Advisor Inquiry: I Feel Like My Money is Being Wasted

How can I stop my employees from eating breakfast as soon as they get to work? Do I have to pay them for that time? I feel like my money is being wasted.

It can be frustrating to watch employees clock in early and immediately sit down to eat a morning meal, head to the bathroom to apply makeup, scroll through social media posts on their phone, socialize, or otherwise engage in non-work-related activities while trying to pad their paycheck with a few extra minutes each morning.

On that note, let’s actually answer the second question first – do you have to pay them for this time? Well, that depends on a few things, such as whether they’re exempt or non-exempt employees and whether they’re doing any work-related tasks. If the employee is an exempt status employee (usually your office managers and associates are the only team members eligible for this status), they get paid the same amount each week regardless of the number of hours they put in – so yes, you’d need to pay them for time spent in the office, even if it’s not 100% work-related. You shouldn’t be docking their pay because they spent a few minutes sending a personal text, and generally employees who reach a high enough level to qualify as exempt are employees you can trust to manage their time effectively. We’ll discuss your options if this leeway for personal activities at work become a distraction in a minute.

If you have a non-exempt employee (typically paid by the hour; your assistants, front desk, treatment coordinators, etc. are going to fall in this category) wasting time on the clock, you actually can alter their timesheet to deduct the time spent on non-work-related activities. However, you should be absolutely sure that this was time used for personal pursuits. If they’re performing any work-related tasks – for example, eating breakfast at the front desk while checking email or answering phones – then the time spent is actually related to practice activities and must be compensated, even if they’re not managing their time as you would prefer.

So, what do you do to change the behavior you’re seeing? Well, now that you’ve taken the “wasting my money” part out of the question you can view this as you would any other employee behavior that goes against your ideal view for your practice. Treat this as you would any other disciplinary issue – manage it. If you don’t yet have a policy in place to manage when and where meals are to be consumed, write one. Put it in your Employee Handbook, and hold everyone accountable. A great standard policy to have is a “Ready to Work” policy. Let employees know that you expect them to arrive on the practice premises “ready to work” their shift – personal grooming taken care of, wearing their uniform, meals eaten, personal business taken care of, etc. – and that they must begin performing actual work duties immediately upon clocking in. Ensure that you consider the difference between “meals” and “snacks,” and be prepared to make some reasonable exceptions for employees with a valid medical condition that requires them to eat more frequently.

Separately, you should create a policy detailing appropriate times, places, and volume levels of personal devices, or any other unreasonable, unprofessional behavior you want to prohibit or restrict, since this type of distraction often occurs through the work day. Limit personal device use to breaks and emergencies. Your employees paid to perform a service for your practice, and not only is attending to personal matters while on the clock a waste of your money (for both exempt and non-exempt employees) for non-exempt, hourly employees it’s actually a form of employee time-theft when they accept pay when work is not actually done.

This is your practice, and your bottom line that suffers when employees waste on-the-clock time with personal pursuits. It’s critical to set the expectation for time-management, then hold everyone accountable for following those policies.