If you have hourly workers who punch a clock, don’t let them get in the habit of clocking in before they’re supposed to start. That’s the lesson from a recent case at a factory in Indiana.

A shift supervisor often punched in 15-45 minutes ahead of the start of the 5 a.m. shift. She said she had to set up the day’s work before the crew arrived.

When the supervisor quit after eight years, she sued, claiming hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime.

Eventually, the company got the case dismissed, with the court ruling that the employer had no way of knowing the supervisor was doing overtime. The court pointed out that:

  • The company had a policy requiring pre-approval of overtime, which the employee never sought.
  • The owners of the business arrived two or three hours later than the shift workers, and so did not observe the unauthorized overtime being done.
  • The supervisor never reported errors in her pay or asked for overtime pay.

Nonetheless, the evidence indicated that many workers would clock in early, socialize over coffee for 10 or 15 minutes, then start work; and that the owners knew this and condoned it.

Had they cracked down on early punch-ins, they would have avoided the supervisor’s getting into the early arrival habit that eventually turned into a long-running court case.

Cite: Kellar v. Summit Seating Inc., No. 11-1221, 7th Cir., 12/14/11.

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