Can I Dock Pay and Work Through Lunch?

I work in a small dental practice where out “office manager ” is salaried weekly and I work under her. She has been off 16 weeks this year and I am expected to do her job as well as mine during her time off. I asked for a raise and was told if I felt overworked and underpaid I needed to look for another job. I never get my hour lunch break and always work 15-60 minutes after my scheduled time off. I do get paid but if I don’t leave the office on my lunch I am expected to answer the phones while clocked out. Is this supposed to be acceptable?
My other concern is one of our staff is typically paid for 8hrs 3 days a week if she has to work over into her lunch hour or after her scheduled time off which is 5 she is not compensated for any extra time worked but if she doesn’t have a patient at the end of the day she is sent home early and her pay is docked for any time she is sent home early. I don’t think this is fair or legal? Although it is not my business I am the one doing payroll and I feel guilty for shorting her paycheck. She has asked me why I dock her pay but not compensate for extra time worked. I don’t have an answer for her. I am just doing what the doctor tells me to do. Please tell me you have some answers for me.

There is just so much wrong with your office, I’m afraid to wonder how the dental work is there. Actually, the improper management of payroll is probably irrelevant to the quality of dentistry, but it still makes me nervous. Anyhow, here’s your answer.

Your bosses can tell you to stuff your pay raise complaints.

It may be true that you’re not underpaid and overworked for your type of position, I don’t know. As long as you are paid the minimum wage they aren’t required to give you a raise when you’re taking on extra work.

Your bosses can’t not pay you for your time.

However, since you’ve been working unpaid hours, that’s a violation of labor laws. I presume you’re non-exempt. This means you have to be paid for every hour worked, even if your boss has specifically instructed you not to work. There is no legal way around this.

You can’t dock your co-worker’s pay.

I don’t know what your co-worker does and if she’s exempt or non-exempt, but let’s assume she’s legally exempt. That means her pay cannot be docked for missing an hour here or an hour there. If she does any work at all during the week, she’s entitled to her full salary, with a few exceptions for full day absences. Therefore, you cannot dock her pay, even if she only works 15 minutes on Tuesday. However, this also means that if she puts in 120 hours in a week, her paycheck remains the same.

If she doesn’t meet the qualifications for exemption (which include a salary of $913 per week, starting December 1), then she’s owed pay for every hour worked. That means, the days she stays late, she gets extra. No exceptions.

What your boss has done has taken the best of both worlds, which is illegal. You cannot simultaneously dock pay for going home early and not pay for extra hours worked.

What can you do?

Go to your boss, say you’ve been researching it and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) prohibits what you’ve been doing and that you don’t want to get in trouble as the payroll person. Say, “We need to fix this, because it puts the business at risk. If the Department of Labor ever tried to audit us, we’d face serious fines.”

The “we” is on purpose. This isn’t you against them, it’s “us.” We are in this together.

If they won’t listen, give the Department of Labor a call, or just pass the information on to your underpaid colleague. She’ll probably call, as she should.

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3 thoughts on “Can I Dock Pay and Work Through Lunch?

  1. I’ll say it – your boss is an ass. He probably makes far more money than the rest of the staff as it is and is trying to save on the cost of doing business by sticking it to his employees. I’d give him one benefit of the doubt conversation and if he refuses to pay back all the time you and your coworker are owed and make appropriate changes going forward, I’d file a complaint. Maybe even consult a lawyer.

  2. Is it possible to report an employer that you do not work for (and have never worked for) if you know they are violating FLSA?

  3. It’s disheartening that there are such people who still really exist – employers who do not give their employees as they are they are rightfully due. I think it’s about time to consider other options regarding your career, as this is clearly not a healthy environment and culture to work in. Anyhow, I wish you find the wisdom to follow what you truly believe is the best!

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