With the potential for traffic jams, delayed trains and buses and the family responsibilities that many of us have to deal with at home, it is no wonder that we will all occasionally be late for work. Most employers are sympathetic and appreciate that staff may occasionally not make it in on time. If being late is a regular event, however, that needs to be dealt with.

A recent case deemed that a museum was justified in dismissing a member of staff as a result of ‘persistent lateness’. Apparently, the member of staff had been warned a number of times about potential disciplinary action. At the hearing, he argued that he had a difficult bus journey to work and that these warnings were unfair. The tribunal ruled that the employer had not acted unlawfully and was justified in sacking him after issuing his final written warning.

This was a fairly extreme case, in which a staff member was regularly late. My advice to anyone would be to speak to his or her employer about any issues that are affecting their ability to get to work at a particular time. If you are occasionally late, you should apologise and explain the reason. If this is an ongoing problem, you will need to raise it with your employer and try to come up with a solution. In the far South West of England, where I work, many people live in rural locations where public transport can be patchy. If you only have one train every two hours and the times don’t fit well with your working hours, you could speak to your manager to see if your contracted hours could be adjusted, for example. With everyone with a minimum of 26 weeks service now having the right to request flexible working, your employer should seriously consider your request. The worst thing you can do is to hope your lateness has not been noticed.

An interesting angle in this case was that the warnings came after a lengthy period where nothing had been done about poor time-keeping. A decision was made to deal with this and this was communicated to staff before this particular disciplinary action was started. It underlines that employers can decide to deal with bad habits and use disciplinary action to do so, but should first be very clear that this is what is going to happen and the consequences of not meeting the new standards.

Poor timekeeping impacts on productivity and can cause real problems for any business. It is also annoying and demotivating to other staff members if the same people regularly arrive late and are seen to ‘get away with it’. The legal advice is clear: it is an employee’s responsibility to take whatever reasonable steps are needed to get to work on time. If your company has not been clear on this, perhaps now is the time to ensure everyone knows what is expected.

By Jeremy Harvey, Head of Employment and HR at Coodes