Table of Contents

Table of Contents

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Timesheets are vital employment records for all non-exempt workers and are required by federal law. The legal burden of accurate pay and recordkeeping sits with employers, so read on to ensure that your company is following the right guidelines with respect to employee timekeeping.

What Is a Timesheet?

In the simplest terms, a timesheet is a document used to record employee working time. These might be paper forms, software on a computer, a punch clock, or tracking via other technology. Timesheets are usually completed by employees and collected by HR or payroll to determine how employees should be paid over a certain time period, as well as to account for any leave time taken. Timesheets (or a similar system of clocking in and out) are federally required for hourly employees. Employers may also choose to require them for salaried employees as well.

Why Are Timesheets Important?

Timesheets are not only important, they’re critical. They are a legal record of hours worked and are a federal requirement for non-exempt workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

  • They’re required by federal law. This one is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s important to note that there are several intersecting laws, including federal and state minimum wage laws, and overtime laws that also come into play with regard to employee compensation. Keeping accurate records ensures that your company is not in violation of myriad labor laws.
  • Payroll accuracy. As mentioned above, federal and state laws govern how employees must be paid, who receives overtime, how much is paid in overtime, and so on. In order to ensure that a company is paying their employees correctly in accordance with these laws, they need to start with accurate records of employee timekeeping. In addition, the FLSA requires that employers pay employees within specific timeframes, so even if an employee fails to submit a timesheet or makes an error, the burden rests with the employer. It’s much easier to run payroll with accurate records, rather than having to guess or make assumptions and then course correct down the line.
  • Recordkeeping responsibility belongs to employers, not employees. Failure to keep accurate records can warrant wage and hour disputes with the U.S. Department of Labor, and result in countless hours of effort to work through, as well as payment of back wages, liquidated damages, attorney fees, court costs, and more.

Timesheet Tools to Consider Using

As mentioned above, there are many options for tracking employee time. Some might work better for certain employers or types of work, so only you can decide which is the best option for your company. Here are some possible choices:

Paper Timesheets

Good old-fashioned paper records. These are low-tech, virtually free, and easy to use. You can draft the form in Word or Excel, print or email them, and distribute them to employees for completion and signature. The downside to paper timesheets is the inconvenience (especially in remote environments), the potential for them to be lost or misplaced, to be turned in late (or not at all), the cumbersome process if there’s an error that needs to be corrected and finally storage of the paper record.

Punch Clocks

Punch clocks are a system (or software) where employees “punch in” and “punch out.” This can happen with a physical punch card that gets stamped, a biometric “punch” like a fingerprint, a swipe card, or simply an ID number that the employee enters. These systems can be more ideal for environments where employees work inside a facility, on a manufacturing line or similar environments where they may not have ready access to an individual computer for other types of timekeeping. Since employees don’t have regular access, these types of systems often rely on an HR or payroll manager to override and correct any errors, so there is an extra step involved.


There is a wide variety of timekeeping software available to employers, many of which directly feed a payroll system for ease of use. Employees enter their own information, managers approve it, and it goes directly into the pay system. This can cut down on user error, since it is entered by the employee and does not have to be keyed in manually. It’s also extremely easy to use and often includes error checks, calculations, and other controls to prevent errors. This is the ideal system for most office-based (or computer-based) positions.

Tips and Best Practices For Using Timesheets

Below, you’ll find some best practices for tracking time.

Tip 1: Timesheets as Legal Record

As previously mentioned, timesheets are considered a legal record. As such, they should be accurate. Falsification of a timesheet, even with good intention, can be considered a terminable offense, so be sure to complete them accurately. Likewise, they should not be altered without all parties’ awareness and agreement. Managers should never alter a timesheet without notifying the employee and HR.

Tip 2: Keep a Regular Schedule

The larger the organization, the more timesheets that come in late. Have a set date on everyone’s calendar for “timesheets due” so that everyone is on the same page. Send reminders a day in advance for employees and supervisors to enter their time. Ideally, the “due date” should be a few days before absolutely needed to give a buffer for folks who forget.

Tip 3: Train Employees and Supervisors

It can be a common assumption that timesheets are self-explanatory, but this isn’t the case. HR or payroll should conduct timesheet/timekeeping training with all new hires, and offer refreshers as needed. You’ll want to explain the nuance of when to clock in, when to clock out for a meal period versus a paid break, and what to do in nuanced circumstances. Clearly communicating expectations is the best way to avoid errors and issues later.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Timesheets

Employers must retain timesheets for a minimum of two years under current federal statutes.

All non-exempt (hourly) workers must complete and submit timesheets to comply with federal labor laws. Companies can also require exempt (salaried) employees to submit timesheets, but it is not required by law.

It depends on the process used by the employer, but at the most basic levels, a payroll person or a system multiplies the number of hours worked in the pay period by the hourly rate of pay. This is gross pay (pre-tax and pre-deduction). For any hours worked above 40 per week, overtime must be calculated at one-and-a-half times the hourly rate. Taxes and other deductions are then calculated based on relevant options, which results in net pay, or the amount the employee actually receives.

Tammi has 8+ years of progressive HR experience in a variety of industries and settings, including nonprofit and higher education. She believes that doing HR well means being a true partner and collaborator with every part of an organization, and by saying “yes” to creative problem solving wherever and whenever possible (and legal). Her favorite work includes diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB); the how and why of hiring and retaining great people; helping to sustain an organizational culture of trust, empathy, and candor; and anything else that prompts employees to say they love where they work. In her free time, you can find her wandering outdoors, studying clinical herbalism, tinkering in the kitchen, dismantling the patriarchy and white supremacy, and hanging out with her cat, Emily Dickinson.

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