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Warning Letter for Attendance or Lateness + Templates

Warning Letter for Attendance or LatenessWarning Letter for Attendance or Lateness
min read
August 21, 2023

Your employees are the lifeblood of your small business. They’re responsible for producing your products, providing your services, and supporting your business operations. But employees who don’t show up for work—or show up late—can compromise your company’s efficiency, harm employee morale, and eat into your revenue.

Each year, unscheduled absenteeism costs employers $3,600 per hourly employee and $2,650 per salaried employee. The kicker? On any given workday, 3.6% of full-time employees are absent from work, with traffic, personal problems, and oversleeping as the most common reasons.

As a small business owner, how do you handle irregular attendance? With a warning letter for attendance/lateness, for starters. But what should you include in that letter? And how do you use it to prevent frequent attendance problems?

Why It’s Important to Address Attendance and Tardiness 

First, let’s briefly touch on why it’s important to address these issues to begin with:

  • Lost productivity: When an employee is consistently absent or late, others need to pick up the slack to avoid delays and prevent work from piling up. This means work on one or more projects might slow down, reducing overall productivity. In addition, management needs to invest more time into dealing with scheduling issues and filling in gaps—which takes them away from their regular job duties and makes them less effective.
  • Lower employee morale: Consistently covering for an absent or late employee can cause friction and resentment with employees who show up on time. Additionally, workers who pick up the missing employee’s work might become more stressed and burnt out, leading to lower morale and increased turnover.
  • Worse product/service quality: When on-time employees have to pick up the slack for chronically late or missing employees, their performance can (and often will) drop. This can lead to a drop in the quality of your products or services—with customer issues (like complaints and refund requests) sure to follow.
  • Labor costs: You might need to hire additional help or pay your employees overtime to prevent delays caused by chronically absent or late employees. This can increase your hiring and labor costs and cut into your business’s revenue.
  • Legal and contractual requirements: Your local and state laws and/or employee/union contracts might require you to fully document attendance issues before you take action and punish an employee. A warning letter helps you provide evidence of consistent lateness/absenteeism, as well as the steps you’ve taken to improve the issue.

Why You Should Send a Letter to a Chronically Late or Absent Employee

Though there are different ways to address attendance or lateness issues, letters of warning are particularly effective for a few different reasons, including:

  • Formally notify an employee of violating company policy: A warning letter is a formal document that creates (or builds upon) a paper trail of attendance policy violations. This can come in handy if you need to take disciplinary action later (like suspension or termination), as you can use previous letters as proof that you’ve tried to work with them to correct the behavior. 
  • Ensure rules are enforced across the board: Providing every chronically absent or late employee with a letter of warning, regardless of their title, status, or tenure with the company, shows that your policies are equally enforced across your workforce—which can help protect against potential claims of unfair treatment or discrimination.
  • Lay out consequences for consistent absenteeism/lateness: Warning letters reiterate the consequences for violating your attendance policy, driving home the importance of showing up to work on time and as scheduled—and that reminder can often be just what the employee needs to get their attendance and/or punctuality back on track.
  • Create an opportunity for a discussion or feedback: An effective letter of warning can be a jumping-off point to having a conversation with your employee about why they’re late or absent. And if their tardiness or absenteeism is a result of a bigger issue—like not having access to childcare or reliable transportation—you can take steps to help support them and alleviate said issue (for example, by adjusting their schedule).

What To Include in a Warning Letter for Attendance and/or Lateness Issues

A letter of warning for attendance/lateness should be clear and concise, with all the details an employee needs to understand the consequences of being late—both for your business and for their employment. 

Details on their lateness/absenteeism can help them recognize just how often they’ve been late or missed work, in addition to giving them the chance to explain their recent attendance issues.

Each letter should include:

  • The date you issue the letter
  • The employee’s name and title
  • The subject
  • A statement that explains this letter is an official warning
  • A reminder of your employee attendance policy
  • A description of the infraction with specific details and evidence about how it violates the attendance policy (including the number of unexcused absences/late arrivals, as well as dates and times)
  • Any previous actions you’ve taken (such as a warning, write-up, or suspension)
  • Current consequences for the most recent unexcused absence/lateness
  • Potential consequences for future absences/late arrivals
  • Solutions for avoiding escalation (like calling ahead or using personal time)
  • An opportunity to respond or provide an explanation
  • Space for the employee to sign and acknowledge they received the warning

Warning Letter Templates

Looking for a warning letter template to share with your employees? Here are a few sample warning letters—including a first, second, and final warning—to help you get started.

