There are some occasions where an employee arrives to work late. Life happens; the car won’t start, the alarm doesn’t go off in the morning, public transport cancellations or a car accident causing traffic chaos are just some of the reasons why an employee may be late for work.

Failing to pay employees who are late

An employee is not normally entitled to be paid their salary for the period that they did not attend work for an unauthorised reason.

Despite this, the obligation under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) to pay an employee for time that they have worked means that an employer can only not pay an employee for the exact period that the employee was absent.

For example, some employers may have a practice where if an employee is late by 6 minutes, they will “dock” 15 minutes from the employee. Such a practice would be a breach of the permitted deductions under the FW Act.

Difference between ‘deducting’ and not paying for unauthorised absences

It is important to be clear about the fact that an employer is not ‘deducting’ an amount from an employee’s salary when they do not pay them for not attending work as described.

This is because the FW Act generally prohibits deductions from an employee’s pay, except in certain circumstances. Rather, the employer is simply not paying the employee for the time that they have not worked.

In a circumstance where an employee is running late, they should notify their manager of the reason for their lateness and what time they expect to be at work. This may result in the manager and employee reaching agreement for the employee to make up the time if the relevant modern award permits, and the make up time is within the span of ordinary hours.

When does lateness become a disciplinary issue?

Repeated lateness may become the subject of disciplinary action particularly if the reason for the lateness is something within the employee’s control. For example, if an employee repeatedly sleeps through their morning alarm, they may need to set multiple alarms to ensure that they do not hit the snooze button.