I have 4 people in my team who use Public Transport - trains. They live on different sides of town, so don't take the same lines. Two are always on time. The other two (coming from the opposite side) are 90% of the time late by about 1 hour due to 'train problems'. I know there are a lot of train delays or cable theft that make it difficult sometimes. I know that it is not their fault that trains get delayed, but then I also feel that it is not the company's problem and it is not fair to everyone else that they are always late.

They also tend to leave early, thereby not contributing about 1 hour to their 9 hour shift.

Is it fair to speak to them about being late all the time and saying that public transport can't be used as an excuse?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – enderland
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 16:26
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    What is the typical difference in arrival time? Also are you in a region where public transit is normally expected to arrive exactly on time or +/- a few minutes?
    – Myles
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 18:14
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    How frequent are the trains? If there's a train every 15 minutes, they should just take an earlier train; if there's only one train every hour, that's not a reasonable proposition. Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 19:33
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    Do the 2 people who are almost always late see this as a problem? Or do they just dismiss it as a non-issue? Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 7:03
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    Unfortunately our type of work can't just do flexitime like that. I've already introduced flexi time in the sense of, half of the team work from 8 to 5, and then half (that wants to) from 7 to 4. They can also choose to work from 9 to 6 (even though then they will just sit here from 5 and not have much to do.) Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 8:47

13 Answers 13


Speaking as an employee and someone who has never been in a position of authority as this situation dictates, I find it inexcusable when others are late repeatedly. Sure, we all experience these things every now and again, but if it’s a known problem, then just make sure you leave enough time to get to work allowing for any delays. Imagine they tripped over something on the way to the station. It’s not their fault, but the train isn’t going to wait for them.

It’s a bit like ‘the dog ate my homework’ excuse. Sure it might not be your fault directly, but if you know your dog has a penchant for eating education related stationery, then it is up to the student to protect it. The teacher would most likely eventually tire of this excuse and place the student in detention, thus solving this issue as the ‘homework’ would be completed before leaving school and not available for the dog’s nourishment.

By allowing your employees to ‘get away with it’ you’re implicitly saying that it’s ok to be late and you’re effectively punishing your other employees who adhere to their contracts. At the end of the day, they are being paid for the time they are supposed to be in work, working. If they are salaried, then the company loses out.

As you say, flexitime systems can be problematic and costs the company quite a bit per capita in administration/software etc.

In any company, there has to be a line. When it comes to illness, regardless of what the issue was, most companies will not tolerate repeated absence and will place employees on an attendance review programme and will certainly not pay in full indefinitely. Tardiness is just the same and a perfectly legitimate reason for performance management.

The problem you might now have is that you’ve left it too late and it would now seem too much of an unexpected reaction to go in, guns blazing. That said, you may lose tour good employees if they feel that nothing is being done about it.

My own position would be that it will eventually affect your team as a whole and not just the ones who are late and you may need to sacrifice the detractors in order to make tor team more effective.

Well, that’s my two cents. In any case, my ‘late’ is 15 minutes early.

  • Just thought I’d add, this is coming from the UK.
    – Ben Tan
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 0:11
  • Have some trust in employees. Personally, I quite often have to leave early from work to pick up my son from daycare. But then I continue working remotely from home to make up for the early exit. Our work is results oriented instead of hours worked oriented, but still I keep to the roughly 8 hours a day schedule, even if not all of it happens at the office. Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 8:54
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    you’ve left it too late Why? 1) There is nothing in the question saying how long this has been going on 2) You can just say what you have noticed and that it does not seem to improve, so things need to change. No blazing guns required.
    – user8036
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 9:14
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    @BenTan "In any case, my ‘late’ is 15 minutes early." makes you sound like a German!
    – Chani
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 18:15
  • @Chani, I'd say like a Swiss, actually. Unfortunately, the German trains have a distressing tendency to be late. Not generally an hour late like this story, but only a few minutes...but that's often enough to miss a connection.
    – user1602
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 14:05

It's the responsibility of employees to ensure that they arrive to work on time. It isn't the company's responsibility to excuse habitual lateness.

