Do I Have to Pay When an Employee Forgets to Clock In?

One of the biggest frustrations employers face is getting employees to clock in and clock out at work. This isn’t unique to small companies with new time management policies, either. Large businesses spend hours each month training employees how to clock in and making adjustments when they forget to correctly account for their hours.

This has lead some employers to ask: do I really have to pay these employees? If they don’t record their hours properly, how can I know that they are honest about their times they arrived and left? Regardless of how frustrating these mistakes are, you still have to pay your employees. Learn what the law says about employees who don’t clock in and what managers can do about it.

What Are the Federal Recordkeeping Requirements?

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers need to keep records on the number of hours each of their employees worked -- regardless of whether their employees clock in and clock out. This means that if your employee forgets to clock in and still works a full day, your payroll team has to adjust the schedule to account for the employee’s hours worked, and pay that team member accordingly.

According to the FLSA:

“The Act requires no particular form for the records, but does require that the records include certain identifying information about the employee and data about the hours worked and the wages earned...Each employer shall preserve for at least three years payroll records, collective bargaining agreements, sales and purchase records.”

Oftentimes, employers ask if they can dock the pay of employees who fail to clock in or out -- or withhold pay entirely that day. They cannot. Employees must be paid for the exact number of hours they worked, regardless of whether or not they remembered to clock in.

What Disciplinary Options Do Employers Have?

If an employer can’t dock an employee’s pay for failing to clock in or out, they can take other measures to reinforce the importance of accurately measuring time worked. For example, a human resources representative can contact that employee’s manager to alert them to the time clock issue. In this case, the burden then falls on the manager to make sure that employee is clocking in and to talk to them if the problem persists.

If you do plan to set up disciplinary measures for failing to clock in and out, make sure you write them in your employee handbook. Any changes to the policy or handbook should be reviewed with your staff so they understand the repercussions of not clocking in.

Most companies that implement similar measures create a process with verbal and written warnings, followed by probation, and then termination for employees who won’t clock in if there are a certain number of violations over a set period of time. This shows that the employee exhibited a pattern of behavior where they refused to use the company time clock tools or disregarded comments from management on how to clock in, rather than punishing employees for the occasional human error that most people are prone to.

Teach Employees to Account for Breaks

While the main clock-in and clock-out process typically isn’t confusing for employees, there may be some confusion as to when employees should clock out for breaks -- and what HR can do if they don’t.

Breaks apply to both 15-30 minute increments set out by the department of labor and 30-60 minute lunch breaks created by the company. When adjusting an employee’s schedule, it is illegal for an employer to dock time for breaks or lunch unless the employee actually took that time. If an employee says they worked from 8 am - 5 pm, an employer can’t record an hour-long lunch unless a manager verifies the break as well.

While this law protects employees from not getting paid for work they did, it also protects employers. Employees can be disciplined for not taking their breaks or not taking them at the right time if it is clearly stated in the employee handbook. For example, if an employee works from 8 am - 4 pm and says they took their lunch break from 4 pm - 5 pm as an excuse to leave early.

Employees also need to take their required breaks so the employer doesn’t have to pay unapproved overtime because workers decided to keep going when they needed to clock out and rest.

Your human resources department needs to clearly explain the break policy with both employees and managers, and managers need to enforce employee breaks throughout the workday. This ways employees will be fairly paid, won’t be overworked, and commit time card fraud that hurts your company.

Minor Time Clock Discrepancies Are Unavoidable

It’s natural that there will always be a slight difference between the number of hours that an employee works and the time they clock in and out for. As an example, an employee might clock out, pack their belongings to go home, and then unexpectedly stop and help a co-worker for 15 minutes on their way out the door. However, this additional work time is insignificant, and it’s unlikely that the team member writes to HR and requests a payroll adjustment.  

To solve this, many companies implement policies where employee time tracking is rounded up or down to the nearest quarter hour. For example, if an employee clocking in a 7:55, the punch rounds up to 8:00. There is also a middle point where punch in at 8:07 round down to 8:00 while punch ins at 8:08 and beyond round up to 8:15. Depending on the time clock tool that you have, you can choose to tag the exact time or use this rounding method for easier payroll management.

