In the digital era, it’s easy for employees to work anytime, anywhere. Tools like smartphones, laptops, and tablets all help to boost employee productivity, however, they can also ride a delicate line concerning employee hours and wages. Employees who work off the clock, for example, may claim that they should be compensated for the time they spend checking and responding to email or voicemail, not to mention performing a host of other work-related tasks before or after working hours.
Here’s what employers need to know about what working off the clock is and how to prevent it.
What Is Working Off the Clock?
Off-the-clock work is any work done that is not paid or that does not contribute to overtime. Most often, this work is illegal under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA requires employers to compensate employees for all time worked, including overtime pay for employees who work more than 40 hours in a week (with certain exceptions, including administrative workers, professionals, executives, commissioned salespeople, and farm workers).
Off-the-clock work can take many forms: finishing a project at home after hours, completing an online training course during personal time, staying late to serve a customer, finishing paperwork, driving to a worksite, cleaning up a job site, waiting for an assignment, or loading a vehicle. If the employer requires employees to do any of these activities or knows that employees are performing these things yet doesn’t pay them, the company may find itself in hot water.
The FLSA requires employers to pay employees for all work “suffered or permitted,” even if it was not requested. That means that even if an employer did not ask the employee to do a particular task, it still must pay the employee if the employee did the work and must count the time worked toward overtime.
The penalties for employers that fail to pay for off-the-clock work can be steep. Employees can file a complaint with the Department of Labor and recover their unpaid wages plus additional damages, called liquidated damages, in an amount equal to the wages they are owed. State labor laws may impose additional penalties. For example, California employers that allow employees to work off the clock may owe up to $200 per employee for every pay period when off-the-clock work was performed.
Strategies for Preventing Off-the-Clock Work
Employers should take steps to control when their employees work and enforce their policies. Here are some strategies to discourage employees from engaging in off-the-clock work.
- Implement a policy that the company does not permit employees to work off the clock. Provide examples of what working off the clock means to avoid misinterpretations.
- Make sure employees take lunches and breaks away from their desk.
- Do not allow hourly employees to access their email remotely.
- Train managers and supervisors on wage and hour laws and on proper timekeeping: they should make sure that employees don’t stay late to finish work and are clocked in for every minute they work. While they should discourage employees from working outside scheduled work hours, they cannot refuse to pay employees for any time worked.
With the new overtime regulations going into effect in 2020, now is the time to ensure you have the right policies and procedures in place to protect your company from unwanted overtime and wage and hour lawsuits.
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