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On The Clock: A Pocket Guide To Time Clock Rounding

Illustration of a Pocket Guide to Time Clock RoundingIllustration of a Pocket Guide to Time Clock Rounding
min read
August 21, 2023

Back in the day when handling payroll was pretty much a pen-and-paper process, employers would use rounding to account for odd minutes and seconds outside the regular work schedule. Time clock rounding helped streamline calculating wages and save chunks of time in the process. 

But does it still make sense today?

What Is Time Clock Rounding?

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), all employers are required to track and store employee time records completely and accurately. This can be done either by asking employees to write their hours down, using regular time clocks or through time-tracking software.

“So, what does time clock rounding mean?”

In a nutshell, time clock rounding means that the actual work hours of your nonexempt employees are rounded up or down by set increments. Depending on the type of your business and general industry practices, you can round work hours in 5-minute and 15-minute increments or to 1/10th of an hour (more on that in a moment). 

These days, thanks to GPS-enabled time tracking and payroll automation, fishing for small deviations from regular clock-ins and clock-outs has become much easier. And yet, some small-business owners still use rounding to calculate their employees’ wages.

Is Time Clock Rounding Legal?

The short answer is: Yes. The Department of Labor (DOL) allows employers to round time up or down within 15-minute increments, but there’s a catch. This method can’t be used as a means of cutting labor costs or favor the employer in any way.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when rounding work hours:

3 Common Rounding Rules

There are several rounding methods that are generally compliant with the FLSA and DOL requirements. While they all work in a similar way, each may be suitable for a different type of business.

15-Minute Rounding (1/4th of an hour)

Rounding to 15 minutes (or 1/4 hour) observes two thresholds that indicate whether the clock-ins and clock-outs are rounded up or down; The first 7.5 minutes is always rounded down while the second-half 7.5 minutes are rounded up to a full quarter of an hour 

Here’s an example:

5-Minute Rounding

Similarly to the previous method, 5-minute rounding splits every 5 minutes into two parts of 2.5 minutes. Whenever your employee clocks-in or out in the first 2.5 minutes of that timeframe, time is rounded down. If an employee punches their card in the other half, the time is rounded up to the nearest 5 minutes. 

Rounding to 1/10th of an Hour (6 minutes)

Finally, rounding to 1/10th of an hour uses 6-minute increments (6x10), each split into 3-minute intervals. For every three minutes after each the 6-minute increment, time is rounded down. Conversely, the second half of the interval rounds up to the nearest 6 minutes. It’s that simple. 

Tired of chasing down timesheets?

You started a business because you saw a great opportunity, and now you have some employees to help you. But did you know incorrect time cards can add up to costly penalties every pay period? 

Make sure you’re staying in compliance with labor laws and use a time tracking app like Hourly to gather and save your team’s time and attendance data in one place. It makes it easier for you to run payroll, track your labor costs and avoid penalties.

3 Risks of Time Clock Rounding

Now that you know how time clock rounding works, the big question that remains is: “should I do it?” Would your current payroll process really benefit from this approach?

If you still want to give it a try, you should be aware of some of the risks that come with the package.

Employer-Employee Friction

It’s no secret that employees are not particularly fond of time clock rounding. Sometimes, business owners are not transparent enough about it or don’t educate the workforce on how it affects wages. In more grim scenarios, employers use rounding as an easy way to pocket some extra cash, which is considered wage theft.  

If the grievance builds up over time, a dissatisfied employee may take legal action. Considering that DOL is rather strict about the “fairness” of recording work hours, the dispute can turn into a full-blown lawsuit and lead to further investigation into your payroll practices. 

Before you implement time clock rounding at your small business, it’s important that you first discuss it with your employees. Want to keep them from clocking in late or clocking out early? Can’t enforce signing time cards? Try voicing your concerns and mediate the issue before it escalates. 

Inaccuracies in Employee Records

The popular argument for using rounding is that it makes handling payroll a tad easier. But does it really? Shaving down a minute here and there can lead to small anomalies popping up all over. And once they stack up, it’s impossible to keep your records accurate. 

For some business owners, work hours are also one of the KPIs that help measure the performance of their business. With these numbers askew, you won’t be able to see the big picture and plan strategically because of the flawed data. 

Remember that tracking hours and calculating wages don’t have to be that difficult. You just need the right set of tools to do so quickly and accurately. 

Overpaying or Underpaying Employees

In the ideal world, time clock rounding balances out (as required by DOL and FLSA) for the employer and employee. But this is rarely the case. 

Most of the time, it’s either the employer OR the employee that reaps the benefits. If it’s the latter, you’re most likely miscalculating wages and overpaying your workers. If the former, your risk running into grievance complaints and costly legal trouble. 

Regardless of which is true for your small business, the potential benefits of rounding are simply not worth it. When you “adjust” work hours to save time and money, the risk of underpaying or overpaying your workforce defeats the purpose of rounding at the onset. 

Let’s Wrap It Up

Many small-business owners still use rounding to reclaim a portion of the time and money that escapes due to inaccurate time-tracking methods. Is it justifiable? With the potential risks and questionable gains on the scale, it may be better to look for an alternative solution.

Do you want to make your records 100% accurate without the hassle of time clock rounding? Sign up for Hourly, a GPS-enabled time-tracking and payroll software cut out for the modern workforce.

Have questions? Reach out at (844) 800-2211 to learn more!

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