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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

Employer who converted a work-at-home day to PTO acted illegally, expert says

Once the company granted the employee permission to work at home during a storm, it has no right to rescind the promise, an attorney says. 

An employee who was given permission to work

An employee who was given permission to work at home during a storm cannot later be charged for a day of PTO, experts say. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Geber86

DEAR CARRIE: In February, I requested and was approved to work from home on a Friday during a severe weather event. My supervisor approved the out-of-office day as a workday. 

I later learned that the company president and vice president of human resources instructed another member of HR to change that day's status to paid time off, even though I was working on company business the entire day. Other employees who worked from home that day didn’t have to cover the time by dipping into their paid time off. Was the treatment I received legal? — Home Work Kaput

DEAR HOME:  I checked with an employment attorney and he was very clear that your company’s action was illegal.

“No, this is not permitted,” said Richard Kass, a partner at Bond, Schoeneck & King in Manhattan.


“Converting a workday to PTO is the equivalent of simply eliminating a day of PTO,” Kass said. “Once an employer has promised to give employees a certain amount of PTO, it can’t just take it away.”

Labor laws don’t require employers to offer benefits, but when they do, they must make good on what they promise. 

For more information call the New York State Labor Department at 516-794-8195 or 212-775-3880.

DEAR CARRIE: We are required to punch a time clock at the start and end of our scheduled shift.  The time clock rounds to the 10 minutes closest to the start and end of our shift.  So, for example, if you punch in at 8:20 a.m., the time clock rounds your starting time to 8:30 a.m.  And the company has stated that employees will be paid only from 8:30 a.m.  Similarly at the end of the shift, if you work till 5:40 p.m., you will only be paid until 5:30 p.m. because of the rounding.

The human resources manager says it’s OK for employees to start working before their scheduled shift,  but they won't be paid.  When told that some employees won't start work until the scheduled shift because they won't be paid, the same HR manager stated that maybe the company doesn't want those types of employees.   Can a company expect hourly employees to begin work before their scheduled shift or work after their scheduled shift and not pay them for that extra time? —Time Bandits?

DEAR TIME: If what you say is true about your human resources manager, he or she is ignorant of basic labor laws and could be a liability for the company if the employees complain to regulators.  

Both federal and state labor laws say that hourly employees have to be paid for all the time they work.  And any time a company allows hourly employees to work, it must pay them, whether the work is scheduled or not.  

As for rounding, it seems your employer wants to round only to its advantage. Federal labor law says it shouldn’t work that way because that method cheats workers.

Here is what section 785.48(b) of the Code of Federal Regulations Book 29 says about rounding:

“For enforcement purposes this practice of computing working time will be accepted provided that it is used in such a manner that it will not result, over a period of time, in failure to compensate the employees properly for all the time they have actually worked.”

So what does that mean? If the company rounds up from 8:20 to 8:30 and nullifies your 10-minute early starting time, then it must give you that time back at the end of the day. So if you quit at 5:30, it needs to round your quit time up to 5:40 to make sure you are paid for all the time you work.

Feel free to share a copy of this column with your HR manager. You could save the company from an audit by the U.S. Labor Department.

Go to for more on federal labor laws and time clock rounding. 


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