Employers Can Use Time Clocks to Steal Your Wages

Modern Time Clocks are Computers and Can Be Programmed to Steal Your Wages

Employers have used time clocks for many years to track hours worked and calculate wages due employees. Older time (punch) clocks used paper time cards. The employee placed their time card into the employer’s time clock stamping a date and time on the employee time card. The employer then used the times recorded on the employee time card to calculate the wages due the employee. Now, most time clocks have transition from punch cards to an electronic time clock. When time clocks are used correctly by employers and employees, they accurately track the time employees work and ensure the proper wages are paid.

What some may not realize is that the electronic time clocks often have sophisticated computers operating in the background. This allows your managers to go into your recorded punch times and manually change the time you start (punch-in) or stop work (punch-out) without your knowledge. It also allows the employer to program the time clock to automatically discard specific time from all employees. For instance, if you are scheduled to work at 10 am, but your work it already busy, the employer could ask you to start early. The electronic time clock could be programmed to ignore any time worked before you were scheduled to start. This is true regardless of whether your manager told to start your shift early. Electronic time clocks can also be program to change lunches, or even add a lunch where one was not taken. Adding lunches is important because most employers do not pay wages for the time their employees are at lunch. So by adding a lunch where none was taken, employers are able to reduce the time they pay their employees and receive work for free. 

By altering your punch-in and punch-out times electronically, the number of hours you are paid is reduced to a number that is lower than the hours you actually worked. Obviously, this causes you to earn less money on your paycheck. Usually, these alterations, whether manually performed by your manager or programmed into the time system, are fairly small. On first blush, you might believe that five minutes is irrelevant, but it is not.  When you realize that you are missing 5-20 minutes per week, and you have already worked 25 weeks, you realize that you are due almost a full day’s wage. Then if you figure out how many employees the employer has, you can see why this is so profitable. For instance, in the same example, with 500 employees, each employee averaging two days free work per year, the employer averages 1,000 days of free labor each year.  At $12 per hour (Portland’s minimum wage), the savings are almost $100,000 per year.  Now you can see why employers will use their electronic time clocks to steal your wages.  The more employees they have, the higher the wage rates, the more the employer saves by stealing your time from the electronic time clocks. Sometimes these electronic time clock alterations are not approved by the corporate office, but instead, are implemented by the local management to pad their bonuses or get advancement. Management looks good by lowering cost of labor. In these situations, local management can be very secretive about the fact that they are using the electronic time clocks to steal your wages. This helps hide what the electronic time clocks are doing to you, and hide how they are being used from upper management. 

In addition to saving on regular wages, employers can also save on overtime wages by altering your punches on the electronic time clock.  For instance, if you clock-in at 6:50 am instead of 7:00 am, and are already working 40 hours, the 10 minutes of unpaid work is overtime and for which you must be paid at 1  1/2 times your regular hourly rate.  In the previous example, at minimum wage, if all the time stolen by the electronic time clock was required to be paid at the employee’s overtime rate, the employer is saving $150,000 per year.  Further, employees that are affected by the electronic time clock alterations may be due an overtime civil penalty in addition to the unpaid overtime wages caused by the electronic time clock alterations. That overtime civil penalty is equal to 30 days of wages. At $15.00 per hour the overtime civil penalty equals $3,600.  

Altering time punches on electronic time clocks can also cause a minimum wage violation.  Where the employee is supposed to be paid at or near Oregon’s minimum wage rate, the reduction in work time reported by the electronic time clock can reduce the wages paid below minimum wage. This is because Oregon requires the employer to pay minimum wages “for each hour of work time that the employee is gainfully employed.”  ORS 653.025. Since the employee was gainfully employed during the time they were on-the-clock, but the employee was not paid because of the electronic time clock alterations.  If all the time actually worked was not paid, likely there is a minimum wage violation entitling the employee to additional minimum wages.  Further, courts have repeatedly divided the work week finding a minimum wage violation where the total hours were not paid at minimum wage.  Like the overtime claims, failure to pay minimum wages also results in a minimum wage civil penalty where the employee was not paid all minimum wages due.  That minimum wage civil penalty is equal to 30 days of wages. At Portland’s minimum wage rate of $12.00 per hour, the maximum minimum wage civil penalty would be 

