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Back to school - An employer perspective on employee lateness due to the school run

Q. My client has had several staff turn up late to work this week because of their school run commitments. What should they do about this?

A. The employer will understandably be keen to ensure all staff arrives at work on time in line with their contractual working hours. However, problems can occur during the month of September as working parents attempt to find a commuting routine which enables them to drop their children off at school in the morning and still attend work on time.

If the employer finds staff are struggling to juggle these commitments then they should hold an informal discussion with the affected individuals, reminding them of their responsibility to attend work on time. The employer should explore solutions which would allow staff to arrive at work on time in the future, perhaps by asking friends or family to take care of the school run or by dropping their children off earlier at a designated school breakfast club.

During these personal discussions, it will be important for the employer to refer to their workplace policy on lateness. Therefore, it is important that this policy is reviewed regularly and remains up to date for staff. A successful policy should outline an employee’s obligation to arrive at work on time whilst explaining the correct procedure should they need to notify the employer of any lateness. A lateness policy should also be used to outline how your client will approach lateness from a disciplinary standpoint, with many favouring a three-strikes policy in the understanding that on certain occasions lateness will occur, however, repeated instances will not be tolerated.

If issues with lateness persist then the client should start to look at other ways to address the situation, including exploring flexible working opportunities. All staff with 26 weeks’ service have the opportunity to make a flexible working request, which could be utilised to allow parents to begin work 30 minutes later to enable them to carry out the school run. However, this may not always be feasible for the employer, especially if they are a smaller organisation, as there is a chance this will lead to an influx of similar requests which may need to be refused due to outstanding business arrangements.

Ultimately the employer is entitled to discipline staff who fail to arrive at work on time. Disciplinary procedures should follow the employer’s workplace policies, which will often see repeat offenders issued with verbal or written warnings. To ensure fairness and prevent any unrest those with school commitments should not receive any preferential treatment over other staff when arriving late and persistent lateness may ultimately result in dismissal.

The employer should keep in mind that whilst some instances of lateness may take place during September, taking a firm but fair approach to the matter should prevent it from becoming a regular occurrence.

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