If half of your team are regularly late (and they know they are), it's up to them to leave home earlier to counteract the delays, or find an alternative route/method that leads to consistent arrival times.

If they end up arriving to work sooner than expected, then allow them some flex-time in compensation (if company policy allows).

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 14:37
  • I agree. Surely this is employees responsibility to ensure that they arrive to work on time.
    – Jagz S
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 5:35

I myself rely on public transport to get to work. I've taken several steps to mitigate the issues, hopefully they will help.

  • Talked to my boss about the situation and worked with him to find a solution that worked. This was motivated primarily because last time I moved, I ended up on a less reliable bus line.
  • I arrive at work 15-20 minutes before my shift is due to start, however (and I worked this out in the previous step) I start my shift 5 minutes early. This is because to catch my 'home' bus I generally need to leave a tiny bit early. I hang out in the workroom and make some tea, read or play mobile games until shift start.
  • If the bus is late, has mechanical difficulty/accident enroute, or I miss the bus I send a message (email, text or phone call depending on situation) to my boss giving him a revised estimate of my ETA.
  • If I am late, I use leave time to make up the difference (or when appropriate stay late at work).

Having developed the plan with my boss beforehand, and keeping him informed greatly reduces the impact. Knowing that the public transport isn't completely reliable arriving early and then taking a "pre work break" erases almost all of the late bus issues. The final result is that it's generally only about once a month that I'm later than 5 minutes past shift start.

Honestly the first and third points are probably most important. If you and your worker agree before hand on a resolution, and they keep you informed on the occasional forced variance from their regular schedule it should help reduce any feelings of unfairness.

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    Thank you for your input. I agree that I have to be informed. And I realize that the occasional delay is fine. It now becoming a nearly daily thing, and it might even be that they don't even try to get the early train because if they are late - nothing really happens. So I'll sit down with them and try to work something out so that the rest of the team don't have to pick up more work because of it. Thank you again. Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 14:06
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    I've also noticed an unreliability with my public transit. At my work, you can be in any time before standup, and those start at 10. I aim for 8. Worst case scenario, I'm still quite early.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 15:34
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    @RhonaHavenga, You should also screen for that problem during the initial job interview process. In the United States, we're not allowed to ask how long their commute is going to be, or if they have a car they can use (unless it's a driving job), but we are allowed to ask pointed questions about being able to arrive reliably on time. Now, I don't know which jurisdiction you're in, but depending on where you're located, you should inform yourself on which questions you're allowed to ask during the initial screening process and try to fully address this issue for any potential new hire. Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 22:28
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    In Germany, a pre work break is not a legal break. You cannot use your break time at the beginning or end of your work day. It has to be at least two hours away from the start or end of the shift. You can of course hang around, if the employer allows that. There is insurance to be taken into account.
    – simbabque
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 11:58
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    @simbabque In my case it's not really a break (hence the parenthesis). I'm not on the clock.
    – aslum
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 13:38

I manage a software development team. First question I'd be asking myself, how much does this issue really matter? I understand the desire for consistency, fairness, having rules and being punctual but, seriously, how much does being 15 minutes or 30 minutes "late" really matter? Is the team producing? Are deadlines being met? Are the tardy employees still working a full shift, albeit with a late start to the day?

Another way to look at this, is your company, your manager, you (the manager) as rigid when it comes to employees LEAVING the office on time? Do you announce mandatory overtime 2 hours before employees are supposed to head out the door? It's the same, right?

I've been pressured by my supervisors to modify various behaviors that in no way impacted operations and thus I deemed pointless, arbitrary rules. I went to battle for the team and eventually was able to demonstrate some rules / policies just do not matter. Even if you're the owner or manager have the right to set rules, it might not be worth ruffled feathers.

