Understanding Time Rounding Practices in California: What Employees Need to Know
| Read Time: 3 minutes | Wage & Hour

In California, exact timekeeping is crucial for making certain that employees are fairly compensated and paid for all hours they work.

Time rounding, the practice of adjusting time clock entries to the nearest set increment (such as 5, 10, or 15 minutes), is common but often illegal as employers most typically use it to save money by underpaying employees.

This blog post will help you understand how to determine if your employer is rounding your time and when it is illegal under California law.

What is Time Rounding?

Time rounding refers to adjusting the actual hours worked by rounding the recorded start and end times to the nearest increment. For example, if you clock in at 8:03 AM, your time might be rounded back to 8:00 AM or forward to 8:05 AM, depending on the rounding policy.

How to Tell if Your Employer is Rounding Your Time

1. Review Your Time Records: Obtain copies of your time sheets or punch records. Compare your actual clock-in and clock-out times with the times recorded for payroll purposes.

2. Understand the Rounding Policy: Check your employee handbook or ask HR for the company’s rounding policy. Common rounding increments are to the nearest 5, 10, or 15 minutes. However, companies do not always put their policy in writing so you will need to also check your time records.

3. Track Your Hours Independently: Maintain a personal log of your working hours for a few weeks. Compare your records with your paycheck to see if there are consistent discrepancies.

4. Look for Patterns: If your rounded times consistently favor the employer (e.g., your start times are always rounded forward and end times rounded back), this shows an unfair rounding practice.

When is Time Rounding Illegal?

California law allows time-rounding only under very specific conditions—the rounding must be neutral and not undercompensate employees over the long run.

Here are some examples of when a rounding policy is illegal:

1. Consistent Underpayment: The rounding must not systematically undercompensate employees over a period. If the rounding policy consistently results in employees losing paid time for a significant fraction or majority of employees over time it is illegal.

2. Policies that Favor the Employer: The policy must be “facially neutral.” This means that the policy cannot always disadvantage employees as it is written. Common examples are policies that only round in one direction (i.e., always to benefit the company) or policies that penalize employees for clocking in late while not benefiting them for clocking in early.

3. Rounding Time for Meal Periods: Your employer can never round time punches when it comes to recording meal periods.  Donohue v. Amn Servs., 11 Cal.5th 58, 69 (Cal. 2021) (“A premium pay scheme that discourages employers from infringing on meal periods by even a few minutes cannot be reconciled with a policy that counts those minutes as negligible rounding error.”). 

What to Do if You Suspect Illegal Rounding

1. Document Your Hours: Keep a detailed record of your work hours, noting the exact times you start and end work.

2. Compare Pay Stubs: Check your pay stubs against your personal records to identify discrepancies.

3. Consult with an Employment Attorney: If you believe you are being unfairly compensated, consult with one of the experienced wage and hour attorneys at King & Siegel LLP. We can help you understand your rights and explore legal options.

What Happens If You’re Not Paid for All Hours Worked

When an employer pays you less than minimum wage, you are entitled to the unpaid wage amounts plus civil penalties in the same amount. That is, you can recover up to twice the amount of underpaid wages, as well as legal fees spent in trying to get your wages.

This is in addition to many other penalties that apply to these situations, including penalties under California’s Private Attorneys General Act.

Conclusion

Understanding time rounding practices and recognizing when they are illegal is essential for ensuring fair compensation. Make sure you are paid for all your time worked. If you suspect that your employer’s rounding practices are illegal, don’t hesitate to contact us.

At King & Siegel LLP, we have helped hundreds of workers hold employers accountable through legal actions. If you have been discriminated against, retaliated against, denied your rightful wages, or wrongfully terminated, our attorneys are here to help.

Need legal help? We provide free, confidential consultations to California workers. You should contact us as soon as possible to make sure your claim is still within the time limits set by law.

If you are a victim of wage theft or other violations of the employment laws, contact us today through our website or give us a call at (213) 732-2712 to schedule a free consultation.

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Julian Burns King graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and founded King & Siegel in 2018. As head of the Firm’s discrimination and harassment practice areas, she champions the rights of working parents and victims of workplace discrimination and harassment. She has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers annually since 2018 and has recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of her clients.

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