4 time clock rules that employees should know are:
- hourly and non-exempt employees have to clock in and out,
- employers who track time in increments have to round appropriately,
- covered employees cannot be made or allowed to work off the clock without pay, and
- there is no specific time tracking method that must be used.
1. Non-exempt employees and hourly employees have to clock in and out
Federal and state laws require employers to track the number of hours worked by all non-exempt employees. This includes both hourly workers and salaried workers who are non-exempt from minimum wage and overtime laws. It does not include exempt salaried employees.
This rule comes from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Regulations for this federal law require employers to maintain and preserve payroll records for all workers who are subject to:
- minimum wage laws, or
- both minimum wage and overtime laws.1
Those payroll and time records must include information such as:
- hours worked each workday and the total number of hours you have worked during each workweek,
- your total daily or weekly straight time earnings,
- the time of day and the day of the week on which your workweek begins,
- your basis of pay, like whether it is per hour, per day, or pursuant to another system, and
- your hourly rate of pay for overtime work and your total premium pay for overtime hours.2
In order to keep these records, employers have to track when you begin and end work every day. This requires covered employees to clock in at the start of the workday and to clock out at the end of the workday. It does not require such timekeeping activities for exempt workers.
2. Rounding rules for employers that use time increments
When employers use increments of an hour to calculate the number of hours you work in a day, rather than a precise minute, they have to round to the nearest increment being used. Always rounding down can violate federal labor laws.
Many employers track the clock in and clock out time to the minute. However, employers have the option of rounding the clock in and clock out times to a particular increment or fraction of an hour. They can do this so long as it does not, in the aggregate, deprive you or your wages.3 Employers often round work time to the nearest:
- 5 minutes,
- tenth of an hour, or 6 minutes, or
- quarter of an hour, or 15 minutes.
This can deprive you or your rightful wages if the employer does not round to the nearest increment, but instead always rounds down.
This practice is most common when employers use increments of 15 minutes. In these cases, employers have to follow the 7-minute rule. Under this rule, minutes 1 through 7 are rounded to the prior increment. Minutes 8 through 15 are rounded to the subsequent one.
For example: Sam’s employer uses 15-minute increments for clock in and clock out times. Sam notices that, when he punched in his time card at 7:59 am, his clock-in time was rounded back to 8:00 am. When he punched in at 8:01 am, though, his clock in time was adjusted to 8:15 am. His employer is always delaying the start of his workday and rounding down his hours worked.
3. You cannot be made to work off the clock
Employers who require you to work off the clock violate the FLSA. The law requires that employers compensate their employees for all hours worked. Allowing employers to demand work when you are off the clock would undermine this requirement.
This covers work that is done:
- before you clock in,
- after you clock out,
- during a meal break, or
- during a rest break.
It covers all work that was done off the clock, including work that the employer:
- permitted, or
- silently allowed or suffered to happen.
Many employers, however, have policies that regulate off-the-clock work. They generally only allow it if it had prior approval. In these cases, if you work off the clock – even voluntarily – it can violate the company policy and lead to discipline.
4. Employers can use a wide variety of time tracking methods
Federal law does not have a required method for tracking the time that you spend on the job. The only requirement is that whatever time tracking system is used, it produces a complete and accurate record of the employee’s time at work.4
As a result, you may find that your employer uses:
- an old-fashioned punch card system,
- a paper timesheet for its employees’ clock in and clock out times,
- a machine that scans your work identification badge and makes a record using a time tracking software, or
- a mobile phone app for clocking in and out.
So long as the method reflects your total hours on the job, it satisfies the law.
What are some common examples of time clock rule violations?
Some of the most common examples of an employer violating time clock law are:
- requiring non-exempt or hourly workers to clean up the worksite before clocking in for the day,
- making you clock out and then either finish the tasks that you were not able to complete during the workday, or making you revise what had been done,
- requiring you to attend a meeting during your lunch break, and
- telling you to clock out because work is temporarily unavailable.
It is a form of wage theft to have employees work but not record the employees’ hours in the pay period.
What happens if my employer breaks one of these rules?
If your employer breaks a time clock rule, they can be in violation of the FLSA as well as state laws. You may be entitled to back wages up to 3 years past due. This can include overtime pay. If other workers have also suffered from the violation, it may lead to a class-action lawsuit for violations of wage and hour law.
Invoking your legal rights and demanding pay for work done often takes the legal representation of a lawyer.
- 29 CFR 516.2(a) and 29 U.S.C 206 and 29 U.S.C. 207.
- 29 CFR 516.2(a).
- 29 CFR 785.48(b).
- U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, “Fact Sheet #21: Recordkeeping Requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA),” (July 2008).