One of my team members comes in late and missed an important work deadline. They do not inform me about coming in late and this is not the first time. They show up at work and say “I am so sorry; I missed the alarm this morning”. Or something like “I was about to leave the house when I found that my dog chewed and destroyed my shoes”. I smile and say ” It’s okay things go wrong and happens to us.” Many of us find it difficult to have a disciplinary conversation with employees. If we say “it is okay, it happens to us” the employee is getting the message that the behavior is acceptable. But, the reality is that it is not acceptable. I do not want this employee to come in late again in the future.
So, what could I say or do differently? I need to remind the employee of the company’s policies and expectations around attendance. How do I do that?
Here are some suggestions.
I could say to the employee, “You were not available for the meeting this morning, so I had to assign it to someone else. You came in late, is there anything we can help you with so you can be at work on time?” If the employee says that everything is fine, I should not end the conversation there. I should further enquire if such attendance issues are likely to continue in the future.
By enquiring about the future, I have focused on what needs to change instead of what happened in the past. I can ask another follow-up question. “Can we do anything to help you, now that will help you handle the situation if it arises again?”. I can also close by stating the expectations in the future. This is my opportunity to remind the employee of the process related to attendance to make sure it understood.
But, if the employee’s attendance continues to be of concern, I would now call for a formal meeting. If you follow a formal progressive disciplinary process in your organization, then this meeting can be part of it. Otherwise, it can be a formal meeting documenting the discussion. I will remind the employee about the discussions we had earlier about their attendance. Then I will hand over the letter or memo which documents all the details of their absences. I do not need to go over the details, because those already happened in the past. My focus for the discussion would be the next steps.
I would remind the employee that I had asked in the past if the employer could assist the employee to resolve the issue. If the employee indicates, that they need accommodation I will discuss this further. I will explore what accommodation is available and appropriate. Please note, while making any accommodation I would ask for a few further details. If it is a health situation, I can ask that a healthcare professional certify for the exact need for accommodation. I can also ask for a defined timeline for such accommodation. I will also review if such accommodation will cause undue hardship to the organization and the rest of the team members.
If the employee says there are no extenuating circumstances, then I can wrap up by asking the employee if they can agree to changes to help improve the situation. I can say something like, “I would like to hear your ideas for changes that will help you meet our expectations”. I will keep the conversation open for the employee to come up with the solutions they can work on and commit to doing that.
If it still does not improve, the discussion will progress further in the disciplinary actions. Sometimes, it might be best to end the employment if the basic requirements of the job are not met.

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