Kellie G. Olah
SPHR, CVPM, SHRM-SCP
HR Huddle columnist Kellie Olah is the practice management and human resources consultant at Veterinary Business Advisors. The company provides legal, human resources and practice management services to veterinarians nationwide. Olah is a certified veterinary practice manager, a certified veterinary business leader and a nationally certified senior professional in human resources.Read Articles Written by Kellie G. Olah
Picture this: Your team is prepping for surgery. The workday begins at 8 a.m., and clients have already dropped off their pets. Unfortunately, the chronically late veterinary technician hasn’t arrived, so nothing is truly prepped. The patient schedule then gets pushed back, and, for the entire day, you’re running behind. From the technician’s perspective, she was “only” 15 minutes late because she stopped for a “quick” coffee. Her decision, though, didn’t account for the domino effect. Because the first surgery started late, your team members were stressed all day, clients were mad at having their personal schedules thrown off, and the staff worked an extra hour.
Sound familiar? If so, what can you do?
First, make sure the workplace rules are crystal clear. Incorporate policies about on-time arrival into your employee manual, and give everyone a copy. The manual should define what being on time means. For example, the employee must be ready to start work tasks when the shift begins. Also:
- Include disciplinary steps in the on-time policy.
- Keep good records of employee lateness. Time-tracking software, of which there is plenty on the market, can help.
Once everything is in place, here are four solutions to consider if an employee is chronically late.
1. Change the Hospital Schedule
Under certain circumstances, this option might work. For example, let’s say you have an excellent technician who needs to drop off her children at school at 8 a.m. In theory, she could do it earlier, but the kids are pretty young. Starting surgeries 15 minutes later each day might solve the conflict. If so, the response is straightforward and practical.
If the employee is frequently late because she likes to stop at Starbucks in the morning and consistently misjudges how much time it adds to her schedule, changing your clinic’s hours is unlikely to work. The tardy employee almost certainly will repeat the pattern, solving nothing.
Looking at the root cause can help with the next recommendation.
2. Coach the Employee
As soon as lateness becomes a problem, proactively and calmly address the situation. Schedule a private meeting with the employee to discuss the matter and learn about the behavior. (If a medical issue is the underlying reason, the next step is to consider accommodations. The rest of this article assumes that this is not the case.)
Be sure to refer to the practice’s timeliness policy during the meeting, and give the employee a deadline to resolve the issue. Then, monitor if and how the behavior changes. You might see rapid improvement, no improvement or something in between. Be patient with gradual improvements if everything falls within the timeline you set.
If tardiness continues, schedule a second meeting and outline the consequences of lateness. Your policy might start with verbal warnings before going to written ones.
During a coaching session, make sure to treat the employee equitably. Also, consider offering rewards to co-workers who regularly arrive on time. Doing that signals how much you appreciate their timeliness, and it can reduce the frustration they likely feel about the tardiness and its effects on their workday.
Rewarding on-time employees also gives tardy colleagues a goal as the benefits of arriving on time become more tangible.
3. Take Disciplinary Steps
At this point, issue verbal or written warnings as outlined in the employee manual. Be clear about when the employee was late and by how many minutes. In the first written warning, detail how many verbal warnings you gave and when.
At the written warning stage, explain how the tardiness affects the practice and clients. For example, it could read: “Because of your late arrival, the surgery started 25 minutes late, which meant that appointments throughout the day also started later than scheduled. This is not acceptable.”
Reference the section in the manual that discusses lateness. Allow the employee to append comments to the warning, and ask for a signature. Then, share a copy with the employee.
Consider adding this next step to your practice policy: Reduce the employee’s hourly pay by $1 as part of the disciplinary process. The amount might be small, but it can be effective because nobody wants to do the same work for less money. The employee might remember the pay cut during the next visit to Starbucks.
Check your state’s laws before taking such an action, however. Employees cannot be paid less than the minimum wage, and they must receive notice. Also, the cut can’t occur until the next pay period.
When you get to this point, the employee has sufficient opportunity to improve behavior. While you’ll want to update the personnel file with the disciplinary paperwork, you could give the employee a fresh start by archiving the warnings if timeliness returns for a specified period.
4. Terminate Employment
Nobody wants to reach this step, but sometimes, it happens. Make sure you:
- Followed all the disciplinary policies.
- Documented each carefully.
You might want to run your paperwork and decision past your attorney.
Then, meet with the employee, be direct and professional, and share the termination decision, using a sentence or two to explain why. (At this point, the reason shouldn’t be a surprise.) Cover the essentials and be gracious.
Many times, the conversation happens at the end of the workday. The employee can collect any personal belongings at this point, but you should accompany the person.
When your veterinary practice dealt with a tardy employee for some time, you might have envisioned shifting job duties after the person’s termination. Perhaps you thought about promoting someone into the job or shuffling the schedule to cover the gap. Or maybe you decided to advertise the position.
No matter the route, it’s time to move forward. The disciplinary episode might have strengthened or reinforced policies on chronic tardiness and allowed you to implement a viable rewards system for employees who arrive on time.
Each situation is unique, but it’s broadly true that doing what’s best for the practice is crucial.