How Strict Should Work Hours Be?

Woodworking employers and employees discuss working hours, flex time, performance, and shop morale. March 4, 2006

I was wondering how everyone handles starting and ending times? Many employees come in at the last second, not allowing for traffic and other distractions. Can I require them to show up 15 minutes early without paying them for their time?

Forum Responses
(Business Forum)
From contributor A:
I'm curious about your question. You state that they show up at the last second, not allowing for traffic, etc. If I have to be to work by 6 am, and I'm there at my work station at 5:59 am ready to work, then I can't see what the problem would be. I could see it if I showed up at 5:59, put my lunch in the fridge, then I went to chat with the guys, eventually showing up at my work station at 6:10 or so. In that case, I would remind them all by carefully saying something like, "in order for us to maintain our production schedule, it really is imperative that everyone is here and working by (fill in the blank).” Those who are always on time will know who you are really talking about and may help to correct the situation for you, so to speak.

From contributor B:
If you require them to show up 15 minutes early, then that is the starting time and you must pay them for that. If I show up late by a minute or two and then work into my lunch or break by a minute or two and satisfy my total hours, I don’t understand why there is a problem. This is the main reason I started to work for myself - the boss standing by the door tapping his foot and looking at his watch while giving you a scowl as you walk in 35 seconds late. I didn't come in late that often and it was usually because of some traffic mishap beyond my control and I was always willing to make the 30 seconds up. Other employees’ production is not necessarily dependent on a job that is not a line job. So let them slip in a little late and give them a piece of paper to sign acknowledging that they came in late and after they accrue a certain number of these you can issue disciplinary action at your discretion.

From contributor C:
For me it was best to use a time clock punch in system. I found an old school bell timer and it was set to ring 2 minutes prior to the shift, 2 minutes prior to 7:00 am. During this time everyone clocked in, not before, and went to their work stations. Prior to clock in time they were only allowed to be in break room and nowhere else. Then the bell rang again at 7 signifying time to begin work. The bell also rang for breaks and lunch the same way with the 2 min. staging as well. Employees did not clock out for breaks, the clock only sounded for their structure. At lunch, if you left the premises you were required to clock out. Everyone followed the same pattern and were not allowed to be in the production area for various reasons prior to shift, during lunch and breaks -no supervision on floor, theft and accident are some. A well structured environment is a plus for everyone.

Also the time cards give a history of work, lunch, tardiness and absenteeism. When you have several employees, especially on assembly lines where one employee’s work is dependent on another, tardiness can add up to be costly and disruptive. Smaller shops may elect to have a less structured system or no real system at all. It’s not about discipline but about efficiency, cost, safety and documentation.

All of this was explained in detail in the company handbook and was part of the hiring interview, orientation and job training and a topic in employee evaluations which were conducted at 2 weeks for new employees, every 30 days for the next 3 months, then every 60 days after that. It’s important for these things to be given to the applicant so that if he is hired, the practice is in his scope of acceptance and part of his job duties.

From contributor D:
I guarantee you that I wouldn't show up 15 minutes early and not be paid for it! I think you would get the same response from your employees. Do you use a time clock? Come up with some kind of clever incentive for going above and beyond instead of punishing them for being a few seconds late. Rewards always work better than punishment.

From contributor E:
We've never had a formal break, lunch or starting time. I guess this is because of the experience I had at my first (and almost only) wage job as a cabinetmaker. On my first day I was sanding a cabinet when the break buzzer rang. I continued to sand, figuring I was almost done and my break would come eventually. One of the other guys tapped me on the shoulder and insisted that the break had to be now. It only took me until the next day to become a clock watcher. I made sure I paced myself to be at a good stopping point when 10:00 hit.

My theory is that shops that have tightly structured work schedules also have tightly structured pre-break warm-down and post-break bonding periods. At my shop, starting time is plus or minus 20 minutes of the employee’s usual starting time. If he is going to be later than that he should call. Break time is when the employee needs one and feels he is at a good stopping point. Lunch is distributed throughout the day. The guys manage this schedule themselves and generally follow the guideline of keeping as many people on the floor working at a time as is possible. I don't want everybody out of the building at once. If a customer shows up at the same time as a truck driver, I don't want to have to keep either of them waiting. If a bottleneck machine is idle, I want to keep it running.

