Working Overtime: Should You Put it Down on Your Timesheet?

You're hired to work a specific number of hours, but you're working more. Should you be paid for it?

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Suzanne Lucas
I am an office manager for a law firm. The job was posted full-time. Upon accepting the position, I negotiated a part-time schedule (32 hrs/ week). Although my work scheduled is 32 hrs/week, there are weeks when the work cannot be done in that amount of time and I have worked 36-39 hours in a week. I submit to our payroll company for all the hours worked. Am I correct in doing so?

Absolutely! In fact, you would be breaking the law if you did not submit all hours worked.

Sometimes employees feel like they are doing a favor for their employer by not recording all hours worked. Or, if they made mistakes during the day, feel it's only right that they not charge for the extra hours needed to fix it. While it can seem like the "right" or "fair" thing to do, it actually opens up your employer to huge fines for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.

First and foremost, keep your boss apprised of your workload so she’s not shocked when she sees your final time card. This also allows her to change your responsibilities to keep you within the right hours.

But suppose you do this and still are working more than your 32 hours, and your boss objects saying: “Hey, we hired you for 32 hours a week and for the last 3 weeks you’ve put down 36 hours. We’re only paying you for 32!”

Respond politely but firmly: “I know. I negotiated the 32 hour work week. I would love to work only 32 hours a week, but sometimes the demands of this job are such that I have to work a few additional hours. Legally, I have to enter my time correctly and the company has to pay me. If you’d like, I can make sure I don’t work any more than 32 hours each week, but then some things might not get finished.” Don’t sound accusatory or argumentative. And whatever you do, don’t work off the clock. Also, keep in mind that you’re eligible for overtime pay once you exceed 40 hours of work in a pay period.

Now, some employees qualify for an exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act. These people are paid by the week (or month) and not by the hour. They get the same paycheck regardless of hours worked. There are, however, strict standards required for this exemption. Your manager (in consultation with human resources) might decide that you meet these standards, in which case you would be paid the same regardless of the number of hours you work.

Some employees like the “professional” designation of being an exempt employee. I say it’s a nice label to get you to do extra work at no extra cost to the company. I’ve seen many employees push to get their job duties re-evaluated and changed so they can be exempt, only to freak out when their pay drops because they are no longer getting extra for extra hours worked.

Keep recording your time, and try not to let the company suck you back into the full time vortex. Congratulations on negotiating a reduced hours work week. Not everyone who wants that is able to do so.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human r esources experience, most of which has been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources Certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.