Does a written policy shield an employer from claims of “off-the-clock” work?
Q&AWage and Hour
Q: Our company has a very strict written policy in our employee handbook which requires employees to accurately report all regular and overtime hours worked. Employees must verify their hours by signing their time report each pay period. Can we deflect any “off-the-clock” claims by simply relying on the written policy?
A: Not necessarily. Having a clear policy on time reporting is essential, and requiring employees to verify in writing the hours worked is a “best practice” that Vigilant recommends. But, if supervisors encourage employees to under-report their hours, or the employer has reason to know that the time records are not accurate, then the written policy will not provide much protection. Clearly, if an employer or supervisor has an “unwritten” policy of discouraging employees from reporting all hours worked, that will be a problem. In a recent case, a court kept alive the legal claims by employees asserting such an “unwritten” policy existed despite clear written policies to the contrary (Lockhart v. County of Los Angeles, CD Cal, Sept. 2013).
Make sure you clearly communicate to your supervisors that all hours worked must be reported. If employees are required to get prior approval to work overtime, and they fail to do so, you still must pay them for the time. You can take corrective action for unapproved overtime or other off-the-clock work, but you can’t withhold pay. For more guidance on recording employee work hours, see our Model Form, “Timekeeping Systems for Nonexempt Employees” (1624), and our Legal Guide, “Watch Out for Wage and Hour Issues with Time Clocks” (1712). For any questions about overtime and other wage concerns, please contact your Vigilant representative.