Although employees generally do not want to work off the clock (“OTC”) without proper compensation, many employees are obliged to do so in order to perform their duties adequately or because their employer has expressly required them to work OTC. However, this practice could trigger costly legal disputes.
What is off-the-clock work?
Depending on the type of work arrangement a non-exempt employee has, working OTC can involve:
- performing job tasks before clocking in or after clocking out;
- working through breaks;
- failing to record all hours worked;
- attending trainings or work events, in some cases; or
- checking emails or completing work duties during off-hours.
Whether these actions are the result of bad habits, poor oversight, or unlawful work policies, working OTC means that workers are performing job duties without compensation.
Eliminating OTC work
Minimizing or eliminating OTC work is crucial for many reasons. For instance, working OTC can lead to increased employee burnout, unrealistic production expectations, and improper staffing levels.
Thus, employers and employees alike can benefit from stopping OTC work. Some ways to combat OTC work include:
- reducing busywork;
- updating reporting systems to be easier and more accurate;
- implementing and understanding policies against working OTC;
- adjusting workloads;
- improving communication between employees and managers to make it easier for workers to bring up time management concerns;
- limiting access to systems to prevent use during off-hours; or
- enforcing state and federal rules for taking breaks.
Failing to take these and other steps to eliminate OTC work can have costly consequences.
How OTC work can trigger wage and hour disputes
Working OTC is problematic for many reasons, including adversely affecting employees’ mental health and violating workers’ legal rights. In the legal context, when employees are not paid for OTC work, it can be grounds for a wage theft claim. Workers may be able to sue an employer for failing to pay regular or overtime wages, which may require employers to pay hefty fines, penalties, and any financial damages due to employees.
Any worker with concerns about OTC work or unpaid wages should discuss their legal options with an experienced attorney.