TL;DR - On my team, everyone works eight hours each day (occasionally more) but we have "core" team hours. Everyone is here during the team-determined six "core" hours. We (the team) expect communication if you will be out of the office during the core hours. We do not schedule meetings outside the core hours.

I have some team members that are early risers, some are night owls, and some are the traditional, literally 9-5'ers. It gives everyone flexibility for transportation issues, breakfast meetings, childcare issues, etc. If we discover something is not working, we change it.

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    This answer doesn't take into account the need to have people on shift schedules. I'm a software engineer too, but take my last job: nuclear power plant operator. If someone comes to work 30 minutes late, then the previous person simply can't go home. While not as extreme as reactor safety, there are plenty of shift-work or customer support jobs that require people to be on time. At my current job I can show up 2 hours late and no one cares as long as I don't miss a meeting; not every job is like that.
    – kingledion
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 1:44
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    The funny opposite is that if the employer forces exact hours, then fairly quickly the end result is that workers will stop exactly when the clock strikes even - doesn't matter if some work is still in progress, or something (perhaps some industrial process) will break or produce a scrap product. Be careful what you wish for :) Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 8:50
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    @JuhaUntinen Indeed! Company inflexibility invites employee inflexibility. And I've seen too many clock-watchers who ALWAYS arrive on time and leave on time, but offer much less in between, and aren't there when evening or weekend work is required. Caveat: The exception is work where a full team is required for successful operation. Clearly, we don't want one person holding up others.
    – CJM
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 11:06
  • When it comes to developers, as a rule, 'clock watchers' are not the best developers - it runs a bit against the grain of development work. In fact most people with that tendency will not become developers in the first place...
    – Vector
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 2:27

As addition to snows answer: Fair isn't the word you should use. Because fair doesn't exist.

With that out of the way; have you always been their manager? There can be circumstances from the past where promises about the travel time have been made. Make sure the are none of those. The things an employer and employee can have special arrangements about are limitless. Maybe your predecessor made some arrangements with those employees. See if there is something about that on paper.

I've had it happen that my employer wanted me on a special project at one of our other locations, which I wasn't obliged to say yes to. It included an extra 3 hours commute daily for me. I arranged that for the time of the project I made "5 hour" days instead of "8 hour" days. You can imagine I wasn't happy when some general manager commented me about my lack of work-ethic. Yes it was a sweet deal, but a deal non-the less. And I had it on paper.

Wouldn't it be embarrassing if you first try disciplining your employees and then they slap you around with an agreement about the commute?

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    I have made sure that there has been no other deals. I've made it possible for them to work from 7h00 to 16h00 - purely to make travel easier and for the others to miss traffic. I'll first discuss with them, and try to help them find a way to be on time and see how I can help. But in the end, it is expected from them to be at work on time. Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 14:03
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    While it's useful to point this out, try to make sure that your answer is self-contained and actually answers the question asked. If you're only adding to an existing answer, a comment may have been more appropriate.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 14:37
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    @Lilienthal comments are volatile and may be deleted at any time for a number of reasons. Were a poster just add to a question, he should edit it to add the info. This answer stands for itself, and only the "fairness" remark is addressing the other answer. We could remove the first line without loss if that (referencing another answer) is the matter. Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 14:41
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    @Lilienthal Are partial answers really that bad? Is this policy unique to this site?
    – employee-X
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 22:54
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    @employee-X While we should strive for complete answers, partial answers to complex questions are usually fine. But this is more of a comment than an attempt at an answer. Note that editing in major changes to answers is typically not considered okay though.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 10:14

I would imagine this is true of any question in this forum, but the best answer to this question should come from the HR organization of the company. There more than likely is guidance already found in the employee handbook, and if not there should be. This type of thing needs to be managed consistently and handling on a manager-by-manager and person-by-person basis sets the stage for employees to complain about unfair treatment in these regards.

