings, and get it done, nobody in our R&D team including our management cares beyond that (And really, neither should they, we are all adults who know what needs to be done to pull off the project).

    That said, our department dress code is ‘Clothes are a good idea and highly recommended, and if you are going to go play with the forklifts, shoes are probably a good idea!”, so we are possibly not your average office environment.

    It would be different if I was working customer support, or sales, or something like that where cover matters (Yea, reason I don’t do that!), but I can push CAE tools any time I like pretty much, and for that sort of thing there is sometimes something to be said for being the only person in the office at a time when phones don’t ring.

  28. Retail not Retail*

    Is habitual lateness more of an issue with salaried employees? Because if I’m late, in addition to everyone mad at me (at my retail job), oops there goes a quarter hour of pay.

    Now I did have coworkers at retail job who pushed the rounding to the limit like the one who relieved me from my self-checkout 3 to 11:30 shift. She’d clock in at 11:07 then go get her cleaning supplies. On one horrible snow panic day she tried that but i met her at the clock, shoved the controller in her hands, and clocked out. 9 hours no lunch snow panic in the south… no i’m not bitter 6 years later.

    Anyway at my current job, lateness does not seem to be an issue even for the salaried managers of the operations crew. Now how the salaried people in the offices operate, well that’s only my business when it’s like it’s 9am I’ve been here since 6 why aren’t you here.

  29. Jennifer Juniper*

    I want to slap the arrogant employee who talks about OldJob nonstop. Because that’s what she’s displaying with her constant questioning and insubordination.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Yes. She’s telling her employers – during training – that there are things that they should be doing differently. In all my jobs, training was the time to enthusiastically buy into the company’s way of doing things and learning everything, sucking it up like a sponge. Since they’re paying you, what they say goes, barring an order to do something illegal or unethical .

  30. Workfromhome*

    If its a requirement of the job to be there at a certain time then so be it. Being late is not about being late but about doing the job. If the job requires you to be there and open the door at 9 am then if the door isn’t open at 9 then you are not doing your job.
    If standard start time is 8:30 am but your job is to have the door open at 9 AM and you show up at 8:35and get the door open for 9 you are doing your job. What the heck does it really matter.

    If someone wants to be a stickler about start times (when it doesn’t really matter) then you should expect employees to be sticklers about quitting time and not stay late. After all rules are rules right :-)

  31. Scarletb*

    A little distracted by the idea that the top performers “also work after hours” – are they stellar because they’re always working extra time? If that’s consistent, it would actually strike me as an issue with either time management or resourcing, tbh, or your workplace wanting more out of people without paying them for their time. Curious environment to try to motivate people to come *in* at a particular time, if there’s no particular finish, and if the start time isn’t actually based on a business requirement.

    I work at a place where there are core hours everyone is expected to be in for, but there’s an organisational expectation that managers allow people flexibility with their start/finish etc. My team’s start times range from 7am to 9.30am. What matters is getting the work done, and being reasonably available to colleagues (which in our roles, does not mean all day every day). If this person is under performance review, surely that matters more than what time they start, which sounds like a fairly arbitrary rule anyway given your other statements. If they’re habitually working *fewer* hours than they’re paid for, that’s a separate issue, not what time they walk in the door if it’s not strictly relevant to their role.

  32. rms99*

    I think the management in this company is being extremely generous. Attendance and punctuality are 2 of the most important aspects of any job. People who are frequently late have poor time management skills from my experience.

    My company requires people to punch in and out on our shifts and for breaks on our computers, which are timed by the second. If you are a second late more than 5 times in a year you will be fired.

    I agree with this policy because it helps make sure the employees we can can manage their time properly.

Comments are closed.