When employees fail to submit timesheets, it can complicate payroll, along with other areas of the business. Learning the legal requirements and proper timekeeping procedures can help employers avoid payroll headaches.
In a perfect world, handling the payroll side of your business would be one of the most seamless parts of your day. Every one of your employees would submit their timesheets and meet the timesheet deadlines you set. Every shift would be accurately reported and ready for approval. You’d run the numbers and be free to address any one of the many other unpredictable things that come with running a business.
But we live in the real world. Employees are still real people, and as the saying goes, to err is human. They sometimes forget to punch in at the start of their shift, or perhaps forget to clock out at the end. Timesheets are filled out incorrectly. And many times, they forget to submit their timesheets altogether.
So, what do you do when your employee forgot to submit a timesheet? Do employees need to sign timesheets? And should there be consequences for late or forgotten timesheets, even if that means withholding pay, and maybe termination? Let's dive in.
Let's tackle one of the most straightforward questions here: If an employee doesn't submit a timesheet, do you still have to pay them?
The answer is: Yes, you do.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state wage-hour laws, employees must be paid for all time worked, and employers are responsible for creating and maintaining accurate records of time worked and other records on which wage calculations are based (such as work schedules and incentive pay plans). As such, employers can impose disciplinary action when an employee fails to follow an employer’s requirement to timely submit time records. However, employers cannot refuse to pay earned wages as a form of discipline.
To state it differently, even if your employees submit their timesheets late or not at all, it is ultimately your responsibility to track their hours and to pay them on time. In order to fulfill these obligations — even when an employee submits a late or incomplete timesheet, or does not submit a timesheet at all — take the following into consideration.
No, they do not. Contrary to what you may think, your employees are not legally obligated to sign their timesheets. However, it’s a good idea to have them do so, in order to document the fact that the employee entered their time and to confirm that the information is accurate and complete.
Under the FLSA, employers are required to keep payroll records, which include time records, for at least three years. Under state laws, the required retention time can be longer. The term “payroll records” is a broad term that generally includes all the information used to calculate and pay wages. Here are a few examples of documents that are generally thought of as payroll records:
Employee hours worked in a day and a week, including shift start and end times, and meal period start and stop times
Records of pay rates and types of pay, including overtime wages and incentive pay
Gross wage amounts, withholdings, and deductions from gross pay, including types and amounts, and net pay amounts
Garnishment and wage attachment records
Incentive pay plans, and documents showing calculation of incentive pay
Work schedules and changes to such schedules
Vacation/PTO (paid time off) and paid sick leave
Wage reporting forms, including, for example, W-2, W-3, W-4, and 941 forms, and state payroll reporting forms
When employees are overpaid or underpaid, even when such errors are inadvertent, the cost of correcting such errors can be substantial. In the event of wage underpayments, state or federal regulatory agencies may impose penalties or assessments, and wage underpayments may result in legal claims for unpaid wages, which are costly to defend and resolve.
The logic behind this question makes sense with respect to salaried employees being considered exempt employees, which means they are paid a fixed amount regardless of how many hours they work. (By contrast, non-exempt employees are paid on an hourly basis and entitled to overtime wages, so their hours must be tracked to make sure their pay accurately reflects the hours worked.)
The straightforward answer is that there is no legal requirement to track an exempt employee’s work hours, except for exempt hourly positions like certain computer professionals. However, there is also no prohibition on tracking salaried exempt employees’ work hours, and there are several circumstances and business reasons why employers would want to track work hours for salaried exempt employees. For example, employers of certain salaried professional employees track work time for project management or client billing purposes (Reporting Project Hours), and employers often track paid time off for salaried exempt employees as part of administering their paid time off policies.
Employers bear the ultimate responsibility to create and maintain accurate records of time worked and to ensure that employees are paid for such work time in accordance with applicable federal and state laws. When there is an incorrect or incomplete time record, employers should correct the time record. For example, if a team member accidentally doubled a time punch, or forgot to clock in/clock out, then the time record should be corrected to delete the incorrect time punch or to provide the missing information.
