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7-Minute Rule for Time Keeping

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

Clocking in and out at work is stressful when you know you are running late or need to clock out just a bit early to beat the traffic home. Some employers have rules in place to make these tiny time infractions easier to manage on a paycheck since splitting minutes into cents on the dollar is not easy for most businesses or payment systems. Other businesses use exact time, which does not round the clock-in time up or down.

Known as the “seven-minute rule," the rule rounds unworked time to the nearest 15-minute increment. The rule usually looks something like this:

Time Clocked In:

Time Paycheck Will Say You Clocked In:

8:03 am

8:00 am

8:08 am

8:15 am

8:12 am

8:15 am

8:24 am

8:30 am

This is understandably frustrating for employees who are just a few minutes late but are now missing 15 minutes off their paycheck or need to make up time at the end of the day.

Federal Law on Using Time Clocks

Federal law determines how time clocks may or may not be used under 29 Federal Code of Regulations 785.48. This law spells out some nuanced rules, including:

  • Time clocks are never required at a job
  • Non-exempt employees must be paid for time worked
  • Coming in early or late to work must result in payment
  • Coming in early or late to not engage in work will not result in payment
  • Time can be rounded up or down to the nearest five minutes, one-tenth an hour (six minutes), or 15 minutes
  • Rounding time up or down cannot result in failing to pay employees accurately over time

These rules can feel confusing and subjective to the employer's discretion. The federal law focuses on the idea that give-or-take a few minutes here and there, most employees will be compensated accurately for their actual time worked.

However, if a 40-hour-per-week employee clocks in at 8:08 am each morning, they will be marked for 8:15 am instead. Over a two-week paycheck period, this can result in them missing out on two and a half hours of work on a paycheck, even though their actual time missed was closer to an hour and a half. This missing time and money can easily add up over time.

If this is happening to you, it may be time to find an attorney to help you file a wage claim at your state's Labor Department.

Steps to Take for Unpaid Wages

If your employer explained their time policy to you and it supports the federal law, you may not have a case against them for rounding up or down on clock-in times.

However, if you feel you are not being paid for time worked, or your employer is purposefully preventing employees from clocking in on time, you should speak with an employment attorney that focuses on wage and hour laws. You can also do your own research on your state, county, and employer through the Department of Labor website.

You always have the right to be paid for time worked, so an experienced attorney can discuss your time-clock situation and explain the possible outcomes of starting a case against your employer. Many offer free consultations to help employees understand their wage and hour situation better.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified employment attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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