California HR

Wage and Hour: Do Employees Get a Seven-Minute Grace Period When Late for Work?

We have been challenged by an employee who claims that all employees get a “grace period” of seven minutes before they can be reprimanded and docked any pay when late for work. For example, if the shift starts at 8:00 a.m. and the employee arrives at 8:07, the employee should be paid for the seven minutes and not be reprimanded for tardiness. We have fewer than 20 employees and are a medical office where the staff members need to be on time and ready to work. Our employee manual states that employees can have up to three tardies in a given month before disciplinary action will be considered. Do we have to honor a grace period at the start of a shift? What are my rights as an employer and those of the employee?
 —Paula T., HR Manager in Sacramento


The HR Management & Compliance Report: How To Comply with California Wage & Hour Law, explains everything you need to know to stay in compliance with the state’s complex and ever-changing rules, laws, and regulations in this area. Coverage on bonuses, meal and rest breaks, overtime, alternative workweeks, final paychecks, and more.


Many employers face this troublesome issue. California’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) takes the position that there is no such mandatory grace period. So, you could dock someone for being a few minutes late. However, most employers do grant a grace period of five to seven minutes to be realistic about “emergency” situations. For example, sometimes people miss the bus or traffic is particularly bad, so most employers accept that employees are occasionally going to have unforeseen problems that make them a few minutes late.

Employees could make up the seven minutes at the end of the day, if you insist. Of course, notes the DIR, if you dock people for being a few minutes late, logically you should pay overtime if they work seven minutes over. But do you want to bother with that? Most employers don’t. Instead, they just take a reasonable attitude toward this problem.

However, if people are late every day, that’s not an unforeseen problem or emergency. You can warn and discipline those workers. The DIR strongly recommends that employers have a policy that clearly spells out company rules about attendance and tardiness. Some employers may need a very strict policy (for example, if a production line can’t start until every employee is present), while others may be more relaxed if there are enough people to cover for a late employee.

Also, the DIR recommends, consider requiring employees to call in if they’re going to be late so that you will have some warning of an employee’s tardiness and be able to take steps to deal with it.

Some employees mistakenly think they are entitled to a grace period because the time clock will accept their punch for, say, up to seven minutes after the regulated start time, but this is no indication of a grace period. A quick training session should clear this matter up.

Matter of House Practice

Basically, policies vary from company to company. An employee manual should set out the organization’s rules, which could include a statement that there is no grace period for tardiness.

When dealing with employee tardiness, employers should also be aware of their past practices and remain consistent. If you discipline someone for being a few minutes late, and he or she can point out that you didn’t discipline another employee for the same thing, that could appear to be discrimination if the disciplined individual is a member of a protected class.

In sum, time on the job is time on the job, and late is late. But most employers do give a little “grace.”

Shari Dunn is managing principal of CompAnalysis, a compensation and performance management consulting firm in Oakland.

  • Our job made a new rule that each staff had to clock in and out on their exact time, not a minte late or early. This just dont seem right want to know legal right.

  • mike

    Hmm, my co. Issues disciplinary action to employees that are 1 minute late punching in, despite the fact that it can take as long as 10 minutes to punch in using the Web based time logging system. Is this legal?

  • Gigi

    i work for a company that will take away from my vacation time if i’m late. I work a bunch of overtime but i do not receive any overtime pay. is this legal?

    • Rick

      Gigi, your company must pay you overtime if your a non exempt employee, depends on the company policy, they can pay you after 8 worked hours or after 40 hours. If they are not paying you any overtime after working these hours, this is called wage theft and the company can get into some serious legal problems for this practice.

    • popsk

      If your company forces you to work overtime (in the US, anyway), they must either pay you overtime pay or give you compensatory time off. That’s the law.

  • Rose

    our co. just implemented this rule. i’ve been late 3x (8:16|8:12|8:08), but they have issued me a notice to explain. I believe there is a conflict here as it is clearly stated that memo/disciplinary action will be given only on the 4th. Below is their exact statement.

    Reminder : Based on the Amended Punctuality Policy dated June 17, 2016 – HR personnel will warn thru email up to 3rd times as long as it is not more than 15 minutes of late. On the 4th times, memo/disciplinary action will be issued and if late’s accumulated 60mins within cut-off period another memo will be issued.

    Please enlightened me regarding this matter thanks

    • popsk

      I’m a manager and I have a couple of employees who are habitually late…by 10 – 20 minutes every day. My feeling is they know what time we start…and I fail to understand why they can’t arrive on time. Rose, while I understand sometimes things happen, being late should be a rarity…not something that happens normally. It seems to me you could, perhaps, work harder to leave home earlier and get to work on time. Being late is a sign of disrespect for your company policies and your boss.

  • Estrella

    I work where they tell us before we punch in we must be ready (samples in pocket , logged in paperwork) prior to us clocking in for work. They state this over n over. Is this legal?

    • JW

      I would love to hear a reply to Estrella’s Quesiton!

  • Linda

    Can another employee that is over you say for example a nurse over a cna say you can take a 15 minute break because you came back from lunch six minutes late?

  • TAMI MATTHEWS

    IF I AM LATE 3 MIN THEN THAT IS WHAT I SHOULD GET CHARGED FOR NOT 15MIN

  • cdtsm

    Law or no law, if the employer has the 7-minute rule programmed into the time clock, and the time clock considers you on time, and you get paid thusly, then common sense dictates the employee should be considered on time by all, including the employer. Otherwise it’s just a matter of screwing one or the other out of money and time for no reason and it becomes every one-sided, usually against the employee, which will inevitably result in negative morale and a toxic environment. A few minutes never makes a difference in most workplaces, and in my personal experience, as well as many employees I’ve personally consulted with, allowing an employee to be even 10 minutes late and not vilifying or even giving them a hard time about it, results in a happier, more productive and loyal workplace.

  • popsk

    I understand if an employee is late, on the rare occasion, but when it’s day after day, it’s clear they don’t respect me or the policies of our organization. That’s when discipline begins. I start with a verbal counseling session in which I reiterate the attendance policy. Following that, if the lateness continues, I give the employee a letter of counseling, which goes in their file. If the tardiness continues, it becomes a written letter of reprimand, which is detrimental to the employee’s future promotions, raises, etc. Eventually, with a paper trail established, there are those rare events in which an employee can be terminated for failure to abide by the policy.
    Look, folks…put yourself in the shoes of the business owner/manager. You pay your employees to be at work for a specific amount of time. If they continually show up late, they’re cheating their employer out of money.
    I don’t think it’s out of line to allow a 5 – 10 minute grace period, but that should NOT occur every single day.

  • Michael Sturdivant

    My job have a point system an if u get 6points u lose your job but we don’t have the 7 min grace of tardy if you late one min that a half of point an that’s all u get a year 6points can anybody help me wit this