Another way that employees may be entitled to additional penalties where an employer alters time punches to avoid paying wages, is the failure to timely pay all wages at termination.  Whether the altered punches causes a minimum wage violation, or an overtime violation, the unpaid wages caused by the electronic time clock manipulation, results in unpaid wages.  These unpaid wages caused by the electronic time clocks remain due at the end of employment.  Oregon requires employers to timely pay all wages at the end of employment.  We refer to this claim as a late pay claim.  In addition to the unpaid wages, a late pay claim entitles the employee to recover penalty wages. These penalty wages can exceed several thousand dollars each.

Always track the time you work and the time shown on your paycheck stub to determine whether you were paid for all the time you worked. If your boss is not paying all your wages, call the wage and hour lawyers at Schuck Law at (360) 566-9243 for a free consultation.

Can Employers Round Time on the Electronic Time Clock?

It depends.  Whether employers can round time on the time clock depends upon what they are doing. Many employers use rounding of work time to avoid payment of wages. This is not allowed.  

Federal wage and hour law discusses employer rounding of work time specifically. It says that rounding is lawful only if “it will not result, over a period of time, in failure to compensate the employees properly for all the time they have actually worked.” 29 CFR 785.48. So if an employer rounds to the nearest 15 minutes, it may be lawful. However, if the rounding of work time to the nearest 15 minutes results in long term non-payment of wages, it is unlawful. Many industries have a pass down between employees coming off shift and employees beginning their shift. For instance, nurses leaving for the day must provide patient information to incoming nurses to ensure consistent patient care. The same happens in manufacturing. Some employers attempt to avoid paying for these pass down times through a rounding practice. They require employees to arrive 5 minutes early to work and stay 5 minutes after their work shift end to conduct these pass downs. Then they round the time away from the employee, essentially getting 10 minutes of labor free everyday. They ensure this rounding only occurs in their favor by writing up employees who are 5 minutes late. In such situations, Schuck Law has sued the employer to repay the 10 minutes of wages per day. Often this shortage of wages causes overtime violations because the employee has already worked sufficient time to be entitled to overtime pay.

Under Oregon law, whether rounding can be lawful will likely come down to its definition of work time. Oregon defines work time as “both time worked and time of authorized attendance.” ORS 653.010. The important phrase to determine whether rounding is allowed is “time of authorized attendance.” In the examples of the pass down meetings, arguably the employer has authorized the employee to attend the pass down meetings. Because the time is authorized, one can argue that the time must be paid and cannot be rounded away.

Can an Employer Alter an Employee’s Timesheet or Punch Clock Entries

While a common question, the answer is easy but leads to another question.  Yes, employers can and do alter timesheets and punch clock entries.  However, it is only lawful if the changes are truthful regarding the hours you worked.  For example, if the employer changes the timesheet/punch clock entries to avoid payment of overtime wages you earned, the answer is absolutely no, changing of the time clock entries or time sheet is not lawful.  If the employer changes the punch clock because you failed to clock in for the start of your shift, then the alteration is to accurately reflect the true hours you worked and is lawful.  So the answer to the question is that employers may lawfully change timesheets and employee punch clock entries to more accurately reflect the work that you as the employee actually performed.  Where the employer is altering timesheets and punch clock entries to avoid payment of all wages, then the alterations are not lawful and the employee is due unpaid wages.  

Can Employers Change Time Cards without Permission

Surprisingly, it is not the permission that matters.  With our without permission, an employer can only change time cards, time clock punches, or time sheets when they accurately reflect the hours you work.  Whether you give permission to do so or not is not relevant.  Oregon employees cannot contract or agree not to be paid for their work time.  ORS 652.360.  Therefore, even if you agree that you will work for free, it does not make the actions of your employer failing to pay your wages, lawful.  Altering time clocks, time sheets, or punches may result in unpaid overtime wagesminimum wages, regular wages, and/or a failure to timely pay wages at the end of employment.  Late pay.   Many of these claims include the possibility of recovering not just your wages, but significant penalties.  In addition, you can recover your attorney fees and costs making it possible for Schuck Law to represent you on a contingent basis, getting paid by your employer to win you unpaid wages and penalties.

