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Manipulating start times for employees violates federal law

A restaurant in North Carolina became a cautionary tale this week when the U.S. Department of Labor cracked down on their policies regarding start times for employees. The restaurant was required to pay over $53,000 in back pay to their tipped employees, who were not allowed to clock in until the first customer of the day walked through the door. An investigation by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division found unrecorded work time that violated minimum wage laws, as well as a practice of paying cooks flat salaries – which violated overtime laws.

Employees and employers alike may wonder, how do we ensure fair and accurate timekeeping? Federal law for this area comes from the Fair Labor Standards Act, which provides some guidance.

Timekeeping requirements under the FLSA

Not every employer needs to employ a “punch in, punch out” system to comply with the FLSA. The Department of Labor advises employers that they may use “any timekeeping method they choose.” Companies can employ a time clock, or employees can record their own time. What matters is that the time accurately represents when an employee began and ended their workday.

The policy employed by the restaurant, in this case, violated wage and overtime laws because employees had work time that was unaccounted for. There likely were tasks they performed before customers arrived, such as cleaning and food prep, but that time went unreported.

Know your rights as an employee

In addition to following federal wage and hour laws, employers must post the essential rules of the FLSA where employees can view them. If you believe your employer has engaged in unfair timekeeping or overtime practices, an employment law attorney might be able to help.

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