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How do we handle employees who clock in too early?


Q. We have employees who clock in 20 to 30 minutes before the start of the work day. They don’t perform work until their shift starts. The employees say they will forget to clock in if they don’t do so when they arrive. Can we adjust their start time to reflect when they start working? If so, what do you suggest to prevent a claim of unpaid overtime? –Anonymous, Illinois

A. An employer has an independent obligation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to maintain accurate records of employees’ hours of work and compensation. The obligation to maintain accurate records is the employer’s and cannot be delegated to employees. An employer’s failure to maintain accurate records will present an often insurmountable burden to disprove what an employee claims to have been his or her actual hours of work.

Therefore, from a legal perspective, it is equally inconvenient to adjust hours worked to subtract time that the employee did not actually work after punching in early as it is to go back and add hours worked when the employee forgot to punch in on time. As an employer, however, I’d prefer to be adding time due to missed punches than subtracting time from employees who punched in before their scheduled work shifts. 

The best practice, therefore, is to require employees to clock in when they actually start working, and not before.

Whenever the employee makes an error, correct it so that he or she is paid accurately, but document the error in the employee’s file.  (Some employers discipline employees who can’t or won’t following timekeeping requirements. This is fine, provided the employees are in fact paid for time worked.)  It’s also best to discourage employees from arriving in the work area 30 minutes before work is scheduled to start, unless you can be very certain that they are not starting work early just to “help out,” because if they do, they are entitled to be paid for that time.