Can an Employer Take Away Hours Already Worked

No.  The key is that you already worked the hours.  If the employer “authorizes” your attendance or suffers or permits you to perform work, the hours must be paid.  Where we see this commonly is that employers try to save money by manually or electronically altering the time cards.  Some punch clocks, as described on this page, allow a computer program to change your punch clock entries to reduce the time you are paid wages.  Sometimes managers go back into the time clock and manually change the times you work.  No matter how an employer changes your time, if it is done to avoid payment of wages, you have an unpaid wage claim.  Where the wages should have been paid at the overtime rate, you are due overtime wages.  It can also cause the employer not to pay all minimum wages.  It can also cause the employer not to pay all wages on payday or at the end of employment.  Late pay.   Many of these claims include the possibility of recovering not just your wages, but significant penalties.  In addition, you can recover your attorney fees and costs making it possible for Schuck Law to represent you on a contingent basis, getting paid by your employer to win you unpaid wages and penalties.

Class Action Wage Claims for Large Groups of Employees Affected by Electronic Time Clock Manipulation

A class action lawsuit is one where one, or a few employees, sue an employer who has violated the wage laws in the same way for a large group of employees. When electronic time clocks are used to reduce all employee wages, it sometimes allows a class action to be filed. This means that a single employee can help themselves be paid for the time the employer’s electronic time clock reduced their time, obtain civil penalties and penalty wages for themselves, while also helping other employees recover their wages and penalties. Many employees fear losing their jobs so just accept the fact that the employer has used their electronic time clocks to reduce their wages. By bringing a class action, any employee can be the hero and help other employees recover their wages. It also makes the lawsuit very big. Even large employers take notice when hundreds of employees band together to force their compliance with the wage laws. Electronic time clock cases are very suitable for class actions because often the alterations are simply programmed into the electronic time clocks.  The Oregon wage claim attorneys (lawyers) at Schuck Law focus their law practice on wage claim lawsuits, electronic time clocks lawsuits, and class actions. Our lawyers also prosecute minimum wage, overtime, and late pay claims based upon electronic time clocks. In addition to the claims for damages outlined above, an employee may also sue to recover their costs, disbursements, and attorney fees incurred in prosecution of the electronic time clock alteration wage claim lawsuits. This allows the Oregon wage claim attorneys at Schuck Law, LLC to take most Oregon electronic time punch clock wage claim lawsuits on a contingency fee basis. This means, with minor exceptions that are within your control, that our Oregon wage claim attorneys only get paid their attorney fees if they recover wages or penalty wages for you.

Oregon Wage Claim Attorneys

The Oregon wage claim attorneys (lawyers) at Schuck Law, LLC focus their law practice on wage claim lawsuits. Our Oregon wage claim attorneys regularly prosecute Oregon wage claim lawsuits where the employer has altered electronic time clocks to avoid payment of all wages to the employees. Our lawyers also prosecute minimum wage, overtime, and late pay claims based upon electronic time clocks. In addition to the claims for damages outlined above, an employee may also sue to recover their costs, disbursements, and attorney fees incurred in prosecution of the wage claim lawsuit. This allows the Oregon wage claim attorneys at Schuck Law, LLC to take most Oregon wage claim lawsuits on a contingency fee basis. This means, with minor exceptions that are within your control, that our Oregon wage claim attorneys only get paid their attorney fees if they recover wages or penalty wages for you.

Our Oregon wage claim attorneys (lawyers) prosecute wage claims for electronic time clock manipulation, minimum wages, overtime wages, late final paychecks, and class action wage claims throughout Oregon, including but not limited to, Portland, Astoria, Beaverton, Portland, Bend, Clackamas, Coos Bay, Grants Pass, Hillsboro, Portland, Hood River, Klamath Falls, Lake Oswego, Oregon City, Portland, Madras, McMinnville, Medford, Milwaukie, Portland,  Newberg, Oregon City, Portland, Sandy, St. Helens, Portland, Tillamook, and West Linn.

Google By David Schuck