It’s okay for your time clock to be a few minutes off from what your employees actually work, but you need to adjust any major discrepancies so your records, payroll, and employee hours all line up accordingly.

Invest in a Time Clock That’s Easy to Use

If you’re frustrated by employees who can’t clock in or out correctly and you human resources department hates fixing the timesheets each month, consider switching to a time clock tool that both parties can appreciate.

OnTheClock is an online time clock, meaning employees can clock in or out wherever they have an internet connection. Brands can also geofence the app so team members can only clock in when they are on or near the premises. OnTheClock is also easy for HR teams who need to quickly make adjustments in a simple interface.

You always have to pay employees for their time worked, but you can make it easier for them to clock in and help your HR team make changes with the best tool for the job.

a thought From Michelle smith on 10/13/2019 ...
Can an employer refuse to add time to the current pay period for missing punches? Example... payroll closes Sunday, Friday someone forgot to clock in and out. They will not get paid on the current cycle, they have to wait until the next pay period to be paid.
reply from OTC - Hi Michelle, it is possible for this to happen since payroll is typically ran on a strict schedule for employees to be paid on time. It is our understanding that it is okay as long as the employee is paid for their time worked. We hope this helps.
a thought From Mary on 10/3/2019 ...
I am an employee that is one of those people that either foregets to punch in or i foreget to punch out. Yes my employer tells me about it and now i have a write because of it but he says they are allowed to hold back the pay for those hours.
reply from OTC - Hi Mary, An employer must pay you for the time that you worked, but it makes it very difficult for them to know the hours that you worked if you are not punching in and out causing an issue with your pay because they aren't sure how much to pay you. Our advice would be to set reminders on your phone that way you can remember to clock in and out. Thanks for reaching out.
a thought From P.M.T on 10/2/2019 ...
Can an employer force/require an employee to sign a document stating "I certify that the requested time change is accurate and I agree to a $25.00 Charge that will be payroll deducted for each "Time Keeping Change Request Form" filled out on my behalf. Meaning if you missed punching in or punched in late they will change they will deduct $25 from your pay. Is this legal? What if the employee refuses to sign?
reply from OTC - Hi there. This is a question that we have not been asked before. We are not legal experts so it's hard for us to answer this accurately. However, the Department of Labor does require employers to pay their employees for the time in which they worked. I would reach out to your state's department of labor division and consult with them - we would hate to give you false information. Thank you for reaching out.
a thought From Jill on 10/1/2019 ...
My sons employer does not allow employees to punch the clock themselves and instead enters the punches for them. Also they have decided to allot time for tasks and punch you off the clock per their time assessment. Is this legal?
reply from OTC - Hello Jill, Our understanding is that it is legal as long as the employees are being paid for the time in which they worked.
a thought From Sergio T on 9/21/2019 ...
Hi ok so I worked for this oilfield company at my last job, pretty much these last two weeks that I worked there they missed up on my checks. The first time they didn’t pay me everything they owed me they payed me only half of what I’m supposed to get paid. The second time they only paid me for one day of work which I was there Monday threw Saturday. I called the secretary and was explaining to her that they didn’t pay me everything they owe me. She told me “the ONLY way you get paid is if you sign in for the day and sign out” (pretty much like clocking in and out) I explained to her that rather I remembered to sign in or not I was still at work working all week I even have people who can confirm that. She told me there is nothing they can do about it because technically I am not on the paper work since I didn’t sign in for those days. So I just need to know if that’s legal and can they really not pay me for all those hours I worked? I work Monday threw Saturday 14 hour shifts everyday In this heat and for me not to get paid for it is ridiculous
reply from OTC - Hi Sergio, Thank you for your question. The Department of Labor does say that employees must be paid for their time worked. Now proving when you actually worked is a different story. This is a big reason why we recommend using an employee time clock. This would provide you will evidence that you did work the hours that you claim to work. If you can prove to your employer that you did work then they are required to pay you for that time. We hope this helps.
