Q. Our employees punch in 15 minutes or less before their warehouse shifts begin. We pay them starting at their scheduled start time. Also, our employees are scheduled for 30-minute lunch breaks, but some punch in and out for lunch within 10 or 15 minutes. Our company pays the full lunch time, regardless of what is punched. Is this OK? —J.W., Indiana
A. Employees who voluntarily come to work before their regular starting time or remain after their closing time do not have to be paid for such periods, as long as they're not doing any work. So you can disregard their early or late clock-punching. Minor differences between the clock records and actual hours worked can't be avoided, but watch out for major discrepancies, since they raise a doubt about the accuracy of your records.
Some companies using time clocks record employees' starting and closing times to the nearest five minutes, or to the nearest one-tenth or quarter of an hour. Presumably, that averages out so workers are fully compensated for all the time they actually work. The U.S. Labor Department says it will accept this practice, as long as it results in employees being paid properly for time worked.
In your case, you shouldn't be “automatically” paying employees for eight hours per day without regard to their true clock-in and clock-out times and lunch breaks. Pay for time actually worked: no more, no less.