Sunday, May 20, 2018

Employees Say Time-Tracking Systems Chip Away at Their Paychecks: Workers accuse companies of using technology to unfairly subtract fractions of their hourly wages

Airline workers are among the hourly employees filing legal complaints against employers like American Airlines, alleging corporate systems that track their work hours are shortchanging them.

The Wall Street Journal
By Rachel Feintzeig
May 20, 2018 9:00 a.m. ET

Punching in and out of shifts is an omnipresent part of work life for many hourly workers at hospitals, factories and stores.

Now some of them say companies are using time-tracking systems to chip away at their pay.

In federal and state lawsuits against American Airlines Inc., Kroger Co. and luxury chain Montage Hotels & Resorts LLC, among others, employees have alleged that the companies they work for are unfairly subtracting fractions of their hourly wages using time-tracking technology.

Breaks that workers never actually get to take and rounding policies that work in employers’ favor, multiplied across years of employment, can result in thousands of dollars missing from paychecks, employees’ attorneys say.

In some suits against hospitals, nurses have said they spend meal breaks tending to patients but automatically receive a 30-minute deduction from every shift. Call-center workers complain that when they are stuck on the phone at the end of a shift, the extra time is rounded away.

“These people are doing really important jobs, and we’re not paying them for the time they’re actually working,” said Elizabeth Tippett, a professor at the University of Oregon School of Law and author of a new paper on time-tracking software that was published last week in the American Business Law Journal.

The systems are capable of calculating employees’ pay to the second. But employers are attracted to features like rounding and automatic time deductions because they help keep labor costs predictable and free managers and employees from having to record every break, said Chris Pace, a corporate-side attorney at Ogletree Deakins.

Mr. Pace said a manager puts rounding mechanisms into place, or programs systems to pay only for the hours of a scheduled shift, not to avoid paying for time worked, but “to conform the system to his view of reality.” For instance, employees might clock in but spend the first part of their days catching up with colleagues or surfing the internet.

In a lawsuit filed in New Jersey federal court, nine American Airlines employees—including aircraft-maintenance technicians and fleet service clerks who load bags onto planes—alleged the airline’s rounding policy “consistently and artificially reduced the total time employees are credited with working,” according to court papers.

That adds up, said Edwin Gonzalez, a plaintiff who has been working as an American fleet service clerk at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey since 2015. “Every 15 minutes or 30 minutes means a lot to me,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “That’s like stealing from me and my family.”

In March, Judge Jose L. Linares, of the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, certified the complaint, originally filed in 2016, as a class action. Brett Gallaway, Mr. Gonzalez’s lawyer, said there are nearly 400 current and former employees in the class. American is appealing.

“American pays its team members for all the work they perform,” said Matt Miller, an American Airlines spokesman. “That’s the case in New Jersey and throughout our system.”

Kroger and Montage declined to comment on the suits they are facing.

Time-tracking software is usually part of a broader workforce management system that records absences and schedules workers. These suites of software have come under fire from attorneys general in New York and other states for enabling employers to switch around shift assignments at the last minute, creating unpredictable schedules for workers. Now thousands of workers allege companies are abusing the time-tracking function too.

Time-tracking systems have evolved from the days of the old punch card. Employees often log in with a mobile phone, a fingerprint or an iris scan; cash registers come with digital log-ins. The market for human-capital management technology, including time-tracking systems, has boomed to become a $12 billion business, according to Gartner, a research and advisory firm.

Leading providers of time-tracking software include Kronos Inc., Automatic Data Processing Inc. and Ceridian. All three declined to comment for this article.

Employees, especially those in high-stress fields like health care, say heavy workloads, short staffing and emergencies can make for long, busy days. Mary Jo Zacher, a respiratory therapist at the University of Missouri Health Care from 1981 until she retired in December 2014, often found she had no time for a cafeteria run.

“If you have a premature baby being delivered, you have to be there for every breath. You can’t say, ‘Oh I’ll get back to you,’ ” she said.

Yet the University of Missouri’s time-tracking system automatically deducted 30 minutes from each of Ms. Zacher’s shifts, whether she was able to take an uninterrupted break, or not.

Jennifer Coffman, a University of Missouri Health Care spokeswoman, said the organization stopped automatically deducting meal breaks for hourly workers in 2016.

