Q. In the October 1999 issue, you explained that
A. No. While you don't have to pay the time-and-a-half overtime rate if the employee works less than 40 hours a week, you do have to pay for all hours worked—regardless of whether the extra hours were authorized. Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, you must pay for whatever work you “knowingly suffer or permit” the employee to perform, even if you did not request or authorize the work.
Thus, if you know (or have reason to know) that an employee comes to work early, takes work home or works through lunch, you must pay for all such time worked.
On a related note, the fact that an employee intentionally understates the hours worked on a time sheet may be no defense, especially where supervisors may be pressuring workers to put in extra time “off the clock.” However, you aren't powerless. If you do have a firm policy on getting approval for overtime and an employee violates it, you have grounds to discipline or fire the worker. Put such a written policy in place before it becomes an issue.