You know, here at Acroprint, we’re big advocates for recording and tracking employee work time (yes, even salaried exempt time). But, you know, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. Now, I thought after my time in the industry I had seen everything. But an auto repair shop has managed to stumble across a novel method of recording employee time that I had not come across before. One which may end up getting them in trouble.
As the story goes, Jeffrey Moran worked as a mechanic at the shop from 2011 to 2013. He said when he was hired, he agreed to work six days a week (about 58 hours per week) for $300 plus profit-sharing bonuses. The employer claims he was hired to work 30 hours a week for $300, with no bonuses. There doesn’t seem to have been any written documentation either way. (Pro tip: when you hire someone, write down the basic terms of employment. Have both parties sign the agreement, and both keep a copy. Could save you a world of hassles on down the road.)
Moran did apparently receive an occasional extra payment that might have been a “bonus,” and reportedly was allowed the use of a car belonging to the manager. However, he did not feel this was sufficient compensation for the time he claims to have been working.
Eventually, this disagreement over the terms and conditions of his employment came to a head, which culminated in Moran reportedly being told to “either hit the road or stay working like it is.” Moran chose to “hit the road” and subsequently filed a lawsuit claiming unpaid overtime and retaliation.
Moran testified in court that he actually worked 65 to 68 hours a week, but he didn’t offer any written documentation. The employer offered copies of handwritten time sheets, which they claimed documented Moran only working 30 hours a week. But here is where it gets really strange.
To prepare those time sheets, the employer didn’t have their workers clock in and out. Rather, a manager (who was not on-site) said he watched the shop’s security camera footage and used that to determine what time employees arrived and departed. He testified he wrote down the arrival and departure times on “slips of paper” which he discarded once he had transferred the total number of hours worked to the time sheets he prepared.
Because using a time clock so you could have a permanent record of their exact arrival and departure times would be too easy, I guess.
Remarkably, the handwritten time sheets the manager prepared almost always showed Moran working precisely 30 hours per week, even though he had a different schedule each week. And evidently Moran was never asked to review or sign the time sheets to indicate that he agreed to their accuracy. In fact, Moran claimed the time sheets were prepared after-the-fact by the employer in an attempt to bolster their version of events.
So in court the auto repair shop manager testified Moran never worked over 30 hours a week, while Moran testified he worked 65 to 68 hours a week. Classic “one’s word against another’s,” except that the employer also had those time sheets. The original trial court handed down summary judgement in favor of the employer, but on appeal the Sixth Circuit reversed and sent the case back to trial.
Normally, since the employee didn’t have anything other than his own word that he’d worked more hours, and the employer had time sheets showing he worked fewer, the case would be a slam-dunk for the employer.
But because of the oddball way the employer had chosen to record work time (and the suspicious way the time so recorded seemed to almost always work out to the exact same number of total hours, regardless of the employee’s schedule) the Circuit Court said the facts of the case were in question (a “triable issue of fact”) and a jury needed to hear the case to decide which side was more credible. (In other words, it sounds as though the Sixth Circuit thought those time sheets seemed a little, uhm… questionable, too.)
Now, the jury could still come back and find in favor of the employer. But in the meantime, they’ve had to spend a lot of time and money defending themselves, when a written employment agreement and a simple, inexpensive time clock might have saved them from all this trouble. Big mistake!
Are you confident your time-tracking reports would stand up in court?