In general, it is the employees' responsibility to commute to their working location on time, and to mitigate the risks of delays for any reason. Whether they take public transportation or their own car, or they own a helicopter, it is on the employee to manage their transportation accordingly.

If there truly is a trend where public transportation delays are frequent for some employees, then those employees unfortunately have to mitigate that by getting up earlier and leaving sooner. Their complaints should be directed to the public transportation.

I would venture a guess that the transportation isn't really the cause in every case, and employees have learned to exploit it as an excuse.

That being said, if the employees and the company can come to agreement such that the employee doesn't bear the brunt of time wasted, that would be best -- but again it would need to be done across the company not on an individual basis.

One idea would be to credit employees that arrive early (because they built time into their commute to mitigate delays and there were none), as credit time to be applied for future tardiness.

I've seen companies that allow employees to slide their schedule up to two hours, for whatever reason. Some worked 8-5, others worked from 9-6, and some worked 10-7. Needless to say, this made it hard for that company to be efficient before 10am. But since this was policy set company wide by the C level execs, all departments were expected to deal with it.


First, you need to talk to them about expectations about timeliness and hours. To arrive late and leave early 90% of the time is inexcusable. It would get someone fired in every job I have ever held. They need to know the behavior cannot continue or they will be fired.

Talk to HR about the process of putting someone on on a performance improvement plan. These employees need to be placed in this situation and it needs to be enforced. They will need to provide proof of a train delay any time it is late and they will need to make up all time missed or the time should come out of their annual leave (depending on the legal rules in your jurisdiction.) there needs to be a consequence for this behavior.

The reason that I think they need to through a firing process is because they are working part-time for a full-time salary and benefits. In other words they are cheating your company. I wouldn't bother to try to salvage these employees at all.

  • To arrive late and leave early 90% of the time is inexcusable. -- Yep
    – Neo
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 18:29
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    Plenty of people survive PIPs, but yes these people need to be fired if they can't or more likely won't work the required hours. the fact that they leave early too is what tell me this. They aren't even trying to mitigate the lateness.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 18:49
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    Agreed - failing to complete the working hours is the more major problem.
    – Dragonel
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 19:20
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    I've been in this (train) situation myself before. Trains are generally far more reliable than cars and highway commutes, so I don't understand that part at all. Also, trains don't just run once a day, so I don't understand why they can't stay an extra hour to get their full 8 in when this happens.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 19:21
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    @T.E.D. The reliability of trains might depend on the location, but in this example it looks like the trains are reliably late by the same amount, so it should be possible to adapt to this. Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 16:42

Is it fair to speak to them about being late all the time and saying that public transport can't be used as an excuse?

Absolutely. It is not only fair, but necessary to do ASAP. I will answer more generally: it is fair to require employees to show up on time based on their scheduled work hours, and saying that NOTHING can be used as an excuse to fail to do so. Simply put, if someone is not able to come in at the time that is consistent with the employer's policy and expectation for that employee, then they should not have their job and the job should be given to someone who can meet this basic requirement. If some employees show up on time and others do not, this creates a double standard which is unfair to those that go out of their way to be there on time.

My workplace is not a rigid production environment, but office work where exact arrival is not critical. However some consistency is necessary to prevent things getting out of control.

My 2 cents based on personal experience:

The Problem: When I took over as manager, I discovered that there was no clear guidance or understanding among members of my team with regard to workday start/stop times. Not to come off as unnecessarily rigid, I came up with a generous flex time policy where employees could flex up to 45 minutes from their scheduled start/end times. They could arrive up to 45 min late, as long as they make up the same extra time at the end of the day. I then learned that a couple folks on my team were often late by over 45 minutes. When I raised the issue, I got sophomoric excuses: everything from train delays, to using the restroom on the way, waiting to sign into the building, waiting for the elevator, and that their watch was a few minutes off from mine.