Use these sample letters as templates by removing names and details—and substituting names and details that are relevant to your business and employee.

Best Practices for Effective Letters of Warning for Attendance and Lateness…

Warning letters for attendance and lateness are written reprimands, but they can also be tools to improve an employee’s poor performance—if you know how to write them correctly. 

So how can you write your letters of warning in a way that not only communicates the issue with your employees’ attendance—but also helps to actually solve the issue? 

Don’t Immediately Issue a Final Warning

Giving an employee a warning letter for habitual employee absenteeism or lateness is just that: a warning (at least initially). Don’t treat it like a final warning right off the bat; instead, use it to remind the employee about the attendance policy they signed during onboarding

Then (and this is the important part!), give the employee the opportunity to improve their absenteeism/lateness. Warn them of the consequences for continuing to come late—or not at all—but also let them know that they can avoid those consequences by getting their attendance/punctuality back on track.

Be Direct and Concise

Whether you write the letter yourself or use the template above, get to the point quickly—and be specific. Mention the problem, provide evidence (including dates and times) of irregular attendance/lateness issues, and detail the consequences for the current infraction and future violations.

Don’t Make It Personal

As a formal warning, this letter can be used to justify future discipline, up to and including termination. The letter should be fact-based, straightforward, and professional—and not a personal attack on the employee. 

Don’t include your personal feelings or offense at the employee’s absenteeism or lateness; instead, address the employee in an impartial, unbiased, and respectful way and focus on the impact of irregular attendance on the employee, your business, and your workforce.

Give the Employee Options

Though you should be stern with enforcing your employee policy, give the employee room to correct their mistakes. Invite them to speak with you, a supervisor, or an HR manager if they have any issues with making it to work regularly and/or on time. 

In certain situations, it helps to show empathy and be a little flexible with an employee who’s making a good-faith effort to show up on time—yet still falling short.

For example, an employee might care for a sick family member whose doctor appointments tend to run late before the start of the workday. In this case, you could let them know that on these days, they can start work an hour later if they make up their lost time later in the day or on the weekend.

On the other hand, an employee might mention they oversleep because they have insomnia. In this situation, you could provide them with information about health and wellness programs available to them through their health insurance.

…And Best Practices for Preventing Attendance and Lateness Issues

A warning letter can help you address and correct attendance issues—but it doesn’t stop them from occurring in the first place. Ideally, you should work to prevent attendance issues altogether to protect your company’s revenue, avoid lost productivity, and support employee morale. 

But how, exactly, do you do that?

  • Write a clear attendance policy: Your employee handbook should house all of your company policies, including an attendance policy. Make sure it clearly defines unexcused absences and lateness, and outlines disciplinary measures that will be taken after each violation. Require employees to sign off on this policy during orientation and any time you make policy changes.
  • Prioritize employee wellness: Encourage employee feedback to learn about their concerns and frustrations. Then take proactive steps to reduce their stress by introducing new policies (like a grace period before clocking in), implementing employee wellness programs, or providing employee assistance programs (like child care assistance).
  • Offer flexibility: If possible, consider offering hybrid or remote work to interested employees who are often late due to traffic or similar issues. Additionally, look into implementing flexible time off to help those employees who’d benefit from a less strict paid time off policy.
  • Keep records: Track your employees’ attendance and time in/out. Not only is this important for payroll purposes, but it can help you identify and resolve excessive absenteeism/lateness before it becomes a serious issue. Time tracking is also important so that if you do have to issue a warning, you have evidence to back it up.

Tackle Irregular Attendance by Issuing Warning Letters

When employees miss work or arrive late without giving advance notice, other employees—and your company as a whole—bear the burden. Chronic absenteeism and lateness can also cause lost revenue, lower morale, and reduced productivity—so it’s important to put a stop to it as early as you can.

You can use a letter of warning to inform an employee that consistently missing work or arriving late isn’t acceptable, giving you—and the employee—a framework to improve their attendance.

And now that you know how to write a warning letter for attendance/lateness, you have everything you need to document irregular attendance, encourage punctuality, and enforce your attendance policy.

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