Can My Employer Dock Me for Being Late But Not My Co-worker?

There are reasons your co-worker's paycheck could be more than yours.
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Imagine the surprise upon discovering that your co-worker's paycheck is more than yours, whether you happen to glance at her pay stub or a casual conversation reveals that you took home less than she did the last time you were paid. If the issue is getting docked for coming in late, your employer might classify you differently, or you and your co-worker's hours may be calculated differently, based on how late you are. You could be docked and your co-worker not be docked, depending on employee classification or the company's timekeeping policy.

Federal Law

    The U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act, which imposes regulations concerning minimum wage, overtime, working hours and, importantly, exempt and non-exempt employee classification. Whether your employer docks employees for late arrivals could depend on how your company classifies workers into exempt and nonexempt categories. Or, your employer's timekeeping policy might be the reason some employees are docked and others aren't. The FLSA doesn't dictate to employers what their policies should be regarding late arrivals or tardiness.

Salary Exempt Classification

    Salaried exempt employees receive a fixed rate for an agreed-to number of hours, as in $50,000 annually for working full-time, which the company defines as 40 hours a week. Exempt employees cannot be docked for fractional parts of the day or the workweek. If a salaried exempt employee works during any part of the week, she must be paid for the entire week, with a few exceptions that permit salary deductions for a full day only. It's against the FLSA law to deduct partial-day pay from a salaried exempt employee's paycheck.

Hourly Nonexempt Classification

    Hourly nonexempt employees are paid for just the hours they work and if they work more than 40 hours in a workweek, they receive overtime. But if you're an hourly employee, you could be docked for time that you're not at work, which includes being docked for being late. If your co-worker is a salaried exempt employee, that's probably why she wasn't docked for being late.

Rounding Time

    Many employers use quarter-hour increments to calculate workers' hours. They round up or down, based on a midpoint cutoff in the quarter hour. For example, if you and your co-worker have the same 8 a.m. start time and you arrive at 8:09 a.m., but your co-worker arrives at 8:06 a.m., your co-workers paycheck could reflect an 8 a.m. arrival where your paycheck reflects an 8:15 a.m. arrival. That means your employer docks you 15 minutes and not your co-worker, based on the rounding policy. Rounding down for arrivals less than seven minutes late and rounding up for late arrivals over eight minutes is acceptable, according to the Labor Department.

Problematic Rounding

    What the government doesn't like is when employers always round down, because over time, that will diminish employees' pay and could be an intentional tactic for circumventing federal and state laws for paying overtime. For example, if you arrived at 8:05 a.m. and worked until 5:13 p.m., and your employer always rounded down your arrival and departure times to 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., respectively, you would be cheated out of two hours and 10 minutes of overtime you accumulate by clocking out 13 minutes past quitting time every day for a 10-day pay period.

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