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Working Off the Clock: What Employers Need to Know

What are the consequences of working off the clock?
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Working off the clock is a serious issue that refers to employees engaging in work-related activities without compensation or consideration for overtime, often violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). 

This practice can lead to significant legal implications for both employers and employees. 

Whether a worker is found answering emails late at night, preparing workstations before the official shift begins, or cleaning up after clocking out, any unpaid work performed can have significant implications for employers and employees.

While some might view extra minutes or hours worked as a show of dedication, they skirt the edges of legality, raising crucial questions about fairness and accountability in compensation.

In this article we’ll discuss the potential consequences of working off the clock as well as how to end this practice and minimize the chance of legal trouble and financial losses. 

What Does It Mean To Work off the Clock?

Any time an employee engages in  work-related activities performed outside of scheduled working hours without compensation is termed as working off the clock. 

The FLSA defines employment as "suffering or permitting to work," meaning that if an employer requires or allows work to be done, the worker must be compensated.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) mandates that nonexempt employees be paid for all hours worked, including overtime.

Work performed off the clock may happen before or after shifts, during unpaid breaks, from home based workstations or during travel.

Working Off the Clock Laws

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets standards for wages and hours worked nationwide, protecting workers against unfair pay practices.

However, state laws can complement or expand these protections, as seen in states like California, which have stringent rules against off-the-clock work.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Overview

The FLSA requires that employers pay nonexempt employees at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked and overtime pay of one and a half times the regular rate for hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek.

Notably, the act defines hours worked to include all time an employee must be on company premises, on duty, or at a prescribed workplace. 

This definition is broad enough to cover many types of off-the-clock work, from the unsolicited completion of job tasks after hours to the preparatory work done before officially starting the shift.

Salaried employees are classified as exempt from overtime under the FLSA (often those in executive, administrative, or professional roles) and do not have the same protections regarding off-the-clock work. 

These employees receive a fixed salary that covers all hours worked, regardless of the amount. This means they are not compensated for additional hours unless their duties fall outside of those typical for their exemption category.

Still, problems may arise when hourly employees are incorrectly classified as exempt from overtime, leading to unpaid off-the-clock work. Employers must meet classification standards to avoid FLSA lawsuits, legal complications, and potential liabilities.

PRO TIP: Labor unions and collective agreements often include provisions that directly address the needs and concerns of workers in specific industries, such as suiting up for work, handling equipment and compensation guidelines for remote or mobile work that falls outside standard work hours.  

Navigating State Off-the-Clock Laws

While federal law provides a baseline of protection, many states have enacted laws that offer greater protection against off-the-clock work. 

California, for example, enforces strict penalties on employers who fail to pay for all hours worked, including significant fines and the possibility of paying double damages to the affected employees.

California labor law requires employers to compensate employees for all hours worked and enforces strict penalties and fines on employers who fail to follow guidelines.

Any extra hours in which an employer has control over an employee's activities are considered working hours.  This may include seemingly minor tasks such as requiring an employee to respond to calls or emails outside of regular work hours or the time an employee spends suiting up for work before the start of their shift.

What Are the Legal Consequences for Employers Who Allow or Require Off-The-Clock Work?

Important changes to federal overtime rules take effect on July 1, 2024. These changes could impact how you classify employees and track work hours. Misclassifications or inaccurate timekeeping and the new rules increase the risk of unintentional off-the-clock work and potential legal consequences.

Employers who allow or require off-the-clock work face serious legal repercussions. These include claims for unpaid wages and overtime, statutory and civil penalties, and hefty fines. 

Additionally, these violations can result in expensive wage and hour lawsuits. 

Employees may file complaints with the Department of Labor's (DOL) Wage and Hour Division and could be eligible to recover up to three years of back wages for unpaid hours or unpaid overtime.

PRO TIP: The FLSA recognizes employers' good faith efforts as a significant factor when assessing penalties for violations. Demonstrating good faith can show that the employer took proactive steps to understand and implement FLSA regulations correctly.

California's penalties for non-compliance are particularly stringent. Employers violating off-the-clock statutes may be subject to fines of up to $200 per worker for every pay period during which a violation occurred. 

Additionally, if off-the-clock hours push an employee's total hours to over 8 in a day or 40 in a week, the employer must pay overtime at 1.5 times or double the regular pay rate, depending on the total hours worked.

Employers may also face repaying backdated wages and damages if they fail to pay for off-the-clock work. 

Mandatory Off-the-Clock Work

California law is clear that any mandatory work, whether explicitly ordered or implicitly required, must be compensated. 

Employers must refrain from circumventing this rule by claiming ignorance of the work performed or stating that the employee volunteered for extra duties without formal approval.

California labor law also addresses more subtle forms of pressure, such as employees feeling compelled to work beyond their scheduled hours without explicit demands from their employers. 

The law recognizes that any work performed under the employer's control falls under compensable time, even if not directly requested. 

This includes situations where employers assign more tasks than can realistically be completed during regular hours, implicitly forcing employees to overtime work to meet job expectations.

What Are Some Most Common Examples of Off-the-Clock Work

Pre and Post-shift Work.   Many employees begin their day by setting up workstations, booting up computers, loading tools, or even attending pre-shift meetings. Similarly, they might spend time shutting down equipment, cleaning work areas, or completing paperwork after a shift ends. Though seemingly minor, these extra work activities are integral to their roles and legally require compensation.

