gere-track-hours-workedWhen I worked as a shift supervisor in a Procter & Gamble plant, reviewing the weekly time cards of my guys was an important job. If I didn’t report their hours accurately to payroll every Monday morning, I knew I would have a difficult time on Friday when distributing paychecks. Occasionally, the suspicion of falsified time records would launch me on an investigation to smoke out the dishonest employee. So I know firsthand how important tracking work hours is in the workplace.

With the change in salary level for white collar exemption,  more employees will need to track their hours. Starting in December, lower paid exempt employees will be reclassified as non-exempt employees and become eligible for overtime. It is more important than ever to be clear on what counts as hours worked.

Tracking work hours is relatively easy when employees start and finish work at a set location, punching in and out on a time clock. However, increasingly, this scenario doesn’t represent the reality of our workplaces.

Many employees, regardless of classification, work at locations outside a main office. What constitutes a work location is increasingly fluid. Employees of all stripes telecommute, travel, work from clients’ locations, and access work emails on their cellphones. Accounting for work hours is increasingly challenging.

Federal law says “time spent doing work not requested by the employer, but still allowed, is generally considered hours worked” and it must be paid. In other words, even if you have not authorized the work, the time should be paid.

If not, the specter of legal action might be in your future. In fact, wage and hour lawsuits are skyrocketing according to a Washington Post article. The risk is real.

One common scenario is the weekly timesheet with identical hours for each day (let’s say 8:30 am to 4:30pm) for a perfect 40-hour week. These “perfect” time records do not reflect actual hours worked. Occasionally, employees start work late or may put in overtime. Timesheets must reflect the reality of the hours worked to be a trustworthy record.

When exempt employees are reclassified as non-exempt, they need to be trained on:

  • The correct use of the time tracking system,
  • What is  considered work time
  • The authorization process for overtime work,
  • The risk of working “off-the-clock” (i.e. work unrecorded overtime) including discipline,

Practically, employers might need to pay special attention that the newly non-exempt employers are:

  • Relieved of duties during lunch and rest breaks.
  • Consider the risk of reviewing access to work emails on personal devices
  • Tracking all hours actually worked.

A word of caution about meal breaks. Avoid the standard 30-minute deduction automated through payroll. Those have been the source of many legal challenges. Employee recording the exact start and end time of their work day including breaks can prevent significant headaches in the long run.

More than ever, the employer must institute (or reinforce) accurate time tracking of hours worked. If clocking in and out at a physical work location is not possible, options for remote timekeeping (such as a phone system or an online app) are increasingly common in industries like home care.

If an employer is required to produce time records in a lawsuit or an audit by the Department of Labor, time records that do not reflect actual hours worked is as good as no time records at all. The lack of reliable employer records creates a presumption that the employee’s version of hours worked is the correct version. And the employer faces an uphill battle to prove the employee was, in fact, paid accurately.

Don’t be caught unaware. Act now as the deadline to December 1st is approaching fast.