Can Employers Withhold Pay for Lack of Timesheets?

Employers contact me with this question all the time especially when the employee is off site at a client location. For instance, we had one employer call in frustratedly and complain that the employee had repeatedly ignored requests by HR to turn in timesheets in a timely manner.

The short answer to this question is “no”. The employer may not withhold pay for failure to turn in time sheets. It is important to understand that timekeeping is an employer obligation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments. This issue is addressed under the recordkeeping requirements.

What Records Are Required: Every covered employer must keep certain records for each non-exempt worker. The Act requires no particular form for the records but does require that the records include certain identifying information about the employee and data about the hours worked and the wages earned. The law requires this information to be accurate. The following is a listing of the basic records that an employer must maintain:

1. Employee’s full name and social security number.
2. Address, including zip code.
3. Birth date, if younger than 19.
4. Sex and occupation.
5. Time and day of week when employee’s workweek begins.
6. Hours worked each day.
7. Total hours worked each workweek.
8. Basis on which employee’s wages are paid (e.g., “$9 per hour”, “$440 a week”, “piecework”)
9. Regular hourly pay rate.
10. Total daily or weekly straight-time earnings.
11. Total overtime earnings for the workweek.
12. All additions to or deductions from the employee’s wages.
13. Total wages paid each pay period.
14. Date of payment and the pay period covered by the payment.

When addressing timekeeping, the FLSA states: Employers may use any timekeeping method they choose. For example, they may use a time clock, have a timekeeper keep track of employee’s work hours, or tell their workers to write their own times on the records. Any timekeeping plan is acceptable as long as it is complete and accurate. Employees on Fixed Schedules: Many employees work on a fixed schedule from which they seldom vary.

And further, the employer may keep a record showing the exact schedule of daily and weekly hours and merely indicate that the worker did follow the schedule. When a worker is on a job for a longer or shorter period of time than the schedule shows, the employer must record the number of hours the worker actually worked, on an exception basis.

Therefore, the employer has an obligation to pay the employee for hours worked whether or not the employee turned in timesheets for the period in question. In fact, that would be the case even if the employee failed to record hours worked. In other words, the employer is obligated to pay in either situation – lack of timesheets and/or failure to record time. Generally, employers may not withhold pay except in very limited circumstances.

The FLSA allows the Department of Labor (“Department”) or an employee to recover back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages where minimum wage and overtime violations exist.

Employers are encouraged to come up with timekeeping policies that are clear and easy to understand and follow. Overly complicated timekeeping systems can result in unnecessary tension and attrition of employee confidence and cooperation. It is also necessary to discuss the timekeeping policy with the employee when violations occur. Without withholding pay, the employee may be disciplined for failure or tardiness in submitting timesheets.


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