Working Off the Clock: What You Need to Know
How to prevent off-the-clock work
Be clear about expectations and policy for off-the-clock work for non-exempt employees. Have an understanding about who the eager workers are that may take it upon themselves to work off the clock and make sure they understand these guidelines.
From a management point of view, be strict about task times and employee lunch breaks and establish transparent written training policies. Monitor work activities and inform managers and supervisors about off-the-clock work.
Employer guidelines need to be clear and provide specific examples of violations to prevent misunderstandings.
Employers need to establish a concrete method of clocking in and out to ensure it's not abused or amendable and to control overtime.
Limiting access to technology is crucial to ensure employees work when they are scheduled to be on the clock. With the emergence of laptops and smartphones, employers also know employees are reachable virtually anywhere.
If an after-hours work policy is not created by the employer, supervisors may leave the impression it's expected.
During economic downturns, it's not uncommon for employees to believe off-the-clock work is an expectation unless told otherwise. Employees can face discipline for this voluntary, unauthorized overtime.
Here’s how you can prevent off-the-clock work:
1) Outline expectations for tracking hours
Make it clear that you expect employees to record all hours worked. Explain how they’re supposed to track their time and mention examples of work not permitted, such as:
Checking work emails from home
Returning work-related calls after the end of their shift
Staying in the office after work hours to finish a task
Working throughout their lunch break
2) Create an overtime policy
Creating an overtime policy will ensure your entire team is aware of the company’s overtime rules. It will help to protect both the company and its employees.
Your overtime policy should include the following information:
Scope – Explain who the policy applies to and whether management staff is entitled to overtime benefits.
The procedure for requesting overtime – How should employees request overtime? Who is responsible for approving overtime requests?
Compensation – How will employees be compensated for overtime? When will they receive their overtime pay?
Type of overtime – Will you be offering mandatory or optional overtime? Will overtime be limited or prohibited completely?
Limits – It’s also good to set a limit on the amount of overtime employees can work (e.g., not allowing employees that work for eight hours a day to work more than four hours of overtime per week).
3) Train managers
Training managers and supervisors is crucial for preventing off-the-clock work. You need to help them understand what counts as off-the-clock work and explain the repercussions of allowing such work to happen.
Additionally, you should require managers to authorize overtime and report any unauthorized overtime immediately.
If you’re already experiencing problems with overtime work, managers should pay special attention to balancing workloads properly so that team members can complete all tasks during work hours.
Also, keep in mind that while managers are usually exempt from overtime pay, just having the job title of manager is not enough for gaining exempt status. For example, in California, for an employee to be classified as a manager, their primary job duties need to include:
Directing the work of two or more employees regularly
Exercising discretionary power on a regular basis
Having the authority to both hire and fire employees
For a manager to be exempt from overtime pay, they need to spend more than 50% of their time performing these duties. If they spend less than 50% of their time on these types of duties and the rest on performing tasks their direct reports also do, they might be eligible for overtime pay.
4) Plan disciplinary action
Let your team know what penalties are involved with making repeat errors with clocking in and out of work.
These can range from formal verbal or written warnings to probation and even suspension. Make sure you have a mechanism in place to discipline team members that breach your off-the-clock policy.
You do need to be careful when deciding on disciplinary action for overtime violation. You’ll need to stay consistent when disciplining employees to avoid any appearance of discrimination.
Of course, you should differentiate between one-off and repeat offenses. One-off violations are best addressed by a verbal warning, while those violating your overtime policy multiple times might need to be disciplined in a more serious way.
5) Use a time tracking app
One way to help monitor what work your team is doing and to prevent off-the-clock work is by using a time tracking app like Hubstaff.
Hubstaff helps you understand when employees are working, allows you to set daily limits, track time spent on the road or at job sites, automatically fill out timesheets, and set schedules to make sure people start and end shifts on time.
Hubstaff’s detailed reports can help managers track productivity trends. They allow you to see how much work team members are completing and whether they’re staying on task.
If you manage a field team, for example, you can use Hubstaff to track how much time workers are spending at different job sites. If, on the other hand, you manage an in-office or remote team, you can set Hubstaff to track apps used and URLs visited.
Frequently asked questions
What happens if you work off the clock?
Employees are entitled to be paid for all work completed. Employers cannot require non-exempt employees to work off the clock, and pressuring them to do so can result in violations of the Federal Labor Standards Act.
A worker might even launch a lawsuit to recover unpaid earnings. Off-the-clock work is generally considered overtime pay at one and one-half times an employee's regular rate.
Can you get fired for working off the clock?
Possibly, depending on the contract. Some companies will have a clause in their contracts requiring authorization to work overtime. If that authorization is not granted and the employee works off the clock without reporting the hours, they can be fired.
However, this clause does not mean they won't be paid for the hours they worked. They still need to be paid as per the Fair Labor Standards Act, which says they still have a right to compensation for the overtime hours they completed.
Can an employee volunteer to work off the clock?
Non-exempt employees can’t volunteer to work off the clock, but an employer also can’t allow or pressure a non-exempt employee to work for free.
FLSA guidelines prohibit for-profit companies from utilizing volunteers and not paying interns. Meanwhile, nonprofits can use volunteers, but their employees cannot forgo payment for work they usually get paid for.
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