The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and parallel state laws require employers to pay workers for all the time they worked. That includes any time spent on required activities before clocking in or after clocking out. If the activity is required by the employer, it must be paid.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, pre- and post-shift work must be compensated if it is “integral and indispensable” to the “principal activities” of the job. What activities meet this definition will depend in part on the job and industry. It could also depend on circumstances, as COVID-19 has meant many employers require employees to undergo temperature checks and put on PPE before they clock in.
Examples of pre-and post-shift activities that generally would be compensated, even if they take place off the clock, include:
- Unlocking the building and turning on systems
- Putting on and taking off protective clothing
- Inspecting equipment
- Setting up supplies
- Logging in and out of computer systems
- Transmitting data
- Post-shift security inspections
- Responding to calls about work issues or scheduling
- Setting the alarm upon leaving
‘It doesn’t take more than a few minutes’
Employers may find it frustrating to have to track a few minutes of off-the-clock work each day. Ideally, you would arrange to have as few activities as possible take place before or after clocking in or out. However, there are activities, like starting up the system that runs the time clocks, that must be done off the clock.
Keep in mind that the few minutes these activities take every day could easily add up to substantial time over the course of a month. Nevertheless, the FLSA allows employers to require their employees to work up to about 10 minutes each day without compensation if the time is administratively difficult to track. That said, state laws or union contracts could require payment of this time.
Require reasonable protocols to capture the time
The first step is to put your time-keeping policies in writing. Be sure to make clear that all hours worked are to be paid and encourage employees to keep manual logs of any off-the-clock work they perform. Update any policies that would tend to encourage pre- or post-shift work.
If you don’t have a time clock, consider adding a couple of minutes of employee time before and after their reported time to account for any pre- or post-shift work that is required by circumstances. New record-keeping technology can make it easier to track employees’ time.
Be aware that the addition of pre- and post-shift time could push an employee over the threshold into overtime.
If you have questions about off-the-clock work, talk to an experienced employment law attorney.