Carrie Mason-Draffen Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen

Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.

DEAR CARRIE: I have a small retail shop and a big time-card problem. We employ six to 10 hourly people, depending on the season. Despite multiple signs at the time clock reminding people to punch in and out, occasionally they don't do either. All cards are scanned and sent to a processor on Monday mornings.

I know the law requires me to pay my employees for all the hours they work, as I try to, but where does the responsibility lie when they tell me their weekly pay is incorrect because they forgot to punch in or out, or both?

I always adjust their pay to reflect what the employees tell me they have worked, even if I doubt some of their stories. I am trying to do the right thing, but it is frustrating to backtrack because of the employees' negligence. How can I end this problem? -- Weary Timekeeper

DEAR WEARY: It is true that labor law requires you to pay nonexempt, or hourly workers, for all the time they work, but you can legally require them to follow your time-clock policy or face the consequences.

"It is the absolute right of the employer to direct and require that employees diligently punch in and punch out," said Irv Miljoner, who heads the U.S. Labor Department's Long Island office. "If the workers do not do as they're directed, that's a matter of discipline for the employer to rightfully impose."

When employees violate the time-clock policy that you instituted to comply with labor law, they could bear some of the responsibility for not receiving all their pay.

"This employer seems quite diligent in affirming his obligation to pay for all hours worked," Miljoner said.

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"If there's a claim to us about a shortfall, we'd analyze all available evidence, starting with the time records. Employee statements may contradict that, but if there's an admission that they didn't accurately punch in or out, we might not be able to go any further."

And he added, "Even if pay was based on less than all time worked, there might not be a violation if total gross wages exceeded the minimum wage for all hours worked."

He said that your inquiry "demonstrates why we say that accurate records are an employer's best friend." When employees' accounts of their workweek deviate from hours registered on the time clock, that proves workers' negligence.

As to what you can do to correct the problem, Miljoner said you could remind employees that punching in and out is an obligation, not an option. And post a copy of this column -- by the time clock.

I hope your employees appreciate how conscientious and lenient you are. After all, New York is an employment-at-will state, and that means a worker not covered by a union contract can be fired for any reason, and that could include not punching in and out at work.

DEAR CARRIE: I drive a tractor trailer for a living. I haul a product that we manufacture and deliver to our customers or to one of our other facilities. A lot of the driving is interstate, and I can go from Long Island to Baltimore or Boston. I always work 55 to 65 hours a week. Yet, I am told I am not entitled to overtime. Is this true? -- Long Days

DEAR LONG DAYS: Alas, I am afraid I won't make your long drives more pleasant.

Your employer can legally forgo paying you overtime if you meet three federal labor law criteria: First, you must be employed by a motor carrier that provides transportation for compensation.

Secondly, you must drive interstate routes.

And lastly you must drive a vehicle that with its cargo exceeds 10,000 pounds. That is equal to about a loaded cargo van.

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Sounds like you would easily meet all three. For more information call the U.S. Labor Department at 516-338-1890 or 212-264-8185. Go to http://bit.ly/litruck for more on federal labor laws and truck drivers.