Steps to Resolve:

  1. Told them that other employees have their circumstances as well but still somehow manage to arrive on time. I said if you know you are consistently X minutes late, leave home X minutes (or more) in advance and show up within the required time. If you do not, then (a) you must charge the excess against your time off, (b) I will at my discretion adjust your start/end times to align with when you actually show up, and (c) I may raise this to upper management/HR for corrective action because this will effectively violate my and the organization's attendance policies.

  2. Gave them until the end of the month to make whatever adjustments in their lifestyle are needed to make sure they arrive on time or at least within the flex limit.

  3. Warned that if they don't clean up their act, their regular work start/end time would be adjusted to reflect their actual arrival time (8:30am vs. 8:00am).

  4. After the cutoff date, I learned that they were still cutting it too close to the cutoff and were again late by a few minutes. I immediately informed them that their start times are now adjusted and that starting next day, they are required to start/end their day 30 min late than before. I also informed them that the issue is now well documented with a paper trail, and if the same pattern repeats, the issue will be immediately escalated to upper management and HR for corrective action. As far as I know, this fixed the problem.

Summary: A flex time policy is an attempt to accommodate normal variation in commute and arrival times while keeping time reporting consistent and avoiding 'splitting hairs' about variation within a given range. From what I hear 45 minutes is way more generous than in many other workplaces. It remains within the policy boundaries of the overall organization because I have some leeway to set the rules for my team. The employees were given advance notice and time to adjust their routines based on the new constraints. The changes I ended up making were in part a result of the choice the employee made (failing to arrive on time), rather than random rules, and struck a balance between fairness and flexibility.

I hope this helps. Good luck!

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    45 mins is not a large flex time - the norm is 2hrs
    – mmmmmm
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 21:50
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    @Mark Maybe in your type of organization or location; I have never heard of anything even close to this, while I know plenty of workplaces where 8:00am means 8:00am and not 8:10am, etc.
    – A.S
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 0:36
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    @Mark: I don't think there is any "norm" here - just typical usage, which varies by country, culture, industry, size of company, type of work etc. I know companies which impose no limit at all on flextime, and others which only allow a window of 15 minutes.
    – sleske
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 15:06

The value of a worker is usually not a time they spend working but ammount of work being done. If they do their job properly and on time there should be no problem at all.

If the missing hour is significant, eg. their colleagues do the job for them (missing their own duties at the time) and then do their own, it is completely different situation and the had to be handled. But not for being late but for not fullfilling their duties.

If they are working on shifts and another people are kept over time because they must hand the work to someone else, it is the same case. Your late-comming workers are not fullfilling their duties and they have no room at their actual position - you can suggest moving to another position, where it doesn't matter, within or outside your company.


but then I also feel that it is not the company's problem

I mostly disagree with the statment. Company's problem is allowing employees being always or mostly late, with regards on how late is late and how much interaction is needed by employees. With this I mean: do the timely 2 employees require to wait for the presence of the other 2 late to start productivity?

What is important here is that timely employees do not stay idle and do not look at the frequent-laters as privileged or exempt from rules. Rules must be established and enforced, but we must also be human when enforcing them, about exceptions. From your 90% of times statement, their lateness has become the rule rather than exception.

Assuming that employees are required to be at their workstations at 9AM to ensure company productivity, and staying overtime is not a solution according to the business, I would push on disciplining those employees with a lot of human touch. Yes, they are suffering delays caused by a third party, who is publicly responsible for timeliness of thousands of other people.

And if delays happen 90% of times, and before a political action is taken by local government, the only option is to require those employees to use an earlier shift if feasible and with proper touch.

