Time Tracking and Labor Laws in Changing Workforces

Posted by Jake Richardson on Sep 26, 2013 7:00:00 AM


In an article about how company culture is changing at Apple, it was stated that Chinese factories making their products have also experienced a shift: "Conditions at some Chinese factories have improved —Apple now tracks and reports hours of a million workers to avoid illegal overtime – but allegations of unfair working conditions continue to be made." (Source: First Post)

Time tracking for one million workers is a mind boggling enterprise. In fact, tracking the work hours of this number of workers in one place might be largest venture in time and attendance tracking in the world. What workforce time tracking effort is larger?

Keeping up with changes in domestic labor laws can be challenging enough, but throw in international legal issues and bicultural ethical considerations and you have quite a difficult set of  problems. This example may not sound so relevant to American companies operating in the United States, but labor laws here are subject to change and new wrinkles in legislation can impact businesses for the long-term.

The  U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) reportedly collected $280 million in back wages in the last fiscal year. This is a huge amount of money. Businesses could avoid having to be investigated and prevent payouts such as these that are generally unexpected by pay close attention to their employees and how their work time is tracked.

For example, meal break violations may appear as trivial moments during a work day, but labors laws require employees to have set amounts of time off each day for meals and a little rest. If employees are being interrupted by managers to be accountable for explaining their projects or taking work phone calls or chatting online about work when they are supposed to be off for their meal break, there could be problems later on down the line when an investigation exposes these malpractices.

Being off from work for thirty minutes or so, means completely off. It doesn't mean eating at one's desk while proofreading spreadsheets or typing at the same time one is having lunch. Working through lunch may be common for some hourly employees, but it isn't legal in many states. Nor is it good practice for one's health. In fact, research has shown employees that eat at their desks during lunch may be contributing to lower moods.  Conversely, eating outdoors where there is sunlight, has been shown to improve moods.

Similarly, work activity that takes place before the start of the standard eight hour workday or afterwards does count as time that needs to be tracked. For example, an office meeting before 8 a.m. for thirty minutes may seem like the pre-day warm up, but if the meeting is about work-related subjects, it does count as work. Putting away or cleaning equipment after 5 pm also counts as regular work time. Some companies may have an unofficial policy to ask certain employees to stay late to help with some ad hoc chores, but not give them credit for their time. If this is a regular occurence, those hours can be worth a significant amount of time over the period of twelve months. An employee in such a situation might get stiffed out of hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Further, employees might not know their rights according to various labor laws, and allow managers to make unreasonable demands upon their time without compensating them. Many employees may acquiese to these conditions, believing that they are getting on the boss's good side by doing so.

This kind of thinking and work habit is perilous, because there are situations that can arise where an employee is officially off the clock, but still working and an injury takes place. What recourse does she or he have in such an instance?

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Department of Labor can ask for the last three years of a company's employee work records. If they are missing or incomplete there can be penalties. The point of saying so is not to instill fear, it is to acknowledge the simple fact that in the Information Age, where everyone has access to the Web, saying you were not aware is no longer an acceptable excuse.

Image Credit: AgnosticPreachersKid

Topics: Time Tracking Software

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