As we all know, FLSA lawsuits are popping up everywhere, especially here in the Middle District of Florida, where we have one of the highest FLSA filing rates in the country. Curbing timecard abuse is a major challenge for employers with hourly employees working in the field. Having a solid timekeeping policy can help your company avoid the dreaded FLSA lawsuit. Keep the following principles in mind when creating and enforcing your timekeeping policy:
- Formulate and publicize your policy. The policy should clearly define compensable time and company timekeeping rules, and it should be included in the Employee Handbook (remember to get each employee to sign an acknowledgement). It should state that accurate timekeeping is each employee’s responsibility and that violations of the policy are grounds for discipline up to and including discharge.
- Define break periods. The employer should set the rules concerning entitlement to and the frequency and length of breaks. Lunch periods of 30 minutes or longer may be treated as non-working time if the employee is completely relieved of duty. Break periods of 20 minutes or less must be counted as paid working time.
- Ensure accurate timekeeping. Employees should be required to sign in and out for all breaks regardless of whether they are compensable. Requiring the employee to make an affirmative statement as to actual time spent on break makes it easier to detect violations. Falsifying or inaccurately reporting time worked or tampering with another employee’s time records should be considered a serious workplace violation.
- Consistently enforce the policy. Employers should monitor compliance with their policy. Automated processes are available to help track hours worked (i.e. if field employees are using company vehicles, GPS systems may be used to detect violations). Managers should verify the timekeeping records of employees under their supervision. Take care to ensure your policy is uniformly enforced to reduce the risk of discrimination and retaliation claims.
Bottom line: From a legal standpoint, it is better to treat situations of unauthorized and/or excessive breaks as violations of a specific company policy. Impose discipline on the offending employee, but do not dock his or her pay for unauthorized breaks, inaccurate timekeeping, or similar violations. Improperly docking pay is a sure fire way to land your company an FLSA lawsuit.