Consider the following options and set up a discussion:

  • Try to settle an arrangement allowing them to arrive 90% of times later by compensating. E.g. staying overtime or reducing lunch break everytime they are late. Ensure productivity. This is in line with @aslum answer and should be the preferred way when the presence of the late team members is not required by others to start their work
  • If they must be on time (e.g. you are a large factory and you need to start manufacturing chain) push them for using an earlier train shift. If they arrive too early, e.g. 30 minutes earlier, make sure they can comfort themselves at office. For example, make sure the gates/doors are open and they can get a warm drink or something before the duty starts. I assume that maximum shift intervals in peak hours are 30 minutes (in some cities they are)
  • Make sure they are not actually taking the very first shift. You said they come from the other side of the city. I know people waking up at 5AM to be timely at 9AM from the other side of province. Public transports start at a very early time in the morning, so I assume those are not taking the very first shift and can wake up a bit earlier.

Finally, you are entitled to speak to them only as soon as you are their manager or HR (from the question wording you seem to be the manager, ok).

Also, you could also avoid setting meetings at 9AM if you fear someone will be missing. If you need a morning meeting, try to schedule it one or two hours later without messing your work plans too much.


There's a simple solution: dock their pay for time not worked. If they're not working their hours, they're not earning their pay.

I don't think employees should be fired without being given a chance to improve but I also don't think that all humans can be forced into contract-sized boxes and expected to work like identical machines in identical roles. As a manager, your role is to both provide some flexibility for human problems but also not to be too soft and prevent abuse.

Paying them for time worked is fair and will incentivise them to justify the time off as necessary and truly unavoidable or to do better.

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    I would prefer an employee that comes late and leves early but with the work, I pay them for, done than a slacker who strictly clocks in at 8:00 and leaves at 16:30.
    – Crowley
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 18:52
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    That's not possible in a lot of circumstances (for instance salaried workers).
    – Casey
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 21:55
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    Absolutely, in which case you shouldn't care about the hours they're working but the work they're doing. And if they're not doing it, the exact same rule applies: compensate them for the work they do and no more. And there's no reason that you can't adjust a salaried worker's pay downwards. Pay cuts happen all the time, this one is just performance-based rather than due to external factors. It boggles my mind that it's considered normal to wastefully hire or promote people beyond their abilities and then fire them once you have done so. You need downwards mobility.
    – Danikov
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 10:34
  • @Casey it is possible to deduct time not worked for salaried workers in most countries. However it is highly confrontational and should be only done after negotiations and legal advice.
    – Adam Smith
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 17:40
  • @AdamSmith As far as I know this is not possible in the US, anyway.
    – Casey
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 18:09

Use some working time tracking system, there are numerous available. Even if you just ask people to report the working hours self-dependently, this may work well enough for someone who has no intention of cheating, just has problems with the train (so can stay longer in the evening to compensate being late in the morning).

In most of jobs there is enough to be sure that everyone works all work hours per month they are paid for.


Relationships between employees should be built on trust. If they are using public transportation issues as an excuse - this should not be tolerated - in fact, this is a strong sign of very serious problems, serious to the extent that it can hardly be fixed.

If it's indeed just public transportation, the first thing that should be done - is to state clearly that there's a problem (and there could be no second opinion on this) and that you're expecting that this problem should be solved somehow.

There can be plenty of different options, which can or can not be applicable in specific cases (like, you know, you cannot be late if you are a banker, for instance; anything other than being on time is unacceptable).

Here's an incomplete list of such options:

  • Shift the start of the working day for the whole team but make this new time obligatory. No excuses for being late. This is, of course, if the rest of the team will is ok with the day ending later.
  • To rule out of the equation the concept of the beginning of working day entirely. Let there be some obligatory point when everybody should be present (like mid-day sync-up meetings) but for the rest rely only on a task tracker and whether specific members of the team meet the expectations or not.

One thing I definitely won't recommend is to negotiate about: "if you arrived late by 20 minutes you should leave 20 minutes later". In my experience this just doesn't work. You will find yourself left with a burden of cumbersome and desperate attempts to always measure everything, and that will be a disaster. Not to mention that people will tend to either cheat (still leave slightly earlier) or just sit and basically do nothing to just fill in the time remaining.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 3:29

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