Ms. Zacher joined the settlement of a class-action suit against the health system, and in December 2017, the parties agreed to settle for $3.6 million. That resulted in a payout of about $1,250 per affected employee, said attorney Brendan Donelon, who represented the plaintiffs.

Such figures, though, are small change for many employers who saved money in labor costs over years of automatic deductions and rounding, Ms. Tippett said.

In examining a case involving casino workers in Nevada, Ms. Tippett estimated the gaming company saved $12.6 million by implementing its rounding policies; it settled a worker lawsuit over the issue for $450,000. After attorneys’ fees and litigation costs were covered, $207,500 was distributed to employees.

“It is hard to imagine that wage savings of that magnitude would prompt an employer to change its practices,” Ms. Tippett wrote in the study.

Original article can be found here ➤


Anonymous said...

Total Bullshit!

In New York State the law MANDATES that every worker take a 30 minute lunch break within the first 6 hours of each shift and then another 20 minute break every 6 hours.

If Mary Jo can't take her lunch break during a premature delivery she has to take it as soon as the delivery is over.

Employees do not have the option of skipping lunch.

Also any time card system that rounds say a 5:05 punch out back to 5:00 also has to round a 8:05 am arrival back to 8:00.

Anonymous said...

I think it is time to track the time that employees are stealing by not working and deduct it from their pay. Time spent chit-chatting with co-workers about non-work topics, texting, phone calls, emails to friends and families, personal Facebook postings, internet shopping and web surfing, etc., etc., etc. I am sure it adds up to more than two hours a day.

Anonymous said...

So you don't want to have to punch in and out for breaks and at the start/end of the day, because that's too inconvenient or demeaning, then complain when the employers establish system rules to account for your time.

Anonymous said...

Dad taught me by example to always show up a little early, put in a full day and look for ways that you can help your company do things better. He also stayed "late" and worked overtime and weekends when business conditions required it. On the other hand, when he had to leave early to go to the ball game, there was never a problem. My guess reading this article, is there is an adversarial relationship between the employee and employer so typical of union shops. Too bad. What a waste of everyone's time. If you don't like the company you work for - do everyone a favor - QUIT.

Anonymous said...

If the productivity of your employees doesn't fit your expectations, you terminate them. A better choice would likely be to revise your expectations of productivity. 100% productivity is impossible -- even if employees earnestly strive for that, they'll experience diminishing returns at some point. In other words, there is value in some level of periodic diversion; it can actually lead to improved productivity and outcomes as well as improved job satisfaction.

Anonymous said...

Go ahead, keep suing employers, we'll have no capitalism left in this country.

Anonymous said...

My experience with this is my work at Eastern Airlines and GE Medical Systems. Workers had a 15 minute break in the morning and afternoon, and 30 minutes for lunch. Before each break/lunch, 15 minutes early, they would start cleaning up and preparing for their break/lunch, so when the bell rang, they would sit down and take their break/lunch. When the bell rang to end the break/lunch, they would clean up after that break/lunch, taking another 15 minutes. That amounted to 90 minutes each day per employee of wasted time. That is outright stealing from the company, and the union should be required to pay that back.

Anonymous said...

Labor unions can be obnoxious, demanding, and destructive, but this is why they come into existence. Employees require a unified voice when employers become oppressive.

Anonymous said...

I've been a victim of this practice myself, it's such a nickel and dime issue, and yet the ramifications to the employees are huge. The employers laugh it off. What's even worse, is when it takes you 20-25 minutes to log onto all the company's systems in order to perform your job, and you have to show up 20 minutes early to do that, for free, in order to be able to perform your job at the appointed hour, else you are marked "late". Must be stopped!!!

Anonymous said...

It is high time that poor performers and disruptive employees straighten up, get to work, or get going out the door!

Anonymous said...

One of JFK's poor decisions ... allowing government workers to unionize. Otherwise he was an anti-communist, supply sider who favored a strong defense. He'd be a Republican today ... and vilified by the Democratic party as racist, sexist etc.

Anonymous said...

Imagine working on a project where a person is late, doesn’t get work done on time, has a poor attitude, isn’t liked by co-workers, doesn’t really care about anything but clock watching, constantly reminds everyone that they themself can’t be fired because they are in a union and are protected under civil service rules; all of the sudden, they are now going to be held accountable.

Anonymous said...

My experience working with the US Forest Service. We'd be in a meeting and half of them would leave at 2:15 so they could get their "ride home". The whole lot of them are worthless in Portland, Oregon.