Vacations and days off are just about always granted when requested. I like as much notice as possible but I figure an employee wouldn't ask if he didn't want the day off. I rarely have to ask for overtime but the guys seem to be there when it's needed. They know when we're in a bind and when we're not. This is a factory setting and it just doesn't matter when the work gets done as long as it gets done on time. I am sure I would run this differently if we worked at the customer's job site. I think if that was the case, promptness would be mandatory. A perk is like a paycheck, though probably more influential. This is one that doesn't seem to cost much.

From contributor F:
Certainly the laws vary from state to state, and depend on whether or not the employee is salary or hourly. In my state, as an hourly employee, if you are required to be there at a certain time you are to be paid starting at that time. Perhaps you should ask yourself if you are required to pay your employees if they leave 15 minutes early. Reverse perspective often opens up a different view.

From contributor G:
I'm not sure how many employees you have or have had. The shops I have had the pleasure to work in had the understanding that an employee will try to be at the shop by 8 am, however on occasion due to kids, traffic, etc. he may be late. If it's more than 15 minutes he needs to call and give us the heads up. At the end of the day he would stay late and make up the late time. If things didn't straighten themselves out that day, then they usually would within that pay week. If an employee is late to work on Monday, he will be late to leave on Tuesday.

From contributor H:
Along the same line, what do you guys do regarding travel time? For example, let's say that you have a job that requires the employee to travel overnight and the employee is an hourly employee. If you provide for the employee's travel expenses so that the employee has no out of pocket expenses, and you require the employee to work his normal shift hours while out of town, do you compensate the employee for the time it takes to get to the out-of-town location?

From contributor I:
As far as travel goes, you should pay hourly associates for travel time. You also need to consider meals and other expenses. It is an expensive proposition and it needs to be in your pricing formula. Also, if you are charging some sort of fuel surcharge to your customers and an employee is taking his/her personal vehicle, you must pass all of the money through to the employee. It's federal law. This issue like the one above should all be outlined in the employee manual. If you don't have one, write one or get someone to do it for you. It will take a lot of pressure off you as a supervisor. I am much more concerned that my employees are healthy, happy, and awake than two minutes late. Not only do they produce superior work, which is what we sell, but they don't cut fingers off.

From contributor C:
I might add these facts for those interested. In most states, any person who has 2 or more employees within the state in twenty or more weeks of a calendar year shall not require any employee to work without a rest period of at least 10 min. during each 4 hours worked. It is the employer’s responsibility to show proof of this. The best proof of this is a written company policy showing uniformity plant (shop) wide with designated times for such rest. The proof of this resides with the employer and simply saying its happening doesn’t prove it. These rest periods must be counted as hours worked.

The principles which apply in determining whether or not time spent in travel is working time depend upon the kind of travel involved. The Portal Act provides no employer shall be liable for the failure to pay a minimum wage or overtime for time spent traveling to any place where they conduct their principal activity for which they are employed. Exception to this is express contract, and emergencies. I'm strictly speaking of Labor Law, so it can be your choice to pay travel time or not, considering there's no contract or substantial distance traveled to perform an emergency job for you.

From contributor J:
Our shop work hours operate almost exactly like contributor E’s. I'd feel awful running a shop with really strict work schedule times. I don't like others being dictatorial about my time, so I don't like imposing strict guidelines on others. Also, it's true what contributor E said about how usually it doesn't matter when something gets done; it just needs to get done on time. So why put forth the effort to have everyone head down at the strike of 8:00? I'm a big believer in being extremely particular about things that matter, and not spending energy on things that don't. I think employees appreciate this.

From contributor K:
One thing that I have learned - and you guys confirmed it - is not to take things like this too personally because after listening to everyone it becomes clear that this happens all over to everyone and one should really not fly off the handle and take any particular thing personally because as a social group we are pretty predictable. I judge people one by one, based on their accomplishments, not by how they tell time.

