It has been widely reported that Chelsea have introduced fines of up to £20,000 if players turn up late. 

According to what is understood to be a leaked list of fines signed by Frank Lampard himself, players can be charged £2,500 if they are late for a medical appointment, a whopping £20,000 if they are late for training and £500 per minute if they are late for team meetings. 

If it's true, you can see where Lampard is coming from. Top flight male football players receive astronomically high wages to play for their club, and in return you would expect them to turn up for appointments and training on time, or face penalties if they don't. Whilst the fines seem exorbitant, in the context of a player earning £100,000 per week, a fine of £1,500 is less than 4% of a month's wages.  

But is it lawful to charge employees (or dock their wages) if they are late to work? 

Firstly, a deduction can only be made from an employee's pay if it is required or permitted by statute (such as deductions for income tax and employee National Insurance contributions) or if there is a term in the employee's contract allowing the employer to make such a deduction. 

Even if the employee's contract includes such a clause, employers need to be aware that certain deductions may mean that the employee does not receive at least National Minimum Wage in that particular pay period, which would be unlawful. 

Even if the deduction would not send the employee's pay below National Minimum Wage, the clause may be unenforceable if it amounts to a penalty clause, which broadly means that the penalty/fine does not reasonably reflect the loss that the employer has actually suffered because of the employee's lateness.  For example, docking an employee's pay by one hour if they are only 2 minutes late is likely to amount to a penalty clause. 

Furthermore, employers should be mindful that fining employees for lateness could be discriminatory. For example, an employee with a particular disability may struggle to get to work on time, as may a pregnant woman.

Another relevant point to bear in mind is that such a practice may well impact negatively on employee relations and create unrest and dissatisfaction among the workforce, which could in turn affect productivity and punctuality. 

That is not to say that lateness should be ignored or go unpunished, but there may be more appropriate ways to address it such as with warnings and disciplinary action if necessary. 

So am I saying that Chelsea's new financial penalties, if they are to be believed, are unlawful? No - for starters, I do not know what is in the players' contracts. However, employers thinking of following in Chelsea's footsteps should think carefully and take legal advice before implanting such a practice, or risk falling foul of the law (and upsetting employee relations).