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Getting to Work on Time

Consultants' Corner: Volume 13, Issue 01

From the desk of Melanie Whetzel, M.A., CBIS, Principal Consultant, Team Lead


Have you ever been late for work? At some point because of an accident, unforeseen traffic, or even a flat tire, we have all had reason to be late for work. Maybe you have even overslept a time or two. But what about being late for work almost every day? JAN Consultants answer many questions about tardiness, attendance policies, and accommodations that can help employees who have difficulty getting to work on time because of their disabilities. Often, individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), sleep disorders, and those taking certain types of medications struggle to be punctual. Let's look at some of the causes for the lack of punctuality, and what accommodations and new habits or routines might be helpful in reducing tardiness for employees and students with disabilities.

Employees with ADHD often report that they have so many distractions in the mornings that it is very difficult to get out the door in time to arrive at work on time. Allowing more time in the mornings by getting up earlier is not always helpful. These individuals may just find many more distractions to keep them from focusing on getting ready for work and out the door. One way to streamline what needs to be done in the mornings is to take care of as much as possible the night before. Choosing what clothing to wear, making sure the clothes are pressed and ready to go, selecting socks or hosiery, shining/cleaning shoes are all ways to speed up the morning ritual. For people who take their lunches and snacks to work, they should do as much preparation as possible ahead of time as well. For people with children, their efforts are going to have to double. They will need to check homework, backpacks, and get clothing and lunches ready before morning. If the children are old enough, they can be trained to take care of these things themselves. The less a person has to do in the mornings, the better the chance of getting to work on time.

For people who are distracted by things in the household, a watch with multiple settings that can help the person stay on task may be helpful. The watch can sound an alarm or vibrate, and the task that should be completed when it goes off will be printed on the watch's face. If the watch indicates it is time to pick up the car keys to head out the door and the person does not even have his socks and shoes on, he will be reminded to get moving. Maybe setting up "rules" or guidelines will help as well – such as no morning television, no e-mailing/texting, and no checking social media. Checklists may be helpful for individuals with OCD. Sometimes multiple checks of doors, appliances, briefcases, and children's packs can keep an individual from leaving home in time to be punctual at work. Checking things the night before, and indicating what has been completed on a checklist can save precious time in the mornings. It does take some effort to plan and consistently stick to a routine, but this can be time well spent when the morning runs smoother as a result.

All employees, including employees with disabilities, have a responsibility to be punctual for work; it is not the employer's responsibility to make sure employees get to work on time. An employer is only required to provide accommodations that eliminate barriers in the work environment. Because the ability to get ready for work and leave the house are outside the work environment, an employer may not be obligated to provide certain accommodations, but let's look at several examples of accommodations that might be available to assist with an employee’s punctuality. For example, an employer may change a policy or provide a flexible, modified, or alternate schedule or shift.

Someone who is unable to be consistent in the arrival times at work may benefit from a flexible schedule. A flexible schedule usually involves allowing an employee flexibility in reporting to work within a specified window of time. For example, a copy editor whose hours of work are 8:15 to 4:45 may be able to report to work between 8:15 to 8:45, and then work the eight hours, leaving work between 4:45 and 5:15. Depending on the essential functions of the position, some employees may have more or less freedom in the range of time that could be flexed.

A modified schedule may involve adjusting arrival or departure times, such as working from 8:30 to 4:30 or 9:00 to 5:00 instead of 8:00 to 4:00. Factors that may help determine if a schedule can be changed relate to essential functions and how many employees are available to do the tasks until the employee comes in. An employer may find it much easier to modify the schedule of a data entry clerk who works independently than he would an assembly-line employee who would disrupt the operation of the line if absent at starting time.

One policy that may be changed is decreasing the time that has been set for call-ins when an employee is going to be late or absent. Someone with a sleep disorder may not be able to call in three hours ahead of time if the reason he cannot get to work is the inability to awaken. A policy change need only be made for the employee with the disability, not everyone else.

A shift change may be another accommodation. Some individuals find that it is much easier to be on time for work when they work a later shift, such as 3:00 pm to 11:00 pm rather than 7:00 am to 3:00 pm.

For specific questions related to a workplace situation, whether it concerns getting to work on time or another issue, please contact JAN and speak to a consultant. JAN consultants work in specialized teams and will be able to help sort out how limitations may be affecting a person's ability to perform the essential functions of a position and identify accommodations.

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