Can your employer legally ask you to work off the clock?

It happens in a variety of situations. You're an hourly employee, perhaps in retail or customer service. You're at the end of your shift when your manager approaches you. He or she then asks you to clock out and return to work. Sometimes, it's just end of shift cleanup.

Other times, it could be a special project, such as erecting a new display or doing inventory checks. You don't feel like you have a choice, so you do what your manager asked of you.

You need to know that it is never legal for your employer to require you to work without getting paid for it. The only time when unpaid extra work time is legal is when you are a salaried employee putting in more than forty hours.

Hourly workers should always be paid for the full time that they are active at work, regardless of whether that would result in overtime pay. If your employer has had you clocking out and working more, then he or she is breaking the law.

Federal law is clear about off-the-clock work

If your employer expects you to be on duty or stay on the premises, he or she needs to pay you. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, your employer must appropriately compensate you for any time you work. For the first 40 hours, that may be your standard wage. After 40 hours, you should receive overtime pay at a minimum of one and a half times your standard hourly wage.

When your employer fails to pay you for work, he or she is breaking the law and failing to offer you fair compensation for your time and labor. It's critical that you carefully document whenever this happens so that you can prove what wages you should have received when ordered to work off the clock.

Businesses like unpaid labor because it saves them money

A lot of businesses will try to sidestep compensation laws to protect their own bottom lines. This is not only unethical, it is illegal. While the business plan and rule book may not make any demands about unpaid time off, your manager might. Companies put pressure on managers and crew leaders to keep staff costs as low as possible. Sometimes, they even incentivize understaffing by offering bonuses.

Companies often have specific formulas they use to determine how many hours of labor they need, depending on sales levels. Managers who keep staffing in compliance with these formulas could receive huge incentives. Meanwhile, the hourly workers who actually keep the business running get taken advantage of and denied fair wages for their labor. These practices are all too common, and the only reason businesses stop engaging in them is to avoid legal or financial penalties as a result of their practices.

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