Administrative Work. These tasks include completing paperwork, responding to work emails, and participating in training sessions outside regular work hours. For instance, a nurse reviewing patient charts before her shift begins is performing work-related tasks that benefit their employer and thus should be considered payable work.

Unscheduled Rework. Occasionally, employees may need to correct or redo a project outside of regular hours without additional pay. This rework, often necessitated by the job's demands, remains compensable under employment laws.

Waiting Time. If an employee must be on call or wait at a worksite for their next assignment, this time is considered work time. The mere fact that they are not performing their primary job duties does not negate the requirement for compensation.

Using Timeero to Prevent Off-the-Clock Work

Timeero offers robust features designed to help businesses effectively manage their workforce and ensure all work hours are correctly accounted for. 

This way, Timeroo reduces the risk of off-the-clock work disputes.

Accurate Time Tracking with GPS and Mobile Accessibility

timeero mobile gps time clock
Using Timeero, employees can clock in and out directly from their smartphones.

Timeero’s precise time-tracking technology is fundamental in preventing off-the-clock work. With GPS tracking capabilities, employers can monitor where employees are during work hours, ensuring that all work performed is logged and properly compensated. 

This feature is handy for remote and field-based employees, providing employers with real-time visibility into their employees’ locations and workday activities.

The mobile app allows employees to clock in and out directly from their smartphones, regardless of their location. 

This ensures that all work hours, including those that might otherwise go unrecorded in a traditional office setting, are accurately captured on employees’ timecards. 

timeero segmented tracking
Timeero's Segmented tracking feature.

Timeero also works offline, recording data without an internet connection and syncing with the cloud once connectivity is restored, making it ideal for on-the-go employees.

Setting and Monitoring Overtime and Breaks

Managing overtime effectively is an important part in preventing off-the-clock work. Timeero automates overtime calculations, ensuring employees are compensated for all additional hours worked. 

timeero overime rules
Adding a new payroll overtime rule in Timeero.

Employers can set specific overtime rules within Timeero, alerting employees and administrators when these thresholds are exceeded, promoting transparency and compliance.

timeero overtime settings alerts
Timeero: Notification settings

Additionally, Timeero’s break management tool allows employers to enforce and monitor break times, a typical area where off-the-clock work can occur.

Employees can also use the Timeero app to log their rest and lunch breaks, per the employers' break policy.

By ensuring that breaks are taken and adequately documented, employers can further comply with state-specific labor laws, like California, which require documented proof of compliance with mandated meal and rest periods.

timeero california break tracker
Employees can attest to their meal and rest breaks using the Daily Sign off form.

Enhancing Record Keeping and Reporting

Accurate documentation defends against any potential off-the-clock work claims. Timeero provides detailed reports of work hours, including time worked, location data, and break times. 

timeero desktop timesheet
Employee timesheet on Timeero.

These reports serve as documentation that can be used to demonstrate compliance with wage and hour laws during audits or legal challenges.

The system also integrates smoothly with existing payroll systems, ensuring that all recorded time is accurately reflected in payroll calculations. 

timeero integrations
Timeero integrations.

This seamless integration reduces the risk of payroll errors leading to unpaid work hours, further protecting against potential legal ramifications.

Proactive Alerts and Reminders

Timeero helps prevent unintentional off-the-clock work by enabling proactive alerts and reminders for employees to clock in and out. This feature is particularly beneficial for ensuring that all work hours are recorded, even if an employee forgets to clock in or out. 

By automating these reminders, Timeero assists in maintaining accurate time records and reducing the likelihood of disputes over unrecorded work hours and back pay.

timeero ovetime alerts
Overtime alerts

Timeero’s technology is a proactive solution that empowers employers and employees to adhere to legal standards and effortlessly maintain accurate work records.

How Do You Stop Employees from Working Off the Clock?

Preventing unauthorized off-the-clock work is essential for maintaining legal compliance and ensuring a healthy work-life balance for employees. 

Employers can adopt several strategies to manage this issue effectively.

1. Policy Development

Developing clear and comprehensive policies is the first step in preventing off-the-clock work. Employers should establish and communicate explicit guidelines that define work hours and ensure that all employees understand they are not to work outside these times without proper authorization and compensation. 

These policies should cover all possible scenarios, including remote work, after-hours communication, and pre-or post-shift responsibilities.

2. Training and Education

Training is vital for managers and employees to understand the significance of following the work-hour policy. 

Educational sessions should teach your employees the reasons for compliance and the potential consequences of violations.

3. Use of Technology

Technology is powerful in enforcing work-hour policies and preventing off-the-clock work.

Time tracking solutions like Timeero help log work hours accurately and offer features like real-time alerts, GPS tracking, and automated reminders that help employees and managers adhere to scheduled work hours.

Implementing systems that mandate employees to clock in and out can establish an indisputable record of work hours which allows you to easily comply with relevant regulations, including California’s prohibition on time rounding.

Transparency helps prevent unintentional off-the-clock work and provides valuable data that can be used to assess work patterns and address potential issues proactively.

4. Fostering a Supportive Culture

Preventing off-the-clock work is about more than just policies and technology—it's about fostering a culture that values and respects work-life balance and the legal boundaries of work hours.

Employers should encourage an environment where employees can achieve their work responsibilities within their scheduled hours and speak up without fear if they feel pressured to work more.

Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended  to be taken as legal advice. Employers and employees should consult with qualified legal professionals for specific guidance on labor laws and compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

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