The goal of such revisions is to fulfill the employer’s responsibility to create and maintain accurate time records. As such neither employees nor their managers should be permitted to falsify a time record. For example, an employer should not input time punches for breaks and lunches that employees did not take. Similarly, overtime hours that were recorded on a time record and that the employee worked should not be deleted, even if such time was not approved by a manager. As indicated above, if the employee violated an employer policy and failed to obtain manager approval for such overtime and did not have an acceptable justification for their failure to follow the employer’s policy, then the employer could address the policy violation using a coaching process or taking disciplinary action, depending on the situation.
Employers need to do everything reasonably possible to have employees submit timely, accurate records of hours worked. If an employee does not submit their timesheete card, the employer will need to take steps to reasonably determine what days and hours the employee worked so that payroll for that employee can be processed in the required time frame. One option is to refer to the employee’s scheduled work time and/or contact the employee’s manager for more information on the employee’s work schedule.
(Pro Tip – Justworks Time Tracking has a handy shift-copying feature that will save you a bit of time if your employee forgets to submit their timesheet. For instance, let’s say that Daniella forgot to clock in and out all week, but you know she worked from 8am – 4pm every day. You can simply enter those hours on Monday, and then copy them over to the rest of the week. This will save you from having to enter those hours over and over for each individual day.)
Another option is to contact your employee and have them tell you what hours they worked. You will want to insist that the employee also complete a time record as soon as possible.
Once the actual time record is completed by the employee, you can reconcile the difference between the hours that were paid and the hours that were worked on the next pay day. To make sure this situation does not come up very often, there are a few things you can do.
Make sure that you have a clear, written policy (in your employee handbook or elsewhere) that explains when and how employee timesheets should be created and submitted. Under your policy, employees should be required to enter their time on a daily basis, and they should be required to submit their completed time record far enough in advance for supervisor review and payroll processing to be completed for each pay day. Timesheets should be due on the same day, weekly or monthly depending on the payroll cycle.
It’s also a good idea to have a designated person to answer employee questions regarding timekeeping procedures and to walk any new hires through the process of submitting their first timesheet. If employees also have any questions about the timesheet submission policy, let them know that it is best to ask them well before the due date.
Sometimes a simple reminder is all it takes to prevent employees from forgetting to submit timesheets. Justworks Time Tracking has an automatic timesheet reminder alert feature, which has saved many businesses from hassles and headaches.
When you set it up, employees receive push notifications on their mobile devices that will remind them to clock in and out. You can have notifications sent at the beginning and end of shifts, as well as for scheduled breaks.
It’s also possible to set the reminders and have them linked to a GPS location. Employees will then receive a notification to clock in when they arrive at the job, and they'll also get one to clock out when they leave.
A friendly reminder can really help your employees, especially when things get hectic.
Develop incentives that encourage employees to submit their hours in advance of the timesheet deadline. For example, you could give out monthly perks to any employee who turns in their hours accurately and on time.
You can even turn the opportunity into a fun team-building exercise. One example would be to order pizza and beers for the office to celebrate whenever everybody submits the weekly timesheet by a certain time on Friday. No one wants to be the one who forgot and let the team down!
While it may be frustrating when employees are late with turning in their timesheets, you can’t punish them by not paying them. However, you should have a process in place to provide coaching and other fair and appropriate disciplinary actions. You should also consider training managers on timekeeping procedures and requirements.
You should have a clear and progressive policy in place for situations like this. Hopefully, one discussion is all you need. If failure to submit timesheets becomes a problem, you can follow these steps just like you would for any other policy violation in the workplace.
With these tips (and the helpful features within a time tracking software solution like Justworks Time Tracking) you can improve your timekeeping procedures and make time tracking as easy as possible.
Monthly tips on running a business in your inbox.
Justworks is a technology company that levels the playing field for all small businesses. Through our software and as a partner, we help our customers take care of their teams, streamline their operations, and navigate the complex aspects of managing a workforce with confidence.
Scale your business and build your team — no matter which way it grows. Access the tools, perks, and resources to help you stay compliant and grow in all 50 states.