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Eating the Clock

I’ve notice everyday my employee goes to the bathroom 5 minutes before lunch, gathers her things, and then clocks out. When she returns, she clocks back in, puts her things away and then goes to the bathroom again. Is this a form of “eating the clock?”

Eating the clock refers to an employee clocking extra minutes of time when they’re not actually working. Ten minutes is not a lot to most employers. However, the time adds up and the practice of allowing it sets a precedent.

Whether you need to address the issue depends on a few factors. Are the employee’s actions affecting operational needs or productivity? Are her work duties or the duties of her coworkers being affected? Is she really doing this every day or occasionally? Is the employee otherwise a great worker? Consider these factors before addressing the issue because once you do the employee may feel resentment towards you.  Now, you shouldn’t refrain from addressing any issue for fear of an employee’s reaction. But, it’s important to consider the employee’s reaction and whether addressing the issue is actually worth it.

Also, consider the locations of the time clock and restroom. Is the restroom closer to her work station? If so, it may be that the employee is not intentionally stealing time but using the restroom prior to clocking out/in is simply more convenient and practical.

If you still feel the matter should be addressed then regulatory compensation requirements must be considered.

Though there is no federal law requiring meal periods or rest breaks, when such breaks are offered employers must follow compensation requirements under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Under the FLSA, short breaks lasting less than twenty minutes in duration must be compensated.

Meal periods typically lasting thirty minutes or more serve a different purpose than short breaks and are not time required to be compensated. Employees must be relieved of all work responsibilities during meal periods. If an employee does any work during his meal period the time must be compensated and counted towards the total number of hours worked in the workweek.

Be mindful that many states have adopted their own meal period and rest break laws. Make sure your policy is in accordance with any state regulation.

If the employee goes to the bathroom then returns to work, even if just to answer a call or email, before leaving for lunch then the time must be paid. However, if the employee immediately gathers her things and leaves then the time can be counted towards her meal period. So, the issue arises with determining if the employee conducts any work after she returns from the restroom.

The best approach is to talk to the employee. Explain that she is permitted to use the restroom as necessary throughout the day but you’ve noticed that she does so immediately before and after her lunch break essentially extending her time away from work while on the clock. Inform her that employees are permitted a specified amount of time for their lunch periods and she’s expected to use such time for personal matters as needed. Express that when she’s ready to stop working and take her lunch break she must clock out and when she’s ready to return to work she can clock in. Reiterate that she is able to use the restroom as needed.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 9th, 2016 at 2:55 pm and is filed under
Compensation, Labor Laws.
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