Can an Employer Remove Employee’s Work Hours From Timesheets?

Let’s take a look at a common situation that you as an employer have or will most certainly face in the future — your employee forgets to fill in a timesheet or calls in sick for work. These things happen and are generally not that big of a deal. So you decide to change that employee's timesheet to show the correct information (or the number of their actual work hours). 

But then, you stop and start to think — Is this legal? Can an employer make adjustments to employees' timesheets? The answer is yes, but only in certain contexts.

Can an Employer Remove Employee’s Work Hours From Timesheets?
In this guide, you’ll learn:
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Key Takeaways 

  • By US law, employers are the ones who are ultimately responsible for the accuracy of employee timesheets. They are the ones who will face legal action in the case of any inaccuracies in employee records.  
  • Employers can legally alter employees' timesheets, but only to make them accurate. They are not allowed to change timesheets without a valid reason. If they do that, it can be considered fraud and can lead to legal action against the employer.
  • FLSA, or Fair Labor Standards Act, is one of the main labor laws that regulates how employers should keep employee records, including timesheets.
  • Consequences of altering an employee's records without a proper reason can include various types of fines and can be the reason for civil or government actions against the employer. 

Can Employers Alter Employee’s Timesheets?

FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act), which regulates time tracking and record keeping, states that keeping accurate employee records is the employer's obligation. So, even if your company has employees do their time tracking on their own (via time cards, time-tracking apps, or similar), under US law, the ultimate responsibility for the accuracy of those records is on the employer. This means that you, as an employer, are liable under the law if any information contained within an employee's records is inaccurate. And, if those inaccuracies lead to employees getting paid lower wages (commonly called wage theft), you can face some serious legal actions against you. 

Now, having said that, because employers are the ones who are responsible under US law, they do have the right to legally change employees’ timesheets but only for one reasonto ensure those timesheets reflect the actual number of work hours employees have put in

When employers choose to do this, they should promptly inform the employees in question to avoid miscommunication. The last thing an employer in this situation wants is for an employee to think they're engaging in time or wage theft. If an employee does think that, they can take legal action, even if the employer was just trying to do the right thing and ensure their company’s timesheet data was accurate.

So, to reiterate, employers can legally change employees’ timesheets, but only if those timesheets lack the information that accurately shows employees' work hours. When altering employees’ timesheets, you, as an employer, need to do so transparently, accurately, and in accordance with US time-tracking laws. Here are examples of some common situations in which employers can change employee’s timesheets.

When Can Employers Alter Employee’s Timesheets?

  • Correcting timesheet input errors — If an employee makes an honest mistake on their timesheet (e.g., forgets to clock in or out), the employer can legally make the necessary corrections to the timesheet to ensure the information is accurate.
  • Correcting for technical errors — In some cases, for example, when using punch cards, the system employers have in place can malfunction. This can lead to a situation where a single employee or several of them can’t punch in simply because the system isn't working. In that case, it’s perfectly legal for an employer to manually input the work hours of affected employees (for as long as that technical issue persists). 
  • Correcting for overtime — Some companies and employers don’t use modern systems that can easily track regular work hours and overtime. In those situations, employers might need to change employee’s timesheets to include their overtime hours manually. The best way to streamline this process and minimize the risk of human error is to update the company’s time-tracking system.

Consequence of Falsifying Employee Timesheets

Changing employee timesheets to show the actual number of their work hours is legal under US law. However, falsifying employee timesheets is illegal and can lead to serious legal consequences, such as:

  • Employers can face civil penalties for falsifying employee timesheets. These can include various fines and sanctions imposed by government agencies. For example, in 2023, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hours division charged a Phoenix-based company $724,082 in back wages and damages for 255 employees. The employer in question didn’t include all the overtime hours their employees put in. To cover for that, they created fraudulent timesheets but were ultimately caught and forced to pay the appropriate penalties.
  • Employers can face criminal charges and jail time in extreme cases of wage theft or timesheet fraud. That happened to Papa John's franchise owner Abdul Jamil Khokhar. This employer, apart from falsifying employee timesheets, also created fake employees and gave them the overtime hours that his real employees actually worked. After one of his "real" employees made a report to the US Department of Labor, Mr. Abdul was charged and sentenced to 60 days in jail. Additionally, he had to pay $230,000 in restitution to his employees. 
  • Employers that practice falsifying timesheets and wage records can end up in a civil class action lawsuit. This happened to a Maryland home care agency that decided not to include employee overtime hours in their official employee records. Apart from that, this agency also didn’t pay employees for travel expenses, even when they were obligated to do so under Maryland law. 

Main Things to Consider When Changing Employee Timesheets

We’ve talked about the legality of altering employee timesheets, the most common situations when it’s fine to do so, as well as some illegal aspects and consequences of tampering with official time records. But, the thing we didn’t tell you is how to approach altering employee timesheets as an employer. 

The actual act of changing work hours on a timesheet is not that difficult; it doesn’t merit a step-by-step guide. But, what does require some consideration on your part is how to start the whole process of changing timesheet information. Even if it’s legal and you’re only putting accurate data in, if you don’t take appropriate steps, you can end up facing legal action. To help prevent that, we’ve compiled a list of the main things employers should consider when altering employee timesheets:

Have Documents or Evidence That Support Your Decision

Let’s say one of your employees calls in sick for work, and you decide to make changes to their timesheet to reflect that information. In most cases, this will be perfectly fine, but in some rare situations, an employee can say that they didn't actually call in sick that day and that you stole wages from them and can technically sue you. The best way to avoid that is to ensure you always have evidence or documents that support your decisions to change an employee's timesheets. 

For example, in this particular situation in which an employee calls in sick, you can still approve their sick day and change their timesheet, but before you do that, you should ask them to send in an official request for a sick day (e.g., via email). This will give you enough evidence to support your decision to adjust the employee timesheet and protect yourself in the event of a costly legal battle.

Be Honest and Transparent With Your Employees

When changing an employee’s timesheets, make sure to inform them about your decision beforehand. State your reasons clearly, have documentation that backs your decision, and ensure there’s ample evidence of your communication with the said employee (e.g., a company email thread, Slack chat, or similar). You don’t want an employee agreeing with the timesheet change and then suing you for wage theft a month or even years later. 

Keep Accurate Records of All Timesheet Changes

It’s essential to keep an accurate record of all changes done to employee timesheets, no matter the reason. This is the best and easiest way to ensure any timesheet alterations adhere to US laws and don’t put you at risk of legal issues in the future. Essentially, you want to ensure that you have both the original timesheet and the altered one. You should also note down the reasons for the alterations and store that documentation together with the timesheets.

In the US, labor laws state that employers are obligated to keep employee records for a period of 3-5 years, depending on the exact region. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you change an employee timesheet and think nothing of it for three years and then have to deal with a civil lawsuit started by an employee whose timesheet you’ve changed. 

Use Timesheet Templates or Time-tracking Tools 

Recording employees' work hours, especially if you have a lot of employees, can get messy. To avoid all the complications that come with that, you can try out free timesheet templates and use them as a basis for your record-keeping system. With templates, you’ll avoid the trouble of creating your own timesheets, which can be a huge time saver if you’re unfamiliar with Excel or other types of spreadsheet software. 

Alternatively, a time-tracking app can streamline this process, which can help you accurately record all employee work hours (including overtime), keep tabs on leave and sick days, and ensure you have a historical database of employee timesheets that you can use to make sure you comply with US labor laws. Some of them even come with real-time timesheet tracking features that are far more accurate than manual tracking and can save you a lot of headaches in the future.