Overkill Leads to Overtime Underpayment

You know, sometimes too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing. (And I’m not just talking about chocolate cake here!)

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Awhile back, I came across the story of the Topeka Zoo. The city of Topeka, Kansas, ended up issuing $26,037.37 in back pay to 23 current and former Zoo employees because they were perhaps a little too diligent about tracking employee time.

I know, right? Usually I’m writing about how organizations have gotten in trouble for not keeping track of employee time, and now I’m saying these folks ended up in hot water because they collected too many time records.

What Do You Mean, “Too Many Time Records”?

It seems the Zoo used to require employees to clock in and out on a punch clock and fill out a handwritten time sheet. The problem was, sometimes the two didn’t agree. When that happened, the employees were paid based on the handwritten sheets.

Of course, many of you will recognize the problem with that: machine-produced time records — whether from a punch clock or a computerized system — are almost always more accurate than handwritten time sheets. Many people tend to put off preparing the handwritten records until the last minute, when haste and a faulty memory can lead to errors.

The result was that some folks didn’t get paid all the wages they were due.

When the Department of Labor selected the Topeka Zoo for an audit as part of a review of midwestern zoos, they discovered the problem. Fortunately, the Zoo cooperated and had all the records handy, so there were no penalties or fines assessed, just the back wages themselves.

So, while some organizations get in trouble for not recording employee time, the Topeka Zoo got in trouble for recording time too much… and for using the less-reliable source as their authority for time worked.

Lesson Learned

Fortunately, the city had already begun before the audit the process to purchase and is currently rolling out a new workforce management system for all city departments including the Zoo. It’s an expensive and complicated system, specially designed for large public-sector organizations. According to city spokesman David Bevins, it will take at least a year to install and configure.

In the meantime, the Zoo changed their procedures to use the machine-punched time card as their official payroll record. (Hmmm, I wonder if they still require the handwritten time sheets, or if they dropped that process entirely?)

Have you ever worked for an organization that required you to clock in and out and file a handwritten time sheet?

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