When you knowingly and repeatedly violate a company policy, it might be considered willful misconduct. In a sense, you’re intentionally doing something “wrong” against the best interest of your employer. Normally, misconduct is reserved for larger infractions, but tardiness — especially repeated occurrences — could eventually find its way to being considered misconduct.
Being late is only considered willful misconduct if you don’t have what’s commonly referred to as a “good cause.” Being sick is a good cause. The same can be said for transportation problems, family emergencies, lack of childcare, bad weather, civic duty and religious observances. Even a reasonable belief that you had the day off often falls under “good cause.” If any one of these reasons applies to you, it shouldn’t be considered misconduct. Repeated tardiness, however, may eventually be deemed misconduct, regardless of the reasons. You’re creating a pattern of disregard for the employer’s interests that’s within your control to correct.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rules of good cause. For tardiness to be considered willful misconduct, no matter the circumstances, it must be “fairly and consistently applied” to all employees, according to the Spirnak v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review ruling in 1989. If, for example, your manager allows another team member to break the rules for tardiness, she must essentially do the same for you.
As with any incident of willful misconduct, termination of employment is possible. You could also be denied unemployment benefits. But the burden of proof is placed upon the employer. Employers must establish that its policies for discipline were enforced before your discharge. They must also demonstrate that you were aware of the rule before the incident or repeated incidents — not hard to do when rules of tardiness are commonly found in employee manuals. Whether your employment is terminated for being late depends on the employer. But you’re far more likely to be fired for sleeping on the job, falsifying documents, breaching confidentiality, using offensive language or showing up to work intoxicated than being tardy.
To solve the problem with tardiness, some employers might use an employee’s paid-time-off as a Band-Aid, so to speak. Instead of incurring an incident, the tardy employee is docked the amount of time for her available paid time off. When you show up 10 minutes late, 10 minutes are used from your vacation time. If you’re consistently late to work, you may just want to leave a few minutes early to ensure you get there on time.
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.