Keeping track of employee working hours is not an optional
chore: The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and numerous other federal and state laws, require employers to
keep records of hours worked, wages paid, and other conditions of
employment. Beyond the law, it is impossible to run a successful business
without keeping track of employee working hours. The FLSA requires
that time records show the date and time a worker's workweek starts,
the number of hours worked each day, and the total hours worked during
the week. For many business reasons, employers need to keep thorough,
accurate records of all hours worked, including starting and quitting
times for each employee.
The law does not mandate just how time records are to
be kept; employers have any number of options. Following are a few
Many employers require that workers keep written track
of their working hours manually on a time card or time sheet and turn
them in periodically. Workers with access to computers can log in
and out of work electronically.
Time clocks are not required
by law but are often used by employers. Where they are used, employees
who voluntarily clock in before their regular starting time or stay
after their closing time do not have to be paid for such periods unless
they are working. However, personal time spent in the workplace may
have to be compensated if the employee does any job function, no matter
how limited, during that time. Employees may react with resentment
and resistance when employers institute time clocks for the first
time. Therefore, it is important to introduce time clocks with a maximum
of tact (for example, on the basis that they preclude timekeeping
errors) and to be lenient at first with employees who forget to punch
in or out. Web clocks are similar to time clocks but allow employees
to clock in or out over the Internet.
Rounding practices. It is the practice
in some industries, particularly where time clocks are used, to record
employees' starting time and stopping time to the nearest 5, 10, or
15 minutes. As long as employees are fully compensated for all the
time they actually work, this practice will be accepted unless it
is used in such a way that on average employees are not properly compensated
for all the time they have actually worked.
This is a computerized system
using electronic badge readers—terminals that can read barcodes and
magnetic strips on badges. Employees pass their badges or identification
(ID) cards through an electronic device, which transfers the information
to a computer, that records the information and calculates it.
Many companies are now using
hand and fingerprint scanners to replace time clocks. Hand and fingerprint
scanners eliminate instances of one employee punching in or out for
another. While it’s true that a swipe-card system would accomplish
many of the same goals, with the hand and fingerprint scanning systems,
employees don't have to remember to bring their badges to work.
The FLSA does not require employees to be paid for their
time spent changing or washing up, unless the activity is “principal
work activity,” so theoretically, early or late clock punching may
be disregarded. However, if an employee later claims that he or she
was working but the time at work was not recorded, the employer may
end up paying the employee for that time. This is because the employer
generally will not be able to prove otherwise, and in such a circumstance
a court will rule in favor of the employee. To be safe, employers
should ensure that an employee clocks in when he or she is ready to
begin work and clocks out as soon as work time is done.
Most employers do not require exempt workers to keep
track of hours. This is fine, as long as the employer is absolutely
sure the workers are exempt. If it is later determined that an employee
was nonexempt, that employee might make a claim for overtime pay.
If there are no records of the employee's work hours, the employer
will have great difficulty countering the employee's claim as to the
number of hours he or she worked. Time sheets for exempt employees
should record sick days, floating holidays, vacation time, jury duty,
bereavement, and other absences. However, exempt employees may not
be docked pay because of a variation in the quantity of work performed
Most employers consider deliberately incorrect time recording--time
card falsifying or clocking in or out for another employee--to be
firing offenses. A few caveats: An employer who intends to consider
these offenses cause for immediate termination must inform employees
of this prospectively and enforce the rule across the board. If discipline
for this offense is not enforced even-handedly, it may be used to
support a discrimination claim.
Last updated on February 17, 2016.