1. Get the Job
  2. Get Ahead
  3. Office Life
  4. Work-Life Balance
  5. Home Office
Product and service reviews are conducted independently by our editorial team, but we sometimes make money when you click on links. Learn more.
Build Your Career Office Life

The Real Reasons Employees Are Late for Work

image for Doucefleur / Getty Images
Doucefleur / Getty Images

Of the 115 million people who are employed in the U.S., the average absence rate was 2.9 days per year in 2018, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In addition, a 2017 CareerBuilder study revealed that 29% of employees show up late to work at least once a month. With all of these absences and tardiness, it's clear that U.S. businesses are losing a lot of productivity.

Tardiness is habitual for some workers, with 16% saying they're late at least once a week. These workers' lateness results in lost time ranging from several minutes to an hour in what would otherwise be productive morning hours. Individual tardiness policies vary among companies, but fairly common for employees to be marked absent for the day even if they show up for part of the time.

For organizations to be productive and successful, they'll have to tackle this issue head-on.

Missed work has an associated cost. Co-workers often cover absent workers' workload, but some tasks fall between the cracks.

Businesses lose over $84 billions each year to abseentism, according to the Well-Being Index developed by Gallup and Sharecare. This report accounts for over 3 million studies regarding the overall well-being of the U.S. population. Professional occupations and management are the hardest-hit, accounting for nearly $40 billion of that lost productivity.

Let's examine the common causes of being late for work.

Traffic is the most common culprit for lateness, according to CareerBuilder's data. Nearly half of those surveyed said traffic is the reason they can't make it to work on time. Additionally, 32% blamed their tardiness on oversleeping, and 26% said it's due to bad weather. Being too tired to get out of bed and procrastination were among the other most common reasons employees were late to work.

Employers said they have heard far stranger excuses for not being on time.

"We had an employee take off for their dog's birthday because they had to get the party ready," said Shawn Breyer, owner of Sell My House Fast Atlanta. "As weird as the idea was, they brought in pictures from the party. They had invited all of their friends and dogs over to the house and actually threw a party." 

Thinking it was still the weekend, watching a soccer game, having to wait for a late pizza delivery and getting locked in a closet are some of the more outrageous excuses human resources managers said they have heard over the years.

So, what should you do when you're late for work?

It's important to be proactive if you know you'll be late for work. Be aware of how it affects your team, and let them know you won't be on time. There's a chance that if something is delaying you, it's delaying others.

Apologize for the delay, and don't lie. Just emphasize that you did everything possible to get to work as soon as you could and that you won't make lateness a habit. If any tasks need to be covered, delegate them so nothing is missed.

Employers are typically lenient if a worker is late, but there can be consequences for habitual attendance problems. Although more than half of employers expect their staff to be on time every day, many organizations are willing to overlook occasional tardiness. Nearly 30% of the employers surveyed have no problem with a rare late arrival if it doesn't become a pattern, and 18% don't care what time their employees arrive if they can still get their work done. [Read related article: Can Bad Behavior Benefit Your Team?]

But some employers have stricter policies. More than 40% of the organizations surveyed have fired someone for being late. In fact, it's the most common reason employees are fired. Another 22% of employers have fired an employee for calling in sick with a fake excuse, according to CareerBuilder. Most employees (70%) are responsible enough to make up the time when they do show up late.

Whether an employer has a grace period for being late is entirely up to that business. It can even depend on individual managers within the same organization. A typical grace period is five to seven minutes, but consult your company policy for the specific policies.

In some cases, for example, an employer may consider employees late for a 7 a.m. shift if they're not at their desks, logged in and ready to work by 7 a.m. Arriving at 7 a.m., getting coffee in the break room, settling in and spending five to 10 minutes to start work may not be acceptable. This is especially true in customer-facing businesses expected to open with operational staff on time every day.

There are valid reasons to be late for work. An unexpected traffic accident can happen. Everyone understands that unexpected emergencies come up. The only legally protected excuses involve family illness, death and other such extreme emergencies. Everything else is determined by individual employers, so the broad range of excuses given above are not government protected.

Missed work means missed productivity. Whether it's tardiness or absenteeism, habitual attendance problems cost a business money. Employees who are not engaged may be more likely to miss work, but it happens to everyone at some point or another. When it becomes a habit, however, it's a warning sign that something else is going on. [Read related article: Is Poor Attendance at Work a Reflection of Bad Leadership?]

business.com editorial staff

The purpose of our community is to connect small business owners with experienced industry experts who can address their questions, offer direction, and share best practices. We are always looking for fresh perspectives to join our contributor program. If you're an expert working in your field – whether as an employee, entrepreneur, or consultant – we'd love to help you share your voice with our readers and the business.com community. We work hard to only publish high-quality and relevant content to our small business audience. To help us ensure you are the right fit, we ask that you take the time to complete a short application: https://www.business.com/contributor/apply/ We can't wait to hear what you have to say!