Are my employers paying us correctly?
May 13, 2010 12:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to find out what is and isn't legal about how my employer keeps track of my hours, when they pay me, and and a couple other hours/pay issues.

During an all-staff meeting today my employers announced that if employees are a certain number of minutes late, we need to sign something saying when we were late and how late we were. If we don't they'll be withholding our pay checks until we do sign.
I know that it is illegal to withhold our checks. But here the questions start to pile up, and I try to avoid rambling (ranting).
The punch clock at work is five minutes fast. My employers know this and say "deal with it". Five minutes is also the cut off for a withheld pay check. Are a company's time clocks supposed to be regulated?
Next, a ten minute paid break is required for every four hours worked, and two hours is a countable fraction of that four. Every five hours worked requires a 30 minute meal break. So if an employee works six hours they get two tens and a thirty, right?
Last (I hope), if an employee is scheduled for an eight hour shift, and is sent home early (for over staffing reasons, not as a consequence of anything the employe has done) is the employee owed anything for the hours they had scheduled but didn't work?
If any answers could be cited I would totally stoked.
I'm sure this all seems petty, but over the last year it's become more important to me and several of my coworkers.
Thanks for your help hive mindists!
posted by gally99 to Work & Money (15 answers total)
A lot of these issues are going to vary by state and by what line of work you're in. You can get a basic idea of some of the intricacies by googling "wage and hour laws" and/or the "wage and hour board" for your particular state.
posted by amyms at 12:07 AM on May 13, 2010

Response by poster: Oops. California. And I'm not in a restaraunt or bar, and I have little to no interaction with clients.
I've spent the last several hours looking this up, but I'm not sure about some of the things I've read and would like some clarification (breaks), and can't find the right combination of words for the other questions (for instance searching about the clock being fast just returns results about rounding hours)
posted by gally99 at 12:16 AM on May 13, 2010

Here are some results for "california wage and hour laws incorrect time clock" that might help.
posted by amyms at 12:21 AM on May 13, 2010

The punch clock at work is five minutes fast. My employers know this and say "deal with it".

Could you arrive 5 minutes early, but leave 5 minute early too?.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:22 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have little real advice except to say this sounds pretty obtuse and wrong, and that this is exactly what unions are for.
posted by Jimbob at 2:12 AM on May 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Here's a link to the california state government page that deals with some of these questions:

Break periods

The ten minute breaks are paid.

The thirty minute meal period is not.

So if you work 6 hours from the time you arrive til the time you leave and took a meal break, you only worked 5.5 hours thus only one ten minute break is required.

Also the breaks according to California law are net time, which means that they are supposed to count from the time you get to the break room, not the time you stop working.

As for getting sent home early, here is another link:

Reporting Time Pay

So you generally get half of your scheduled time. If you are scheduled for 8 hours but they sent you home after 2, they need to pay you 4.
posted by GregorWill at 2:18 AM on May 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to add a note, even though it looks like your answers have all been taken care of, that the punch clock being 5 minutes fast should wash out at the end of the day. California has really complex timekeeping laws (like if you aren't given a 30 minute break for lunch, you get paid straight time plus an additional hour penalty), but they are really valuable to understand as an employee.

This link gives a good description of when wages are legally required to be paid.
posted by Zophi at 6:29 AM on May 13, 2010

Best answer: This is not a direct answer, and I realize it's not an easy thing, but I'm not being snarky either.

You and your coworkers need to start pooling your resources into finding a better place to work, because it's far too easy to let things like this consume you and sap your energy for years.

This isn't an employer who wants you around, clearly. Start looking now, not later when you're already worn out from long labor battles.
posted by rokusan at 6:57 AM on May 13, 2010

All of the answers previously suggested assume that you are an employee not exempt from the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The answers are not appropriate if you are a professional, work for a company with less than $500k in revenue every year, an independent contractor, or certain other small exemptions that may be appropriate for you.

To finish off the answer set, it is certainly legal for an employer to send you home earlier for overstaffing reasons. If told to leave, they are only liable for paying you up to the moment you leave.

For what it's worth, it sounds like your new job definition is to show up 5 minutes early. Challenging this is likely to require a lawsuit, which will likely get you blacklisted by your current employer and server as a deterrent to future employers from hiring you. In the grand scheme of things, it sounds like 5 minutes is less of a bother.
posted by saeculorum at 7:23 AM on May 13, 2010

I didn't notice the bit that you were in California. Like GregorWill correctly pointed out, you have additional protections for pay in California that mandate your employer pay you when they schedule you. However, this is not true in general. Under the FLSA, you are not paid for time not worked (bottom of page 1).
posted by saeculorum at 7:34 AM on May 13, 2010

Saeculorum, there are inaccuracies in your answer -- "exempt" employees are not exempt from all of the provisions of the FLSA, just the overtime provisions and sometimes minimum wage provisions.

Also, the 500k revenue rule you state is incorrect. You can be an employer with 50k of revenue (or $1.00, or whatever) and still be subject to the FLSA so long as you engage in interstate commerce. In practical terms, nearly every single employer in the US is covered by the FLSA as nearly every single employer engages in interstate commerce. The OP's employer is almost certainly covered by the FLSA.

And if the employee is salaried, as opposed to hourly (and it appears the OP is hourly), the employer would be required to pay the employee regardless of whether the employer sent to the OP home early. There are situations wherein the employer could dock pay for a salaried employee, but not-enough-work isn't one of them. If the employer didn't pay, they'd potentially fail to pay the employee on a salaried basis and could lose the overtime exemption.

With that said, my assumption would be that the OP is hourly given the time clock.
posted by seventyfour at 10:07 AM on May 13, 2010

Regarding the punch clock, can someone come in early and unplug it for 5 minutes?
posted by Marky at 10:23 AM on May 13, 2010

Response by poster: I realize the five minutes thing is petty, but if they want us to take their time seriously I think they should be taking our time seriously as well.
And rokusan, I'm already in the process of getting a business license and an FBN, and am giving my two weeks notice today. Being angry all day five days a week is actually making me ill.
posted by gally99 at 10:59 AM on May 13, 2010

Good for you, Gally.

Standing injustice bugs me too, probably a bit too much, but I think choosing your battles is definitely the way to go, here. No matter how much "in the right" you are, the potential payoff from a fight is so low compared to the stress and cost of fighting this one, it can't be worth it.

You only get one lifetime, and all that.
posted by rokusan at 12:53 PM on May 13, 2010

In Maine, the break is paid, but doesn't accrue. You get 10 mins in any 4 hours to have a smoke, use the bathroom, call the kids to check in, etc. But you can't leave 10 mins early if you skip the break. Lunch, unpaid, also not a leave early opportunity.

Punch clock - wow, that's stupid. But, get there according to the clock, leave according to the clock. Instead of thinking you start at 8, recognize your employers want you to start at 7:55.

Leaving early, probably no compensation. Unless a contract states otherwise.

The state of CA has a Labor Relations Board, and an Attorney General. They can answer these questions very accurately.

You have the right to solicit a union to recruit you as members and represent your needs. Some unions suck, others are awesome, so do research, but consider the option. It gives you collective bargaining power. Union membership is positively correlated with better pay and working conditions.
posted by theora55 at 1:59 PM on May 13, 2010

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