Most people in my department often come to the office very late with rather odd excuses such as

"my wife forgot to wake me up"
"I slept on my leg funny and couldn't walk in the morning"
"I went swimming this morning"
"I had an early call so I took it from home and it went over time and I couldn't leave"

When the manager and other people ask why someone was late and get an explanation like these, they are ok with it. However, sometimes I'm late (often because of the long commute) and I get in trouble. Additionally when I'm late it's at most 30 minutes other people come in 2 or 3 hours late which I feel makes it even more unfair. I realize it's my responsibility to come to arrive at work on time, but it's also every others' employees too. What should I do or say?

My goal isn't exactly to get more leeway from my boss, but to be treated equally and fairly. I agree that just because someone else does something doesn't make it right, but this seems to be extreme. I remember reading another question about a co-worker making rude jokes and everyone was saying "some people have different tastes of humor than you do" but when the asker mentioned he was making jokes about masturbation, that changed peoples minds, so I think it's a similar idea here in the sense that it's unreasonable.

How can I avoid selective enforcement of rules against me?

  • 1
    Hey Arnakester, as-is, your question is pretty muddled. I am going to edit it a bit to try to focus the question and get you better answers. If you think I missed the main point, or otherwise want to improve it, feel free to edit. In the meantime this answer may help.
    – jmac
    Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 1:48
  • Thanks for participating in the review process Arnakester! This is much easier to follow now, and is far more likely to get good answers from the community.
    – jmac
    Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 2:09
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    A good bit of detail you could add here is if you're salaried or hourly, and if you're in a customer-facing role. These both make a difference.
    – Codeman
    Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 2:20
  • Arnakester, one clarification -- you say, "People in my department usually come to the office late" -- usually means more than half the time. Are you sure that a majority of the people in your department are coming in late a majority of the time and never get in trouble at all? I find that incredibly hard to believe.
    – jmac
    Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 2:23
  • 4
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is more of a rant than a question that we can help with. Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 2:33

3 Answers 3


Executive Summary

"But he did it too!" isn't a justification to your parents when you get in trouble, and it doesn't work much better in the office. If these rules exist but are enforced selectively, you have to ask yourself, "Why did the company feel the need to enforce them for me and not others?"

You got caught, you need to own up to it and move on, not get indignant and make things worse.

Selective Enforcement

Managers don't want to be policing their employees, preferring that the employees use common sense to make enforcement unnecessary. For instance, managers would rather employees be allowed to use Facebook on work computers, so long as they get their work done, since trying to police who is using Facebook is tedious and will only grow ill-will.

Unfortunately, someone ends up playing Yahoo! Chess all day and doesn't get any work done, and the company institutes a policy against it, and the manager is put in the unenviable position of having to enforce a rule put in place only because one person needs to have a rule to reign in their bad behavior.

There is give-and-take in enforcing any rule in the workplace. If you don't want to run afoul of the rules, use common sense to make it easier for the manager to overlook the issue than to try to enforce it against you.

Rules are Rules

You admit you broke the rules. Whether or not other people are doing it is irrelevant to whether you broke the rules. For whatever reason, the rules were selectively enforced in your case. It would be wise to figure out why. Here are some possible reasons.

Your coworkers may have a better working relationship with your manager.

Perhaps your manager felt you were trying to play lawyer with the rules rather than just apologizing and moving on.

Maybe your manager had been giving you a lot of slack and hinting that you were pushing the line, and this was the last straw.

Or maybe it was just that your quality of work isn't as good as your coworkers, and so they got off easier because they're seen as more valuable.

Moving Forward

You ask:

What can I do so that the same rules apply to me as they do everyone else, or that the same rules apply to everyone else that do to me?

  1. Apologize for the infraction
  2. Accept the discipline
  3. Improve your performance

You got caught. If you haven't already, apologize to your manager. Don't make excuses, don't try to justify, don't try to explain, just apologize. You know that the bus route is long, but aren't leaving earlier to make sure you're on time -- that is 100% on you, it has nothing to do with your coworkers or your manager.

Accept whatever punishment is given to you. It is penance for breaking the rules. Disputing it, fighting back against it, or otherwise raising a stink will spit in the face of the apology and make it seem like you just don't understand why you were punished in the first place (this invites more selective enforcement and punishments in the future).

Use this as motivation to improve your relationship with your manager, your value to the company, and your performance in the job. Show that you may make mistakes, but that those mistakes will teach you to be a better more valuable employee in the long run.

And don't even try to bring up what your coworkers get away with. It will not impress your boss, and it will not impress your coworkers.


Hey boss, sorry I was late today. My commute is really long, and it is on the bus which is unreliable, so it isn't really my fault. I mean, how can I control whether the bus is on time? Most of the time it isn't a problem! So I'm really sorry, but you see, it wasn't my fault! And anyway, John and Jan were also late with far worse excuses. It isn't fair that you are getting me in trouble for this and not them!


Hey boss, sorry I was late today. I'll take an earlier bus starting next week to make sure it won't happen again. My commute is really long, and it is on the bus which is unreliable, so it isn't really my fault. I mean, how can I control whether the bus is on time? Most of the time it isn't a problem! So I'm really sorry, but you see, it wasn't my fault! And anyway, John and Jan were also late with far worse excuses. It isn't fair that you are getting me in trouble for this and not them!

