The Legalities of Changing Employees’ Timecards

Learn the rules around modifying employees’ timecards — for both remote and non-remote employees.

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There are certain scenarios where employers can change employees’ timecards — but intentionally falsifying them is illegal

Payday is coming up, and you’re in the process of reviewing your employees’ timecards. You notice what seems to be an error on one of the records. You decide to change the timecard information to reflect what you believe it should be.

But are you legally allowed to modify employees’ timecard information?

Short answer: While you can legally change employees’ timecard information, there are some critical exceptions to consider.

What federal law says about changing employees’ timecards

Employers can change employees’ timecards — so long as the adjustment correctly depicts the hours that the employees actually worked.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to keep specific records for each nonexempt employee — including total hours worked each workday and each workweek. The employer is responsible for not just maintaining records of employees’ hours worked, but also paying all hours worked. Therefore, employers can change employees’ timecards — so long as the adjustment correctly depicts the hours that the employees actually worked.

As the employee’s boss, you’re responsible for reviewing their submitted weekly timecard. You should ensure that the data is correct before approving and sending the timecard over to payroll for processing. This is true, regardless of whether you use a paper timekeeping system, an electronic method (such as email), or an automated cloud-based platform.

When can you change employees’ timecards?

Examples of when you can edit employees’ timecards include the following scenarios.

The employee:

  • Forgot to put their start or end time on their timesheet, or forgot to punch in or out on the timeclock. You can fill in the missing entries or punches.
  • Failed to clock in or out during their break or lunch period. You can fill in the break and lunch times taken.
  • Called in sick or took vacation time. You can adjust the timecard to reflect the sick or vacation time.
  • Took ½ day off from work for personal reasons. You can fill in the paid or unpaid personal time off.
  • Wasn’t able to access the timekeeping system due to technical issues. You can fill in the missing punches.
  • Double-punched the timeclock. You can remove the extra punch.
  • Wrote the incorrect amount of hours on their timesheet. You can set the record straight.

When in doubt, contact the employee to verify their timecard information before you make the change. For example, if an employee fails to clock in or out, you might not recall their exact arrival or departure times — which is why you should check with them first, instead of guessing. Also, check the employee’s paid time off balance before making timecard edits for PTO.

After editing an employee’s timecard, send the updated information to the employee before approving it for payroll processing. This way, you and the employee can resolve any issues in advance.

When can’t you change employees’ timecards?

It is illegal to intentionally falsify an employee’s timecard.

The FLSA makes clear that employers must pay nonexempt employees for all hours worked. Therefore, it is illegal to intentionally falsify an employee’s timecard.

For example, you cannot change a nonexempt employee’s work hours from 48 hours to 40 hours because you do not want to pay them overtime. If the employee worked 48 hours then they must be paid for 40 hours at their regular rate and 8 hours at their overtime rate.

You also cannot change employees’ timecards:

  • As a form of punishment (e.g., by reducing hours worked)
  • To avoid paying for authorized breaks

In short, any timecard manipulation that causes the employee to be shortchanged is unlawful.

Can you change remote employees’ timecards?

As with onsite employees, you can modify remote employees’ timecards, provided the change does not cause the employee to be underpaid.

Timekeeping for remote employees can be challenging due to the distance involved. Although utilizing a cloud-based timekeeping system makes it easier to track remote work hours, there’s still the potential for missing or erroneous timecard entries. There’s also the chance of remote employees performing unauthorized work.

As stated earlier, employers are ultimately responsible for maintaining records of hours worked. However, in August 2020, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) issued a bulletin, clarifying time tracking for remote employees.

The bulletin says that the onus is on the employer to prevent “work when it is not desired” and that merely developing a rule prohibiting unauthorized work is not sufficient. “Management has the power to enforce the rule and must make every effort to do so.” That said, the employer is under no obligation to compensate remote employees for unreported work hours “that the employer did not know about, nor had reason to believe was being performed.”

According to the DOL, remote employees are responsible for tracking their hours worked so long as they receive the tools to do so. This means the employer must establish a reasonable reporting system that remote employees can use to report both scheduled and unscheduled time worked.

Remote employees are responsible for tracking their hours worked so long as they receive the tools to do so.

What are the penalties of falsifying employees’ timecards?

Employers can face serious consequences for illegally altering employees’ timecards. Consequences may include:

  • Wage and hour complaints or lawsuits
  • Payment of back wages
  • Damages
  • Attorney fees
  • Criminal or civil penalties under federal and state laws

Several investigations have resulted in the employer facing liability for falsifying employees’ timecards. For example, in the case of Santonias Bailey v. TitleMax of Georgia, the plaintiff (Bailey) sued his employer (TitleMax) for unpaid overtime. Bailey’s supervisor also repeatedly changed Bailey’s timecards to reflect fewer hours than he worked.

The Court of Appeals held that Bailey was not paid because his time records were not accurate. They reflected an artificially low number of hours worked. This inaccuracy came from two sources: first, Mr. Bailey underreported his own hours by working off the clock. Second, Mr. Bailey’s supervisor changed his time records to decrease the number of hours he reported.”

The court deferred to the FLSA — which says that if the employer knew or had reason to believe that the employee worked the unreported hours, then the employer must pay the unreported hours.

In the end, falsifying an employee’s timecard is simply not worth it.

If you’re looking for an automated, cloud-based platform for employee time and scheduling, check out Zenefits — which you can use to track time for employees, contractors, and freelancers.

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