a thought From Nicole Conner on 9/13/2019 ...
I am the person responsible for timesheets, payroll and paying out credit card tips. I’m a meticulous record keeper. I have a few employees who are inconsistent in punch-in/out. I created a separate document to reiterate the importance of this and made each of my 18 employees sign a copy of the language (directly from our handbook) and explained the procedure if there is a missed punch. I am not the manager on duty (I work outside the office) and run timesheets at the end of the period. I also run a daily timesheet when calculating tips. If an employee has not notified me of a missed punch I have to track them down. Secondly if they don’t punch in at all, I have no way of knowing if they missed it as the staff frequently trade shifts so the schedule is not a reliable resource. I recently had two staff members (the same two who were the catalyst to all staff being reminded) miss punching in on a holiday. These days result in tremendous tips. I paid out credit card tips a week later (customary for my business) and these two were not included, nor had either of them inform me of missed punch (within 24 hours, so that they are not excluded from tips). I always pay their wages, but was firm about not including them in the CC tips if they don’t tell me. So I had paid out all the tips for that day and each girl THEN informed me that they missed punching in. I paid them their wages. Each girl is ANGRY that I did not redo the tips, get everyone else’s back and start over. Am I obligated to pay them for the missed CC tips? I think, no.
reply from OTC - Hello Nicole, Thank you for reaching out. You bring up a great topic. Although we cannot confirm 100%, it is our understanding that you are not obligated to pay tips, but you are obligated to pay their regular wages, which this seems to be exactly what you have done. We applaud your professionalism as this is a very frustrating situation. This this being said, you may want to consider a time clock that sends punch reminders to the employers. For example, with our time clock system you will have the option to set reminders that would be sent to employees in a specified amount of time in advance (10 minutes, 15 minutes, etc.). These reminders can be sent via text messages and/or emails. The purpose is to remind employees to punch in and punch out - it basically holds the employees more accountable. We hope this information has been helpful and be sure to check out our time clock for free. Have a great day! -OTC Team
a thought From Barbara on 8/6/2019 ...
my employee's will clock in but "forget" to clock out. California states that if they clock in but not out, I only have to pay them 1 hour. we're a small construction site and employees will leave during the day & expect us to pay them for 8 hours.
reply from OTC - First we will start off by stating that we are not specialist in labor laws. With that being said, this is a law that we have never heard of before. The general requirements by the Department of Labor states that employers must pay their employees for the time in which they have worked - this does not matter if an employee forgets to punch in or out - they must be paid. Can you provide us with a link or reference where you have seen the law you are mentioning? Thanks in advance.
a thought From Stacey on 7/13/2019 ...
My employer says that we will not get paid for any time over our scheduled clock out time if it is not approved. Is it legal for them to not pay even if we worked over that scheduled time? For instance, I am supposed to clock out at 7pm but the work load was large & I didn’t have time to sweep & mop before 7 so I didn’t clock out until 7:15.
reply from OTC - Hi Stacey, hourly workers who still perform work duties up to the point until they punch out are entitled under law to be paid for their time worked.
a thought From Sharon on 6/26/2019 ...
I work for a small group (3 doctors). On my last paycheck, I noticed it was short 5 hours. I know I did not punch out for lunch on 4 days (no time to take a lunch), so I anticipated that they would deduct 2 hours from my pay (we are required to take a 30 min lunch if working 5 hours or more). I wrote a letter to the head doctor who is in charge of payroll and mentioned my paycheck was short a few hours and then requested if he could obtain the hours they claim I punched in/out verses the hours I have recorded on my personal time punch app. I received a response today (no idea which doctor wrote it as they never signed it) telling me they believe the discrepancy was due to "not clocking out/in properly for lunch and/or missing another punch in/out." They also stated that due to the payroll company having to adjust the hours to correct the error & because "they need to compensate the payroll company for the time it takes them to correct each error, an additional 15 min is deducted" from my pay. So my question is, can they legally deduct 15 min per each correction of my time?
