Punctuality is a basic fundamental employment obligation. It’s taken as a given that when an employee enters into an employment contract with an employer, the employee is able to attend work on time. Two of the most basic of common law employment obligations which accrue to employees are come to work on time, and come to work often!
That’s not to say of course that unavoidable circumstances are unimportant. On the contrary, if an employee can prove that they were prevented from arriving at work on time for reasons beyond their control, the employer cannot treat such late-coming as being an act of misconduct.
Ordinarily, late-coming is a minor offence which should be responded to by employers with gradual, progressive discipline. Of course, if an employee arrives for work substantially late, it may well warrant dismissal even though it may be the first instance of late-coming, especially if the employee has short service and shows no remorse.
Our Courts have endorsed dismissal for a pattern on late-coming. In CEPPWAWU obo Motshene v Sandoz SA [Arbitration Case No. CHEM305-09/10] it was held that “ … the employee must not only come to work – he/she must come to work on time, and be at the workstation during the agreed hours – even if the employer has no work for him to do.”.
The Commissioner continued that “ .. when an employee fails to correct his conduct .. where his late-coming continued, it undermines the employer’s trust in him/her”. The employer cannot run a business when he cannot rely on the Applicant to be at work on time. This would in turn, break down the employment relationship. It is therefore unreasonable, under the circumstances, to expect the employer to carry on in such an employment relationship.”
Poor time-keeping would typically justify a verbal warning for a first offence, written warning for a second offence, final written warning for a third offence, and dismissal thereafter.
Employee justifications for late-coming must be assessed whether, or not, the employee can be deemed to have been at fault for the late-coming. Punctuality cases are, to some extent, easier to deal with that many other cases of alleged misconduct in that the employer’s evidentiary burden is minimal as the late-coming is easily identifiable.
Whilst employee’s may be faced with lengthy commutes to work, and increasingly frustrating traffic congestion, this does not ordinarily justify late-coming, unless of course a single unforeseen traffic accident for example hinders an employee’s ability on a given day to arrive at work on time.
More often than not, progressive discipline is headed by employees and punctuality materialises before the need to dismiss.
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