Shop Talk: Practical Answers for tough business questions.

by : 
Kim Perkins
April 1, 2013

Question: Have you ever had an employee who just can’t get to work on time? When she was first hired this didn’t seem to be a problem, but gradually there were more and more excuses and drama and now it’s just kind of “normal” for her to be late a few times a week. Occasionally she is late an hour or more but usually it is 10 to 15 minutes. It is so aggravating for me and my other employees not to be able to count on her being on time! Other than this flaw, she is a good employee and customers and co-workers seem to like her. What would you suggest I do?

Answer: I assume you have spoken to her about this and it hasn’t helped. If you haven’t spoken to her, start there. It’s important that she understands how her tardiness creates dysfunction.

We could also spend a long time discussing the psychological reasons why some people are chronically late, but that won’t change the facts. This person is acting in a manner that is not responsible or respectful to you, your store, or other staff members, who have to pick up the slack when she is not present.

Here’s the bottom line: some people are just not able to be on time in their lives. Whatever the underlying reason, it is unlikely that one day she will magically be prompt. You have a couple of choices: one is to continue to accept her tardiness and the other is to let her go.

I truly understand your reluctance to lose a good sales person—good ones are valuable and rare! However, when one person is allowed to arrive when she wants and everyone else has to adhere to the schedule, it can easily create resentment. No matter how much she is liked, the chronically late person is being disrespectful of co-workers, and you are allowing this to continue.

If you decide you are willing to lose her, I would sit down with her once again, explain that her tardiness cannot continue, and talk about how her behavior negatively affects the store and her co-workers. Make sure you stress how much you appreciate her and want her to stay. Then put the ball in her court. Tell her she can make the decision whether she goes or stays by her actions.

Prior to this meeting, be sure to check the laws in your state with your attorney. This is important to avoid a lawsuit and to be sure you are in compliance. Depending on how long she has worked for you, legal ramifications may occur if you have tolerated this behavior over a long period and suddenly decide to no longer accept it.

When you talk with her, document your discussion and have her sign whatever agreement you come to (e.g., tardiness is unacceptable, period, or no more than two times per month, etc.). Be firm and let her know x`x`she will lose her job if she continues to ignore her schedule. Hopefully, you will be lucky and she will rise to the occasion. If not, you will know that you have done your best and can wish her well in her future endeavors.

Kim Perkins is co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (, an award-winning store in Sarasota, Fla. Send your retail questions to