Q: I'm confused about Connecticut's time clock rules, and an employer's ability to round up or down when employees don't clock in and out right on the hour. Specifically, I'm having trouble with a few employees who consistently arrive five minutes late in the morning, take too long of a lunch break, and then punch out five minutes early at the end of the day.
When this happens, can I penalize the employee for their tardiness by rounding up the time clock punch to the next 15-minute mark? And when they leave early, may I round down? Or should I add up the total time worked at the end of the day, and round that number to the nearest 15-minute mark?
A: You should not use any of those options, as they all violate Connecticut's wage and hour laws.
An employer does have the option to round up and round down employee time clock punches, rather than paying them exactly to the minute.
However, Connecticut Regulation 31-60-11 provides that working time “in every instance” must be computed “to the nearest unit of 15 minutes.”
Known colloquially as “the seven minute rule,” this regulation requires that employers round up or down to the nearest unit of 15 minutes for every single time card punch—not simply at the end of the day.
This means that, for example, if an employee is scheduled to work from 9 am-4:30 pm with a half hour lunch break at noon, their time clock entries may look like this:
- 9:05 am rounds back to 9 am (late punch-in to start the day)
- 11:54 am rounds forward to noon (early punch-out for lunch)
- 12:37 pm rounds back to 12:30 pm (late punch-in returning to work)
- 4:25 pm rounds forward to 4:30 pm (early punch-out at end of day)
Gaming the System
This can be very frustrating for employers, who correctly point out that, in the scenario above, the employee is rewarded four separate times in one day for being late and punching out early.
The regulation requires that they be paid for seven hours of work, although they only actually worked six hours, 37 minutes.
The legal basis for the regulation is that there will be some cases where the rounding favors the employer—for example, an employee who punches out at the end of the day at 4:22 pm will only be paid until 4:15 pm because 4:22 pm is closer to 4:15 pm than to 4:30 pm.
Many employers, however, believe some workers learn the system and often takes advantage.
Employers should remember they can always discipline employees for tardiness and punching out early—for example, with an unpaid suspension or written warning.
But employers wishing to avoid costly penalties and back pay awards from the Department of Labor will be wise to follow the guidelines above.