Repeated lateness was not an adequate reason for instant dismissal, the Fair Work Commission has ruled in a recent case about a tardy employee.

A bridal shop worker was dismissed for repeated lateness to work, after arriving late five times over two months. The employer claimed the staff member had received warnings on each of these occasions.

One week after the final incident, the employer dismissed the worker for “excessive lateness and inappropriate behaviour”.

The commission found that the “warnings” issued by the employer did not adequately articulate the “consequences of repetition” that the worker would face if she continued to be late. It was suggested that the “warnings” were more like “comments”.

The notice of dismissal was given a week after the last incident. The commission found that the continued lateness did not justify immediate dismissal. The worker was awarded compensation.

For employers, the two key lessons here are that dealing with such a situation requires (1) a pattern of behaviour, such as repeated lateness; and (2) clearly articulated warnings related to each instance, explaining the consequences for the employee if they continue the behaviour.

One of the issues identified in this case is the necessary escalation of warnings; without that sequence of warnings, it was found here that the lateness did not warrant dismissal, even though it had been a repeated behaviour. Any warnings issued must make clear to the employee that continuing with the behaviour may have consequences, and what these consequences might be. It is also important to make sure each of these warnings is carefully documented.

iHR Australia offers training including Managing Everyday Performance to help managers and supervisors learn skills for effective performance management.

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