From contributor L:
A loosely structured – but not sloppy - minimally tense, do unto others work environment will yield higher productivity, higher quality goods and employees. Flexibility is a very desirable fringe benefit to an employee.

From contributor M:
Most of the responses so far have focused on the relationship between the employer and employee regarding starting and finishing times, as though you only have one employee. I have found that the biggest problem with chronic tardiness is that the people who take the trouble to get to work on time every day feel abused by a system that allows others to come in late without repercussions. I believe everyone should strive to raise their performance level to the highest mark, not the lowest. Occasional tardiness is not a big deal, but consistently arriving late can seriously erode morale among your best employees. As employers, we should not allow it.

From contributor A:
The best shop that I have ever worked in, with the best craftsmen (about 30 people total in the company) had a policy where we all basically made up our own hours, we all were given a key to the building, and knew that we had a sacred trust that was not to be broken. Some guys worked five 8 hour shifts, some worked three and a quarter12 hour shifts, all for different reasons. But we all worked and were thankful for that flexibility. The other bonus was that if you were extremely tired or sick one day, you could go home with no questions asked, and make it up during the week sometime.

From the original questioner:
The truth is I really don't have any employees. I've been going it alone the last five years. These are some things that used to bug me when I would arrive at my business two hours early to plan for the day and at 8:00 the shop was empty. Anyway, I found going it alone with part time help works for me.

From contributor N:
It really starts to hurt is when you get big. Let's say you have 40 employees. If you lose just an average 3 minutes a day per employee due to tardiness or whatever, your annual loss would be 480 hrs or $36,000 based on a $75 hr shop rate. I think that you should punch in on time and be paid for the time you work. If you work into lunch then punch out when you're done and punch back in after you take your lunch. Everyone should be paid for the time they work. I have to agree with contributor M, the chronic tardiness is a huge moral killer. I think the key is that you have to be strict but also fair.

From contributor O:
We run flex time at our shop (17 employees). The workers are free to come when they want and go when they want, as long as they put in 40 hours a week. I also allow them to take mornings off for doctor, banking, and other events that are difficult to schedule on weekends. I probably lose a little production here and there, but I am sure that it's made up in overall happiness and productivity. I might have to run the shop differently if it was an assembly line where Worker C needed Workers A and B to be working before he had anything to work on, but we don't have that kind of shop. I treat my people like adults and they act like adults. We have had a few try to take advantage of the system. They get canned and the others applaud. I think that this is a highly valued perk, as some arrive at the shop at 6 am, and some arrive at the shop at 10 am. They get to schedule their day to minimize the time spent in traffic, maximize family time, or whatever pleases them. It also spreads out the use of the tools so that the guys can count on parts of the day when there isn't such a crowded shop.

From contributor P:
To contributor N: You are right about things adding up. But it is also wise to look at the percentage. Your figures yield 6/1000 percent of the total gross hours paid. What about yawning? Or bathroom visits? How much does it cost to punch the time clock? It is all a cost of doing business. If we all listen to the people who are developing the methods to solve the problem of wasted labor, we will definitely miss the boat as to the big picture. I always wonder why the efficiency guys who write books and lecture don't start their own businesses and put all that theory into practice.

From contributor J:
I have to agree with contributor P. To contributor N: Your perspective on this is a dangerous one. It can lead to management that is dehumanized, uncompassionate, and counterproductive. I'm not saying a manager shouldn't recognize the losses or gains he's seeing from employee behavior; just don't manage to that issue directly. It is more a symptom than it is a problem. My experience with a large number of employees (100+) is that focusing on minutes actually has the effect of corroding productivity and morale.

From contributor Q:
We have been building custom furniture for 25 years. Our best employees have been here the whole time. Invest in an electronic pay clock that links to your office computer. If my guys show up late I don't have to pay them. If they show up early and I haven't approved OT then they can leave early. I treat them well and they are all very productive. I don't have to stand over them to make sure they are working. Best of all we actually like each other.