Labor Laws: A Guide to Clocking In and Out of Work

Category: Time | By Jessica Packard | 3 minute read | Updated Jan 2, 2024
Labor Laws: A Guide to Clocking In and Out of Work

The ins and outs of labor laws can be complex, but understanding them is crucial for not only employers but also workers. This is especially important when it comes to the rules concerning clocking in and out, which directly affect wages and working conditions.

As an employer, it is crucial to understand and comply with labor laws to ensure a fair and safe working environment for your employees. This not only protects their rights but also helps your business stay compliant and avoid costly legal issues.

Understanding labor laws related to clocking in and out

When it comes to recording employees' time worked, employers must adhere to federal laws outlined by the FLSA. The FLSA requires employers to keep accurate records of hours worked by non-exempt employees, including the time they start and end their shifts and any meal breaks taken.

The FLSA does not specify the method of recording time, but it does require that the method used is accurate and complete. Many employers utilize traditional time clocks or time-tracking systems to track employee hours, while others may use digital apps or software.

In addition to federal laws, each state may have its own regulations regarding clocking in and out. These state-specific laws can vary in areas such as required meal and rest breaks, overtime pay thresholds, and recordkeeping requirements.

For example, some states may have stricter break requirements than federal law or higher minimum wage rates. Employers must be aware of and comply with both federal and state laws to ensure they are meeting all necessary obligations.

Time tracking for contractors vs. employees

The way time tracking works for contractors and employees can differ significantly due to their distinct employment classifications. Here's a quick breakdown:


  • Mandatory: The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) mandates tracking hours worked for non-exempt employees to ensure minimum wage and overtime pay.

  • Accuracy: Records must be accurate and maintained for at least three years.

  • Access: Employees have the right to access and review their own time records.

  • Flexibility: Some states may allow alternative methods, like activity reports, for certain professions.


  • No federal mandate: No nationwide law requires time tracking for contractors.

  • Contractual agreement: Tracking might be required based on individual contracts, especially for hourly agreements or project milestones.

  • Focus on deliverables: Tracking often focuses on documenting specific tasks and deliverables for billing purposes.

  • Government contracts: Contractors must record all employee hours worked on government contracts, including overtime, vacation, and sick leave. Based on DCAA timekeeping requirements, this information needs to be accurate and recorded in a timely manner, usually daily or weekly.

Time tracking rules for contractors vs. employees

Types of time clocks for work

There are many different types of time clocks for work, each with its advantages and disadvantages. 

The best type of time clock for your business will depend on several factors, such as the size of your business, the type of work your crew does, and your budget.

    • Time-tracking apps: These apps allow employees to clock in and out using their smartphones or tablets. This can be a convenient option for workers who are on the go.

    • Biometric time clock: These clocks use fingerprint or facial recognition technology to identify employees. They can be more expensive than other types of time clocks and may raise privacy concerns for some workers.

    • PIN entry time clock: These time clocks require employees to enter a personal identification number (PIN) to clock in and out. PIN entry time clocks are simple to use, but they can be inaccurate if employees forget their PINs.

    • Proximity card time clock: These clocks use proximity cards (similar to key cards) to track employee time. Employees simply hold their cards up to the reader to clock in and out.

    • Swipe cards: These time clocks use cards with magnetic stripes to record employees' time. Employees swipe their cards through the reader to clock in and out. Magnetic stripe card time clocks are less expensive than proximity card time clocks, but they are less secure.

    • Traditional punch clocks: These classic time clocks use paper cards that employees punch to record their start and end times. While they are simple and relatively inexpensive, they can be prone to errors and buddy punching.

Avoid clock-in and clock-out labor law violations

Clocking in and out of work should be part of your time clock rules. The labor laws are strict, and if your employees are not clocking in and out regularly and properly, you risk violating state and federal wage laws. 

One way to avoid common clocking in and out labor law violations is to adopt technology like ClockShark to ensure everyone is getting paid properly for the work they’re doing and you’re not paying for the time that was not spent working. 

Try ClockShark free for 14 days to see what a difference it can make for your time tracking and scheduling needs.

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FAQ about labor laws and clocking in and out

Is it mandatory to have a clocking-in and out policy?

It depends on your location and the type of worker.

Federal: The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn't explicitly require clocking in or out, but it does require accurate tracking of hourly employee hours to ensure proper wage and overtime pay. So, a system for recording work time is necessary.

State: Specific state laws may mandate clocking in or out for certain industries or employee types.

How can we manage time tracking for workers at different job sites?

Invest in mobile apps that allow workers to clock in and out at each job site using GPS verification. This confirms their location and helps prevent buddy punching.

How do we handle time tracking for workers working overtime?

Handling time tracking for overtime requires careful consideration to ensure fair compensation and compliance with labor laws. Here are some key strategies:

Compliance with labor laws: Ensure your overtime practices comply with local and national labor laws regarding overtime pay, maximum work hours, and reporting requirements.

Clear overtime policy: Define what constitutes overtime in your business, specify approval procedures for working overtime, and outline overtime pay rates.

Time-tracking tools:

  • Utilize time-tracking software that clearly distinguishes regular hours from overtime.
  • Encourage workers to track their time accurately, including start and end times, breaks, and overtime periods.
  • Implement automatic overtime calculations to minimize errors and simplify payroll processing.

What should our policy include regarding clocking in late or clocking out early?

Define acceptable grace periods: Allow a small buffer (e.g., 5–10 minutes) for late arrivals or early departures without penalty. This accounts for minor delays or unforeseen circumstances.

Consequences for exceeding grace periods: Clearly outline the consequences for exceeding the grace period. This could involve docked pay, verbal warnings, or progressive discipline, depending on the severity and frequency of the offense.

Reporting requirements: Specify how employees should report late arrivals or early departures. This could involve notifying a supervisor, using a specific form, or explaining the reason in the timesheet system.

Justification for exceptions: Outline situations where late arrivals or early departures may be justified, such as doctor's appointments, family emergencies, or pre-approved leave. These exceptions should require prior notification and documentation.

How can we prevent time theft or buddy punching among field workers?

Preventing time theft and buddy punching requires a multi-faceted approach that balances security with trust and practicality. Here are some strategies you can consider:

Leverage technology: Implement reliable mobile time-tracking apps. Choose a system that is user-friendly and accessible for all workers.

Explain the importance of accurate timekeeping: Emphasize the fairness of everyone being paid for the time they actually work and the impact on project schedules and budgets.

Implement clear policies and procedures: Clearly outline working hours, break times, and clocking procedures in a written policy. Explain the consequences of violations.

Foster a culture of trust and accountability: Encourage teamwork and peer support by forming small groups or buddy systems. This can create a sense of shared responsibility and discourage individual time theft.

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