Question: Can an employer deny paying overtime when the time is not pre-approved? If not, what are the options?

Answer: Technically, if an employee is clocked in to work, the employee is to be paid for work performed regardless of authorization.

According to the federal Department of Labor (DOL) regulations:

“An announcement by the employer that no overtime work will be permitted, or that overtime work will not be paid for unless authorized in advance, also will not impair the employee’s right to compensation for compensable overtime hours that are worked.”

Employers are not required to pay employees for periods that they voluntarily come in before their regular starting time or remain after their shift ends so long as no work is performed. Early or late “punches” are not hours worked when no work is performed. If any work is performed, even if unauthorized, the employer must pay overtime worked. If an employee works unauthorized overtime, then the employer’s primary recourse is to enforce their disciplinary process.

The DOL does permit employers to disregard infrequent and insignificant periods of time (that would be considered “de minimis;” a few seconds or minutes in duration) from being recorded as “work time.” Some employers have a practice of rounding time in increments of 5, 10, or even 15 minutes which is allowed by the DOL provided that rounding does not result, over a period of time, in the employer failing to count as “hours worked” for all the time the employees have actually worked.