Greg is a non-exempt accounts receivable associate and is paid by the hour. He has been working remotely since the company worksite temporarily closed. Greg has always been reliable, and his manager doesn’t really check in very often as the work seems to be getting done. In a conversation about his managing hours, Greg confessed to being a bit lax about his timekeeping and admitted to not logging all hours worked as he “just likes to work a little extra to clear out his inbox at the end of the day.”
In the same company, Carrie works as a non-exempt personal assistant. Her regular hours are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, but her manager calls her frequently after hours to ask quick questions or request that a task be quickly taken care of. When Carrie notes these instances on her time card, her manager balks, saying she knows for a fact that Carrie was out shopping or making dinner when some of the calls come in and that they only took a few minutes. Why should she be paid if she’s not on the clock and taking care of personal business?
While the recent need to embrace remote work, even if temporary, has allowed businesses to continue to operate, it has not exempted employers from their obligations under Department of Labor and state wage and hour laws.
Non-exempt employees (meaning “not exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act”, which regulates pay in the U.S.), wherever and whenever they work, still need to be paid for all time worked and, depending on the state, meal and rest periods still need to occur for them. That includes the minutes that non-exempt employees spend on calls with their manager while away from their desks, or clearing out email, even if they don’t “expect” to get paid for it.
Non-exempt employees may be out of sight, but should not be out of mind. Is it possible to manage hours effectively?
It is! To ensure that labor law and other employer obligations are being met, DO:
- Set Expectations and Review Policies – core hours should be communicated, as well as expected turnaround times for returning calls and emails. Do employees need to notify management prior to going into overtime? Should they wait to address emails and calls that come in outside of business hours until the next workday? What happens if employees are ill or need to take a few hours off?
- Caution – Unless necessary, avoid creating situations where employees feel they are under a “controlled on-call” mandate (and therefore should be compensated while waiting) by reiterating that if there are times when there is no work to do that they are not held to restrictions on personal movement or activity.
- Be familiar with applicable state and local labor laws – the state and locality of the location where the employee is performing work dictates what laws will apply. Paid sick leave, daily overtime, and meal and rest period requirements are just some of the relevant laws that may come into play.
- Use a timekeeping system – while any timekeeping method is acceptable, electronic time-stamp software can capture time records more accurately than paper time sheets and eliminate the possibility of someone simply opting not turning in a timecard. Employees should also know who to call if they have issues with the system, need time stamps corrected, or need to add on extra time if they perform work that did not get recorded. Many applications are mobile device friendly for those moments that employees are not at their regular computer or worksite.
- Address non-compliance – employees aren’t clocking in and out? Skipping mandated breaks? Sending emails after hours but not logging the time? Since you can’t dock an employee’s hours for lack of time sheet use, it’s important that you address these issues appropriately (and quickly) via feedback or training as there may be a learning curve at first if work-from-home hasn’t been the norm. Repeat offenders can be issued corrective action or face more serious employment actions if needed.
- Remember rules re: exempt versus non– exempt positions (those classified as ineligible for overtime) are not paid for “hours worked”, they are paid for work done and results. This can lead them to forget that non-exempt employees are paid for the minutes and hours they are actually working. Reminding your exempt-level leaders about respecting time boundaries for hourly employees outside of office hours can avoid unintended overtime, which adds up quickly.
- Caution: Even if your hourly employees are taking care of personal business when a work call, email or text comes in, any time spent working – even if just stepping away to take a phone call – is compensable.
- Check-in! Holding weekly or biweekly team and one-to-one meetings can be a great opportunity to get input on workload and any challenges employees are having, as well as a time to ensure everyone is clear on expectations in terms of timekeeping and availability.
What about work monitoring software? Wouldn’t that help with time management?
Trusting employees who are out of sight can be a new experience, but developing trust is a key component in maintaining employee morale. Workers who are constantly monitored and micromanaged can start to feel resentful, and that they are not being treated as the professionals that they were hired to be. Setting expectations around hours, timekeeping, and deadlines, clearly and in advance, and addressing those individuals who are not meeting them, is recommended in the interest of building a well-performing, professional team.
In essence, while managing non-exempt workers’ hours remotely does not have to be much different than managing them in the office, it requires a bit more follow-up and coaching to be sure that individual and company goals, as well as wage and hour obligations, are being met.
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