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INSIGHTS: Tackling tardiness

June 15, 2016


Do you have an employee who is regularly late for work?  A one-off is excusable but how should you deal with an employee who is habitually late?

A child care centre is a business that depends on the reliability of its employees.  Strict ratios must be maintained at all times and having unreliable employees can make this a nightmare for operators.  Although this can be a legitimate business requirement, which justifies the need for employees to attend work on time, if you are considering terminating an employee who is regularly late for work it is imperative that the employee is dealt with in a fair and reasonable manner.

In a recent Fair Work Commission decision,  an employer was commended for the way in which it dealt with an employee who was regularly late for work (Rooney v Pickles Auctions Pty Ltd [2016] FWC 858).  Mr Rooney, a detailer/floor staff member, had worked for his employer, Pickles Auctions Pty Ltd (Pickles), for almost 7 years.  Although Mr Rooney’s work was at times considered praiseworthy, he was regularly late for his shift.  He would not only fail to notify his employer that he would be late, but could also offer no reasonable excuse for the tardiness.

Mr Rooney was issued with six written warnings spanning from 8 February 2011 to 4 May 2015 regarding both his lateness for work and some unsatisfactory conduct incidents.  Pickles also had evidence that Mr Rooney had received several verbal warnings for his failure to attend work on time.  It was made very clear to Mr Rooney that if he continued to be late without a reasonable excuse, disciplinary action up to and including termination may occur.

On 17 June 2015, Mr Rooney was over an hour late for his shift.  Although he did telephone his supervisor, this was not done until approximately 50 minutes after his scheduled start time.  At 2.30pm that day, Pickles arranged a meeting with Mr Rooney.  The purpose of the meeting was to allow Mr Rooney to provide a reason for his lateness that day and why his supervisor was not notified prior to the start of his shift.  It was made clear that his employment was in jeopardy due to his continued tardiness.   The only explanation offered by Mr Rooney was that he thought that it was earlier than it was.

At this point Pickles adjourned the meeting to consider the reason offered by Mr Rooney as well as his work history and previous warnings.  This was an important step in the procedure.  The Commission found that by adjourning the meeting and carefully considering all of the circumstances as well as the ramifications, Pickles’ approach was measured and considered and the decision to terminate Mr Rooney’s employment was not arrived at lightly.

Mr Rooney was given written notification of the reasons for his termination and was paid all accrued entitlements as well as four weeks in lieu of notice.

For these reasons, the Commission found that Mr Rooney’s termination was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable.


  • Deal with incidents of lateness as soon as practicable – meet with the employee to allow them an opportunity to provide an explanation and consider whether it is reasonable.
  • A one-off incident will usually not be a valid reason on its own for dismissal.
  • Ensure adequate documentation is maintained including details of each incidence of tardiness, notes of discussions and copies of any warnings issued.
  • Ensure the employee understands the effect their lateness is having on the business as well as the consequences if it continues.
  • Although habitual lateness may be a valid reason for termination, it does not constitute serious misconduct and therefore the employee must be either given notice of the termination or paid in lieu of that notice.

If you would like further information or advice on an employment issue, please contact Sharlene Wellard, Principal.

This article was published in Early Edition, the Australian Childcare Alliance Queensland newsletter, June 2016.

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