Workers coming in early to fire up their computers? You must pay them — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Workers coming in early to fire up their computers? You must pay them

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If your managers tell employees to show up a little early to start their computers and get ready to work, that time must be compensated.

That’s true even if you don’t absolutely demand early arrival, but internal systems make it tough for employees to begin their shifts if they don’t arrive early.

Your best bet to avoid a class-action overtime lawsuit over early-arrival pay: Design a system that allows employees to get their workstations ready at the start of their shifts—or simply start the actual shift a few minutes after paid time begins.

Recent case: Several Quest Communications call center employees sued for unpaid overtime. The main claim: Quest managers either told employees to arrive early so they could start computers and software, or set work objectives so high that employees had to be ready to work the instant their shifts began to meet those goals.

Quest argued that it had a strict policy against off-the-clock work. But the court said what mattered was what was actually happening and not what employees were told should happen. It sent the case to a jury trial. (Burch, et al., v. Quest, No. 06-3523, DC MN, 2009)

Final notes: Remember that you must pay overtime when hourly employees work beyond 40 hours in a workweek—whether you approved that time or not. What matters is that they were allowed to work to the company’s benefit.

That’s why—if you don’t want to pay overtime—you should make it difficult or impossible for employees to work early, late or through their lunch break.

You can, for example, require employees to leave their workstations for meals and breaks. You can also discipline employees who work when they are not supposed to—as long as you pay them.

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