reply from OTC - Hello Sharon, thank you for the question. The law states that employees must be paid for hours in which they have worked. However, proving evidence that one worked when he or she forgot to punch in or out is a difficult process - since this would be the employer just taking the employee's word for it. Perhaps creating a free account with our time clock for you to punch in and out will help you to provide accurate hours worked if this event were to happen again. You can find us in your app store by typing in OnTheClock. Our time clock system can record your GPS location which will help prove where your location is during the time when you clocked in and out. We hope this information helps you.
a thought From Terrence l grimes on 6/9/2019 ...
My boss said someone signed me in on my off day..the day before I just received my log in number..I was off for 2 days straight..she also hinted that another worker who was off did it..I ask her to pull up the camera between 455 am and 105 pm..but she didn't..my question is scan that or will that be on my work file?
reply from OTC - Hello Terrence, thank you for reaching out. Unfortunately this is something we cannot answer. We recommend asking your HR Department this question, and receiving a copy of the employer's Employee Handbook. Have a great day!
a thought From Robert on 6/8/2019 ...
Hi, I received a letter which mention that I forgot to clock-out a month ago (12 of May) and that letter saying, if thats happens again, the will refuse to pay service charges to me. They also told that, they don not have to pay the service charges, but they decide to do so, so they can cancel it without any notice. |s that correct to punish the employee for a mistake( happend only 2 times the last 7 month) to forget to clock out?
reply from OTC - Hi Robert, the law states that employees must be paid for their time worked. Whether or not your time can be proven for the times in which you worked is a a different story. From here on out we recommend that you do what you have to in order to remember to clock in and out to avoid any conflicts with your employer. We hope this information is helpful and thank you for reaching out to us.
a thought From Brittiany Istre on 4/27/2019 ...
My boss made everyone sign a form that we are responsible for clocking in/out and if we fail to do so, they won't pay us. I feel that paper is nul & void because they aren't above the law. Is it illegal for them to make us sign that paper?
reply from OTC - Hi Brittiany, The law states that employees must be paid for the time they worked. We hope this helps.
a thought From Kim on 4/12/2019 ...
we are the employer... our problem is certain individuals keep forgetting to punch in/out, regardless of how many times we talk to them about this. what if we only paid for hours that were properly recorded? When the employee notices their paycheck is smaller than normal, we hope that this will sink in the importance of remembering to clocking in/out. Of course, we would catch up any remaining hours due to the employee on the next check. Is this method legal?
reply from OTC - Hi Kim, Please note that we are not legal experts. With that being said, an employee must be paid their wages for the time in which they worked. It can be frustrating when employees don't punch in or out, and that is one of the biggest reasons businesses start using us. Our time clock system sends emails and/or text message reminders to employees to punch in and out (this includes breaks), so they would have absolutely no excuse if you were to try us out.
a thought From christopher callaghan on 4/3/2019 ...
Hi at work we have to clock in for 7.30. however due to different bus times we clock in at Round 6.50, then go get changed and wait for the brief to start. should we get paid for this? Also we do overtime every day as it's site times not contracted times, they let us clock out at 5.40 but pay to 6 or if we clock out at 5.39 we get docked 30 mins. Are they allowed to do this or do they have to pay us until the minute we clock out as it's overtime?
reply from OTC - Hi Christopher, Each state varies when it comes to overtime rules, so we recommend looking into your state department for laws and regulations. However, it is required by law that an employer pays their employees for the time they have actually worked. We recommend discussing this with your HR department.
a thought From Chloe on 4/1/2019 ...
I work for a big company, but they managers who run store, are going around saying that if we don’t clock on we don’t get paid instead addressing the situation with written warning and when I confronted them about it, they become defence and told me it was higher up that had told them to tell us that because they aren’t aloud to fix our time sheets manually? Was it wrong for who ever was higher up to tell their employees to tell their employees if they don’t do this they won’t get paid? Or am I in the wrong for stating that they have to pay regardless of they forget/don’t clock in and they shouldn’t be announcing out like that? And isn’t it also up to the employer to be making sure employees are clocking in and out properly I know it’s a pain when you have to do so but that is part of their job “managing” right?
