Thumbnail image for PunchClock9472033.jpgQ. We keep track of work hours for non-exempt employees using an electronic timekeeping system. For our exempt employees, we really have no records of how many hours they are working each day or week. Are we required to? Even if it’s not required, should we?

A. Like many legal questions, the answer is “it depends.” The first question is somewhat easier. The FLSA requires employers to maintain accurate records of the hours worked by non-exempt employees, but not for exempt executive, administrative, or professional employees. If your employees work in a jurisdiction that does not have its own additional recordkeeping requirements, then no, you are generally not required to keep records of your exempt executive, administrative or professional employees’ work hours. 

However, some states do have their own recordkeeping requirements. 

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This past spring (here and here), I discussed rounding time clock punches (usually automatically with a time clock system) at the beginning and end of a shift. To recap briefly, rounding is the practice of adjusting time clock punch times within specific bounds. For example, if your employees punch in for work at 7:57, 8:01, and 8:02, your rounding rules may treat all of those punches as occurring at 8:00 a.m. for payroll purposes.

Even if it isn’t something that we recommend employers do (absent special circumstances), this practice of rounding employees’ time up or down in increments is permissible under the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) regulations under specific circumstances. Paying for actual time worked is always the best practice, but for those of you that can’t easily track time down to the exact minute, Section 785.48 of the FLSA’s regulations provides that employers may utilize time clocks that round up or down in increments of up to a quarter hour so long as the clock rounds both ways, occasionally in the company’s favor and occasionally benefitting employees. 29 C.F.R. §785.48(b). But what if the “rounding” effect isn’t due to the time clock, but access to the time clock? That’s essentially the question one reader sent me recently:

Q.  We do not use a time clock for some of our field employees. Instead, we have them log on to a remote system and send an e-mail when they arrive. Before they leave, they log on to the remote system again and send another e-mail. The e-mail timestamps serve as the punch-in and punch-out times. The problem is that logging onto our server to send this e-mail can take anywhere from 3 or 4 minutes to as long as 10 minutes, start to finish, for these employees. We then round to the nearest tenth of an hour, just for ease of payroll computations. This does not seem like a very accurate way to track time, I know, but is it legal?

While this method might be inefficient, it is nonetheless one practical way to track time for this group of employees that does not have access to a time clock. Ultimately, what our reader describes above is just “rounding” with a twist. Let’s take the easy part first. Rounding entries to the nearest tenth of an hour is one of the enumerated intervals specified in the regulations. 29 CFR § 785.48(b) actually gives you three standard increments you can use: five minutes, six minutes (1/10th of an hour), or 15 minutes (1/4 of an hour). By rounding to the nearest tenth of an hour, this calculation is likely to cut both ways: sometimes in the company’s favor and sometimes in the employees’ favor. Of course, remember to check your state laws and regulations, too, as they may impose additional limitations, or even provide additional incremental rounding options.

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