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Ninth Cir. Upholds 'Neutral Timekeeping' in Employee Pay

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. | Last updated on

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld what is quickly becoming doctrine in all the federal courts: neutral-timekeeping is lawful under the FLSA.

The decision comes as a blow to Andre Corbin and other hourly wage-earners like him who allege lost wages due to unfavorable rounding to the nearest quarter. But it's really no surprise given other courts' views on the matter.

Andre Corbin's Case

Almost every wage earner is guilty of this common sin: waiting to eight minutes after the scheduled clock-out time in order to gain a quarter hour's pay after rounding up. This amounts to a "free" seven minutes for the employee and "lost" seven minutes for the employer.

On the flip-side, if an employee clocks in just at the seven-minute point before the scheduled clock-in time, it is he who loses time.

Former Time Warner call center employee Andre Corbin sued his old company alleging that Time Warners time keeping methods violated both state and federal employment laws by rounding work hours to the nearest quarter-hour increments. Corbin alleged that he lost about $15 in pay over a 13 month pay period (yes, you read that right) due to the online time-accounting system used by his employer.

"Neutral" Time-Keeping

Corbin's argument was that "any" wage loss was a violation of the FLSA.

But the court looked to past opinion on the subject and found that a "neutral" timekeeping method had been consistently upheld by the courts. "Neutral" refers to the system's neither favoring the employee nor the employer in the clock-in or clock-out process. A non-neutral system would favor the employee, for example, if he were to be paid the entire quarter hour even if he punched in late by six minutes, for example.

"First" but, Not Really

The Ninth's opinion appears to the be first circuit opinion to address permissible rounding practices and analysis under the FLSA, but its decision can hardly be considered surprising given the well thought out dicta and body of the lower district court opinions.

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