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Off-the-clock work is often illegal; always problematic

For those who work on an hourly wage in California, their livelihood, to a great extent, depends on the time clock. The more hours they work while clocked in, the more they get paid. Moreover, a precise count of how many hours they have devoted to their jobs is necessary to figure out whether they are entitled to overtime for a given pay period. This is one reason why so-called off-the-clock work is almost always problematic and, on many occasions, prohibited under both federal and California law.

Off-the-clock work may seem innocent enough. For example, a devoted employee may arrive a few minutes early to set up before clocking in or may stay late in order to wrap up affairs, clean, or even just communicate with the onboarding shift about the status of the business's operation. While these are important and even necessary tasks, it is the obligation of an employer to make sure that employees have the time to perform them while on the clock.

In other cases, off-the-clock work may be due to pressure an employee is getting from his or her employer to meet unrealistic expectations about what jobs can get done in a day. As a result of this pressure, an employee may feel forced to clock out and keep working rather than risk getting accused of leaving tasks undone or being inefficient.

Also, some employers may find fault with a worker's job and pressure the worker to re-do the task or make corrections on the worker's own time. Employers may also request employees to clock out if they have nothing to do at the moment, even though the employer still expects the employee to remain available at the work site.

An hourly employee is entitled to pay for all time in which he or she is on the job and available for work. If employers try to require off-the clock work or even just tolerate the practice, an employee can later seek legal remedies for unpaid wages.

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