FLSA Rewinds the Time Clock

FLSA pressures are bringing back the time clock, and some workers are more than a little ticked off.

It’s baaaack!

No, not some undead spirit from a horror movie, but something just as upsetting to some workers … the old-fashioned, punch-in and punch-out time clock.

Time clocks never really left industrial workplaces, but that’s not been the case in white-collar settings. There, many workers record their own attendance on paper time cards or time sheets, operating largely on the honor system. Under such systems, it’s common to see workers record a steady stream of “9-5”, “9-5”, “9-5”, even though it’s likely few arrive and leave at precisely those hours, day after day.

What’s changed things is the new emphasis the Department of Labor and plaintiff attorney community have put on making sure overtime is properly paid under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Alleged FLSA violations are now the number one form of class action employment lawsuits. As a result, employers are increasingly looking for more precise means of tracking worker time.

Like many other technologies, the “old-fashioned time clock” is no longer so oldfashioned. These days, employees don’t punch in and out as much as they let their fingers–or rather their fingerprints–do the clocking, by passing them over a scanner. The idea is to defeat the old “buddy system,” in which one employee clocks in for another.

Clocks Not Just for Nonexempts Anymore

The FLSA is the big issue with nonexempts, but, says The Wall Street Journal, attendance and tardiness by exempt workers is also being scrutinized, in the name of greater efficiency. It’s not about money, since exempts must generally be paid their full salaries under the FLSA, regardless of hours worked. Instead, it’s about issues like long lunches or extended breaks. “Everybody wants … long lunch information on their salary people,” says Brent Larsen, of the attendance-tracking company, Count Me In, LLC. “They don’t use it for payroll, but to chew [workers] out.”

The return of the time clock has met with resistance. Workplace rights groups complain that fingerprint tracking invades privacy and that time tracking in general has little to do with effective performance. “Being chained to your desk is only one measure of productivity,” says privacy rights expert Pam Dixon. Her preference: a workplace that “fosters creativity and flexibility.”

Employers that use the systems defend them. “I probably save 10-15 minutes a day per employee, by preventing workers from padding their time sheets by staying late or unnecessarily starting early,” says Doug Leighner, a manager at an Illinois credit union.

If you do consider an automated timekeeping system, the experts have a few pointers:

–Give advance warning of the change and make employees understand why it’s needed.

–Work with vendors who can adapt their software to meet your needs.

–Require multiple levels of management to sign off on any overtime.

–Discipline for any unauthorized overtime, and keep records of your actions. Should there be later claims that a worker was not paid for “off the clock” work, you can then show that you not only did not order such work, but you actively discouraged it, even though you still paid the employee for the time worked.

Should every business have its employees punch a time clock? Or is the ‘‘honor system” the way to go? Use the Share Your Comments button and let us know your thoughts.