Exempt employees and time clocks: How closely can we monitor their hours?

Q. Can we use a time clock for exempt employees? If not, how can we have a record of their hours worked? — Pilar, Florida

A. Although exempt employees are not paid by the hour, the reality of many such positions is that the employer needs to know whether those employees are working and sometimes where they are located when working. U.S. Depart­­ment of Labor regulations make clear that it is absolutely fine to require exempt employees to work a specified schedule, to keep track of when an exempt employee is working, and, yes, to require them to punch a time clock.

However, if you begin tracking an exempt employee’s hours to the minute, you may create the impression that their work does not, in fact, require the independent judgment typically associated with positions that are overtime exempt. Clearly, you want to be sure that employees are properly classified as exempt, and communicate that fact clearly, or they may believe that they are entitled to unpaid overtime wages.

As a practical matter, exempt workers typically are not required to “punch a time clock.” But most are asked to record their hours worked another way, or to work their regular hours and notify others in advance if they are not working, such as attending a doctors’ visit when colleagues would expect to reach them by phone.