Beware of Summer Jobs That Abuse Clock-In Rules


With unemployment near record lows, an increasing number of teens are entering the workforce in the form of summer jobs. Excited to line their pockets with a little change, these new workers are eager to please employers and often don’t know their rights. One of the major labor law violations they fall prey to is clock-in rules. What are these? If you have to ask, you may have already fallen victim to them.

State and Federal Labor Laws

Typically, teens are hired at an hourly wage to perform a service — lifeguard, food server, day care helper, etc. Most workers, including these, are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state wage and hour laws. Together, these establish minimum wage, overtime, and other protections for workers. By definition, employers are paying minimum wage employees the lowest possible salary, which encourages employers to use/abuse them as much as possible over higher paid workers to save on labor cost.

Hurry Up and Wait — The Hourly Worker’s Dilemma

According to the FLSA, employees must be paid for all hours worked, but sometimes this doesn’t happen. Take this scenario for example. The weatherman announces a heatwave is coming and so a local pool operator thinks business will surge. He contacts four of his hourly-wage lifeguards, and asks them to come in for a six hour shift, starting at 10 a.m.

They arrive, but much to the chagrin of the pool operator, the skies are still overcast, and only five people have come to swim. He has Lifeguard A clock in and puts him on duty, and tells the other three to go to the staff room and just hang out. By 11 a.m. it starts to warm up, but not to heatwave levels. He tells Lifeguards B and C to clock in, and asks the other to just relax poolside. By noon, it appears the weatherman was wrong, and the pool operator tells Lifeguard D to just go home for the day. The other three finish their six hour shift.

How much should each worker be paid? According to FLSA, the correct answer is:

  • Lifeguard A is paid for the six hours he worked and was clocked in.

  • Lifeguards B and C are also paid for the six hours they were there: five for the hours they lifeguarded, and one for the hour they were there asked to be there and wait

  • Lifeguard D is paid for the two hours is was asked to sit and wait

When Waiting Is Work

Do these answers surprise you? Legally, employers must pay workers for time spent on the job when the employee is subject to the employer’s control and direction. In this example, the operator told the lifeguards when to come in, where to sit, and when they were allowed to leave. They must be paid for all of those hours at the pool complex, at the beck and call of the operator.

What should these lifeguards do? File a complaint against their employer with the Department of Labor, which can cover up to the last three years of hours worked. What can they recover? At least back wages for unpaid hours, and in some cases also liquidated damages equal to what they’re owed, essentially allowing them to recoup double the back pay for the uncompensated hours.

Other Clock-In Violations

Other examples of clock-in violations are unpaid preparation, post-shift, and administrative work, as well as unpaid rework, just to name a few. If you feel that you or your teenager has been a victim of clock-in rules, contact a local Employment Lawyer, who can help you determine if there’s been a violation of rights and help you recover lost wages and fines.

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