Your employee forgets to sign in – or calls in sick. No problem, these things happen. You decide to adjust their time sheet to reflect this.
And then you pause.
Is this legal? Are employers allowed to make adjustments to their employee hours? What if a team member wrote down an incorrect amount of total hours – can you tweak this as well?
While falsification of an employee’s time sheet can be a serious offense, it isn’t illegal for a supervisor or employer to change an employee’s time sheet – as long as it reflects the correct billable hours that were worked and you notify the employee that you’re changing their weekly timesheet. You (or your human resources department) can’t just change paydays without telling the affected team members – and it’s worth making this clear in the company policy.
In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Labor website, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law that specifically requires employers to keep records of nonexempt employees hours worked. Because of this labor law, employer changes to time cards is fair play. (Note: the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor holds companies responsible for many other hour laws and compensation for employee paid time.)
What is illegal, though – is falsifying timesheets. Employers can record accurate time (using time cards, time clocks, etc.) and even change time cards however they want but the payroll records must be accurate to the actual time worked.
For instance, employers should never cut a team member’s work time down in an attempt to avoid paying overtime. You need to be accurate and transparent when you track time and report hourly rates – all while keeping in mind fluctuations in common factors such as lunch breaks, sick leave, or time off.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at situations where a time sheet can be legally altered, and the best practices for making changes that are in compliance with the FLSA.
Note: If your concern is keeping employee hours honest and accurate without violating any employment laws, we recommend an automatic timekeeping system like Buddy Punch. We built Buddy Punch to ensure that employees are held accountable for their time throughout their day, along with streamlining payroll at the end of each workweek or pay period. Learn more about why over 10,000 businesses have chosen Buddy Punch here.
When Can Time Sheets Be Altered?
Disclaimer: while many companies may have their employees to track their work hours, the FLSA states that the ultimate responsibility for time tracking – falls to the employer. Because of this, employers are able to change their employees’ time records — as long as they are an accurate reflection of the amount of time worked.
Time sheets would never be altered to reduce the number of hours that an employee truly did spend on the job. For example, some employers alter time sheets in an attempt to reduce or eliminate overtime hours.
Other times, an employer may try to pressure the employee into submitting false time cards that leave out overtime. Both of these instances are in violation of federal and state laws. More than 70% of employers violate the FLSA with falsification of timesheets, making wage and hour lawsuits some of the most common lawsuits for small businesses and enterprises alike. Only salaried employees are free from worrying about this, since they’re paid the same regardless of what happens on a workday. It’s important to ensure that any and all changes to time cards are accurate before payroll processing.
However, there are times when altering an employee’s time sheet may be necessary. For instance, if an employee forgets to clock in, then an employer is able to manually change the time sheet to ensure the employee is paid. If an employee calls in sick, an employer is also able to adjust the time sheet to reflect this. And if an employee catches an employee committing time theft by lying about hours (for themselves or coworkers), they’re allowed to adjust the timesheet (as well as pursue disciplinary action).
How to Change Time Sheets
The FLSA does not require employers to notify their employees or obtain their consent for changes to their daily time sheets. However, employers are not able to simply edit an employees time card when they feel like it or to avoid overtime pay by changing clock out times.
An employer must have a legitimate reason for making a change – such as an employee forgot to mark their end time or they have sufficient evidence the employee wasn’t working – such as camera evidence. According to the FLSA, changes to online timesheets must include accurate information about the data as well as the hours worked and the wages earned for the pay period. Anything less is timecard fraud.
Here’s a look at some ways that you can change time card data while being open – and upfront with your workers.
- Documentation – Before changes are made to time sheets, you should ensure that you have proper documentation backing your decision for the alterations (and make backups for these docs). For areas on the time card that you feel could be a mistake –it’s always a good idea to verify with your employee before making any changes to avoid calls of timesheet fraud (or, in extreme situations, criminal charges).
- Pre-Approval – As an employer, you might consider prohibiting time sheet changes by supervisors unless pre-approved by you on a set schedule. Biweekly timesheets are a common option for this, although doing so on a monthly basis is another choice. Either way, you want to schedule it so you have enough free time to verify in real-time that any changes made that impact pay stubs are accurate.
- Recorded – Finally, it’s recommended that you take a copy of employee punch ins before you edit them. Keeping the unedited version can be helpful in the event that an hourly employee doesn’t agree with your adjustments.
When changes are made to a time sheet, it’s always a good idea to keep both the original record and the modified copy. Or, show a line through the error on the original record, along with the correction, as well as both you and your employee’s signatures and the date next to the correction. You always want to account for discrepancies and protect yourself against a lawsuit. (Note: if you’re afraid you’re working with something on the line, it’s worth reaching out to a law firm. Many offer free consultations that can set your mind at ease.)
If you’re working in a program like Microsoft Excel, there are plenty of excel timesheet templates and bi-weekly time card calculators that streamline tracking your employees, making it easier to create the multiple copies needed.
That said, a lot of modern time tracking software includes automated tools that track not only workers’ time, but any changes that are made to time card data – as well as the person that made them. Such timesheet software can often be set to obtain acknowledgment from both you and the employee should the need for any changes arise.
Remember: timekeeping is your responsibility. Whether you choose to have your employees track their time manually or if you keep track for them – it’s important to maintain clear and accurate records to ensure that you’re in compliance with the law.
While the above information is intended to inform and to educate –it is not to be taken as legal counsel. Please consult an attorney for more information regarding employment regulations and FLSA law.
Note: For any employers looking to ensure that timekeeping is accurate to hours worked without needing to change timecards, you can’t go wrong with an automatic time tracker like Buddy Punch. We’ve helped over 10,000 business owners accurately manage time, simplify scheduling, and streamline the payroll process. Learn more here.