Monday, June 29, 2015

If My Employee Doesn’t Report Their Hours Worked, How Can I Be Responsible For Not Paying Them?

We recently had a client ask for advice about what to do when an employee doesn’t turn in a timesheet for hours worked, as required by their policy, but later claims that they worked and they are due pay. Their practice had been that it is the employee’s responsibility to turn in their timesheets and if the employee only received pay for the hours reported on the timesheet. No timesheet, no pay. 

This seems fair enough on its face, especially with smart phones and other technology which makes it so much easier for employees to work from any location. The only problem is that the law doesn’t support this practice.

Under both the Fair Labor Standards Act as well as the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, the employer is responsible for paying wages timely and at the appropriate rate of pay. Additionally, it is the employer’s sole responsibility to keep accurate records of hours worked and wages paid to their employees under these laws. What’s more, even when an employer is acting in good faith and pays its employees promptly for the time that they report that they worked and the pay is at the appropriate rate, the employer can still be liable if the employee worked hours that were unpaid because the employer didn’t know about the work. Wage and hour laws are harsh for employers and simply provide that if an employee worked and the employer knew of the work or took the advantage of the work, the employer has to pay the employee.

So, what’s an employer to do? We recommend three actions to address this situation:

  1. Have a clear policy which states that employees are obligated to report all time worked during a pay period no later than the end of that pay period. This includes any time worked outside of their normal work schedule. This policy makes an employee subject to disciplinary action if they later claim they are due money for previously unreported hours worked.
  2. Have a clear policy that non-exempt employees are not allowed to work hours outside of their normal work schedule without prior authorization. This helps the employer keep track of who is working overtime. Consider also a practice which prohibits non-exempt employees access to employer email or data. 
  3. Include on every timesheet a statement in which the employee verifies that the time reported reflects all hours worked during that pay period. 

By incorporating these suggestions, the employer has not only reminded the employee of their obligation to report all of their time, but has created a presumption of full payment should the employee later make a claim for unpaid hours worked. While not a fool proof remedy for these situations, these measures can be an important component in encouraging proper reporting as well as defending against later wage claims.