In 2014 Internal Affairs investigators for the Massachusetts State Police investigated suspicions that two state troopers were secretly escorting funeral possessions for under-the-table cash payments. Little did they know what they were about to find. These two troopers had routinely filed for at least 30 hours a week in overtime and paid details. Now there’s nothing wrong with working overtime, and we know that overtime-eligible employees must be paid 1.5 times their regular pay rate for every overtime hour worked. There’s only one problem: these trropers either left those shifts early or didn’t work them at all. While the investigators did report their findings that the troopers had taken the cash payouts for funeral processions, they somehow neglected to mention the detail of possible overtime abuse. Apparently other warning signs surfaced in 2014 and the State Police ignored them too. Now, the State Police have identified over 40 troopers who are under investigation for alleged overtime abuse. Some of them are facing criminal embezzlement charges. A number of them collected six-figure sums a year for multiple years in overtime pay. Read on to learn more about this scandal and what steps you can take to protect your company from overtime abuse…
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You may be wondering how so many troopers managed to pull off such a lucrative scam. Was anybody monitoring these troopers. Wasn’t anyone concerned about such large amounts in overtime pay? At least some of the troopers were supervisors, and so they knew the rules and how to manipulate the system, so to speak. Most of the officers were assigned to “Troop E”, which involved patrolling the Massachusetts Turnpike. A number of them allegedly altered traffic citations so that they appeared to be issued during overtime rather than regular shifts. What is the Massachusetts State Policy doing about it now? Well, they’re investigating and pressing criminal charges. They are also looking into GPS equipment for the troopers’ cruisers, and in some cases, body cameras. That is probably not an appropriate solution for the vast majority of you. For that matter, some of your employees, when they claim overtime pay, could actually be working. In other words, they may be taking advantage, but may not necessarily be conducting such an elaborate scam. Do you have any recourse? Yes, there are steps you can take to minimize overtime abuse. Just to get you started, here are a few:
Create — and enforce–an overtime policy. At a minimum, you should have a policy that prohibits signing or clocking in early and signing or clocking out late. Even those few minutes can, over a week or several months, add up. In your policy you should also state that all overtime must be approved (preferably in writing) by a manager. If an employee works overtime, you still have to pay for the time worked, but in your policy, you should reserve the right to discipline any employee working unauthorized overtime, up to and including termination of employment. Be ready to discipline those who do not comply with your policy. Having a policy that you don’t enforce is at least as bad as not having one at all. If you don’t enforce your policy, your employees will get the message that you are not serious — so why should they take it seriously?
Make sure your entire staff is aware of your policy and the consequences for failure or refusal to comply. You can’t expect your staff to comply with rules if they had no way of knowing about them. Therefore, when you roll out the policy, make sure you publicize and circulate it. Better still, discuss the policy at a staff meeting, and have everyone present sign a sign-in sheet. Provide the opportunity for all staff members to ask questions and, of course, answer their questions. Even better, during or at the end of the meeting, give everyone a copy of the policy and have them sign an acknowledgement of receipt.
Implement and enforce any necessary schedule changes. First, you may want to monitor your employees’ worked time. If you see a pattern of early arrivals and late departures, you can implement a schedule change that eliminates the early arrivals and late departures, and monitor compliance. If an employee still arrives early, have him or her leave earlier that same day. For employees who stay late, consider having him/her take a longer lunch or arrive later or leave earlier the next day. If an employee still does not comply, be ready to discipline him/her for the non-compliance, up to and including termination of employment. (Make sure you document the patterns and the continued non-compliance).
Consider rounding an employee’s time. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does allow rounding, as long as you round up and down, so that sometimes you sometimes pay your employee a for a few extra minutes and sometimes dock the employee a few extra minutes.
Whatever you do though, don’t alter any employee’s timecard. That can prompt a lawsuit and can call your other recordkeeping practices into question. While the above is not an exhaustive list, it should be enough to get you started. See how you do with that and then speak with your friendly local employment counsel for more guidance.
Contents of this post are for educational/informational purposes only, are not legal advice, and do not create an attorney-client relationship. Consult with competent employment counsel in the state(s) in which you employ people with your specific questions.
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