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Can my boss track my hours?

(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,

Is it legal for an exempt, salaried employee to be told he has to work Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with only a half-hour lunch and that you need to make up any time not spent one work (for example, taking a smoke break)?

My understanding is that if you are salaried, you are not required to work a specific daily time frame and you have don't have to make up time.

Your understanding is incorrect. Employers can track time, require specific hours, and generally be as nitpicky as they want. What they cannot do is dock your salary if you fail to comply with those demands.

If you take three 20-minute smoke breaks a day, they can certainly require you to stay an hour later. But if you don't, they can't deduct the hour off your paycheck. They can take an hour from your vacation bank. They can demote you. They can fire you. But they can't deduct your pay.

Does this represent good management? Of course not. Managers should be focusing on the end results of their employees' work. The only time strict policies that should be in place about the hours salaried employees work is when it's business-critical. For instance, if you must have a store manager in the store as long as it is open, coming in late means the previous manager can't go home. For most exempt jobs, that's not the case.

My question is, has something changed at your company?

If the manager is new, then you've got a rotten new manager. But if it's the same manager, what happened to make her change her mind? Too many people wandering in late and leaving early? Employees forever on break? Poor sales results in the last quarter? Productivity plunging? What is going on here?

Managers often don't know how to get the results they want, so they act to control the areas they know they can regulate, including the number of hours people work. If performance has been poor, it's much easier to say, "Everybody needs to work more hours!" than it is to examine the wisdom of the procedures, cut the waste and increase productivity.

Sit down with you manager and ask -- nicely -- if there is some problem she's hoping to eliminate a particular problem in cracking down on hours. Let her talk. Then, give it some thought and come up with a plan to achieve the same -- or even superior -- objectives without the constant hour-tracking.

For further reading: 

Can you be fired for skipping lunch?
I'm exempt, but  my boss tracks me every minute
I'm exempt, can my boss deduct PTO for doctor's appointments?

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user alexkerhead

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