reply from OTC - Hi Chloe, Thank you for commenting. It is the law in the U.S. that employers have to pay their employees for hours that are worked, even if they forget to punch in or out.
a thought From Jarred on 3/13/2019 ...
Employer claims a problem with time clock ( if employee clocks in 15 minutes early than schedule the system "kicks the employee out" and rounds up to the closet hour) leaving me to have to tell a supervisor every time and they don't plan on fixing the system.
reply from OTC - Hi Jarred, Assuming you are using our time clock system, it sounds like the Admin on the account has punch rounding turned on. Please contact us for further assistance.
a thought From Jarred on 3/12/2019 ...
Employer claims a problem with time clock ( if employee clocks in 15 minutes early than schedule the system "kicks the employee out" and rounds up to the closet hour) leaving me to have to tell a supervisor every time and they don't plan on fixing the system.
reply from OTC - Hi Jarred, Assuming you are using our time clock system, it sounds like the Admin on the account has punch rounding turned on. Please contact us for further assistance.
a thought From Kim Chapman on 3/7/2019 ...
my company is telling us if we miss turning in a timesheet they will pull from our accrued PTO for payroll. Is that legal?
reply from OTC - Hello Kim, Very interesting questions and situation. We are not sure if this is legal or not since each state proposes its own regulations. Please contact your State Department and they will provide you with the legality of your question.
a thought From Gina Serpe on 2/26/2019 ...
Our company policy is to punch in and out each shift, but if an employee has a problem punching in, they can sign in/out in our "No Punch Book" but they don't even do that at times. My question is, if they do not do either, once payroll is started and they are short those hours, are we able to not pay them that day until the next pay period?
reply from OTC - For an ethical standpoint, we would recommend paying the employee for the hours worked for the pay period in which the hours are performed. We strongly recommend having your payroll provider look into the legal side to see what your state mandates. Our recommendation is only personal and not legal advice.
a thought From Caroline on 2/26/2019 ...
What if an employee wasn't just forgetting to clock in, but actively refusing to? What if I walked him through how to do it, gave multiple reminders, multiple warnings, but he just refused to do it until he was terminated without his hours ever going on the clock due to his own fault?
reply from OTC - Hello Caroline, No matter if the employee chose to clock in/out or not, by law he is still entitled to be paid for the total hours that he worked.
a thought From Felicia morse on 2/23/2019 ...
My employee has not paid me for several days of work over a 6 week period. It due to me forgetting to clock in or out but there are 45 other employees and over half fail to follow that rule. Do they have to pay me? I have proff I was at work.
reply from OTC - Hi Felicia, The law does require that an employer must pay an employee for total hours worked. Our advice is to follow up with the HR department to sort it out.
a thought From Beth on 11/15/2018 ...
If the building is locked because the manager is late am i considered late? I was on time but unable to work
reply from OTC - This is a bit of grey area, while technically not working, they employer may not be obliged to pay. However, it would not be your fault that you cannot work, you showed up to work and due to the employers fault you could not actually work. Any good employer should pay for this time, in our opinion.
a thought From Stephanie on 10/8/2018 ...
Can your employer take away your PTO for missing a time clock punch/error?
reply from OTC - Hi Stephanie, PTO is generally regarded as a benefit and is part of your employment contract. The DOL dictates that ALL worked hours have to be paid regardless of time clock malfunctions or missed punches. The DOL does not specifically address employers taking away owed PTO hours due to time clock issues. However, if this was in your employment contract you have justification to ask for your hours back. We hope this helps!
a thought From Km on 9/6/2018 ...
What if time clock is not accessible. Can this be a disciplinary situation
reply from OTC - Kim, Thanks for your comment. As we understand it, according to the DOL, all time has to be recorded and maintained. So if the time clock is not accessible, we suggest that the employer must manually record time and have the employee sign off.

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