  • Your answer is better than mine. I upvoted it :)
    – Codeman
    Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 2:21
  • I think to be fair - he doesn't need to be entirely 'I'm in the wrong' about it - It could be an option to talk to his about 'Hey - it's reasonable for me to be 10 minutes late from time to time' - it might not really matter.
    – user10911
    Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 9:52
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    @user, he was late. How was he not in the wrong exactly? I have flex time at my company. If I stroll in 30 minutes late it is within the bounds of my contract. I still let my boss know I'll be late, and apologize when I get there for not being on time. Because it was my fault (and there's nothing wrong with making mistakes now and again -- there is a much bigger problem with not admitting when you make a mistake).
    – jmac
    Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 13:55
  • What I mean, is that it's worth having this discussion first, clarifying with the boss what the exact expectations around punctuality are.
    – user10911
    Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 19:15
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    @user, I am not psychic, but I'm pretty certain that the boss expects him to be on time. I don't think 'discussing' what 'on time' means will be a very fruitful discussion. Rule lawyering does not help you get treated more kindly in the future, it makes managers feel they have to enforce the letter of the law or else you'll just argue about it more.
    – jmac
    Commented Nov 27, 2013 at 2:39

Politics are part of any workplace. Some workplaces are prejudiced against single people, some prefer them. Startups may prefer young people, while more established companies may be fine with a few grey hairs.

The trick to the problem you're having is to make sure you don't frame this problem as a confrontation. If you turn this into an adversarial argument, your problem will likely become worse.

I think the best solution is to talk to your boss about why you've been late. He may not realize that he is enforcing the rules unfairly. People are imperfect, and he's a person. He may even truly see "my leg fell asleep" as a legitimate excuse. If you are able to understand why he believes these are valid excuses, but traffic is not, you may be able to get him to see your point of view. This could either cause your lateness to be seen as acceptable, or get him to enforce the policy evenly.

Realistically, leave for work earlier if possible and this won't be a problem.

  • Why he's been late. As mentioned by @jmac's superior answer, it doesn't really matter what other people are doing. I'll clarify this in my answer.
    – Codeman
    Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 19:32

To begin with, the enforcement may not be as unfair as you think. Managers do not generally discuss with employees the actions that they take against other employees. Nor should they. So there may be other people getting in trouble as well.

Further, you have to recognize that better performers are given more leeway than poor ones. People with rare skills are given more leeway than people with common skills. People the boss likes are given more leeway than people he doesn't like. They get the leeway because the boss wants to keep them. The harder you are to replace, the more leeway you will get. People who work more than their share of hours also get much more leeway on lateness. I wouldn't even consider it late if the person was on a work call at home and could not leave the house on time. I wouldn't consider it late if the person worked until midnight the night before or was going to work the weekend, etc. Leeway is also given to those who don't need it as often. If you are late an average of 3 times a week and Joe is late once every six months, he will be treated more leniently than you will.

Selective enforcement may also serve the purpose of giving a reason to get rid of someone or to push someone into leaving because things aren't fair. Selective enforecement of rules for things like lateness should be a wake-up call to you that you need to fix much more than the lateness.

What you want is to become one of those people who will get the leeway to occasionally be late without being hassled. Forget about fairness, nothing in life is fair. What you want are the techniques to make sure that you are considered one of the people who they want to keep and thus give leeway to.

So the first step is analyze what you need to do to get to the point where the boss wants to keep you. Do you need additional skills; do you need to be more political in how you approach working (Everyone in every profession needs to play office politics. You are in the game whether you want to be or not, you automatically lose if you don't try to play.); do you need to work more hours in general; do you need to fix any existing performance or perceived performance problems (remember it doesn't matter if you think you have no performance problems, what matters is if your boss thinks you do.); or do you just have a communication problem? Knowing what you need to do is half the battle.

First, I am going to assume that, at a minimum, you have a communication problem. The problem may not be the lateness as much as not letting the boss know about it in a timely manner. If he has to ask where you are, then you have already lost the battle. If you will be late, the first thing to do is call your boss and tell him and tell him what has happened. The next thing to do is to promise to make up the time at the end of the day and then to do so. Lateness is not so critical if he knows you will work the full number of hours you are supposed to be there. If you stay until midnight, ask him if he minds if you come in later. Don't assume it will be OK. When your boss is selectively enforcing rules on you, it is best to never assume anything will be OK, make sure to ask first until you have gained his trust.

Next arrange your life so as not to be late as often (and try not be be late at all for awhile, since he seems to think you have a problems with it.) So take an earlier bus or train, leave the house a half hour earlier etc. If you get to work early, that is good.

Now start working on your image with the boss. Make sure to deliver what you promised, when you promised it and make sure it is right when you do so. Start to get some advanced skills that others don't have. Volunteer to do tasks that others don't want to do or that are going to be difficult. Don't go to the boss with problems for him to fix, go to him with solutions that you need his approval or action to implement. Work extra hours if you need to. It is harder to overcome a poor impression, so you will have to exert more effort to impress your boss than you would at the start of a relationship. (I think you have a poor relationship in part because of this question [very few bosses hassle their best performers unless they hassle everyone] but also from other questions you have asked.) Make sure you do all those nagging little tasks that everybody hates (like timesheets) on time and without complaining. Don't complain at work at all. Make it your mission to not annoy your boss over anything minor. And save any major problems for private talks and, above all, do not publicly dispute a technical decision after it has been made (the time to object is before a decison is made). Talk to you boss, tell him you understand you need to improve but need some help to figure out what to do to improve.

Next start polishing your image through communication. Make sure your boss is aware when you deliver something especially when it is on time and it is something you are proud of. In meetings, pay attention and ask pertinent questions that show you are interested in the tasks at hand. If someone needs a hand and it won't make your own work suffer, then help them. Make sure that your boss is aware of any extra efforts you put in. If you work from home during the off hours, be sure to mention it and put it on your timesheet.

Then do some reading on office politics and how to play the game. This is necessary skill and you need to spend as much time learning it as you would a new programming language.

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