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Deducting hours from time sheets

Question:

Is it legal to deduct hours from an employee’s time sheet if business was slow and they should have left early?

– Susan, VP, Fiesta’s Café, Edwards, CO

Answer:

In all states it is legal to send hourly workers home before the end of their scheduled shift if they are no longer needed (presumably due to business tapering off at the end of service).

Some states (Colorado is not one of them) have a minimum reporting time wage law. This means that if an employee is scheduled to work but is sent home soon after, the employer must pay a certain minimum number of hours. For example California’s law reads:

“Each workday an employee is required to report to work, but is not put to work or is furnished with less than half of his or her usual or scheduled day’s work, the employee must be paid for half the usual or scheduled day’s work, but in no event for less than two hours nor more than four hours, at his or her regular rate of pay.”

The wording of your question is important because what you cannot do is cut pay retroactively. That is, you cannot say that an employee should have been sent home earlier, and therefore is not getting the last hour of pay from a given shift. Here, the art of management and scheduling comes in. Be warned that although it is legal, sending employees home early may alienate or anger good workers who rely on the income. They may seek a more predictable schedule elsewhere. Do your best to schedule as accurately as possible (even though it may be reassuring to schedule a couple extra people just in case), and try to make your system for ending workers’ shifts fair and clear from the outset.

For readers wondering how to handle this question in their own location, consult your state department of labor.

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