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Employment Law/Fair Discipline Process for Missed Time Clock Punches


QUESTION: Can you provide me with some examples of a fair progressive discipline process when employees miss time clock punches? My company has instituted a process where on the first missed punch, a letter is given that stays in the employees file for 2 years. The 2nd missed punch results in a 2nd letter, also to stay in file for 2 years. The third missed punch results in a 3 day suspension. The 4th missed punch results in a 10 day suspension. The 5th missed punch results in suspension pending discharge. I don't object to the discipline but to only have 4 missed punches in 2 years seems excessive. It is relatively easy to miss 2 punches a year. Also there is no way to document that an employee has missed a receipt given on punching in and out. thank you.

ANSWER: Roseanne - Unfortunately, employers are free to set up disciplinary rules however they choose.  Fairness is not required.

About the only employment laws an employer is required to follow are nondiscrimination and wage and hour laws.   Most other categories of work rules are up to the employer's discretion.  The time clock is used to assure that employees are paid for every minute of work, that is, wage and hour compliance. If you clock in, it is clear what you are owed.  If you don't, it is unclear.   Employers prefer clear.

Isn't the absence of a time entry evidence of an employee's failure to punch in or out?  I'm not sure how this shows a failure in documentation.

Figure out some method for yourself that works to remind you to go to the time clock, and use it.  Jobs are too hard to find for this to interfere with yours.

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QUESTION: Do you have any articles that you can recommend or refer me to, which can suggest a process for progressive discipline?

The first letter that we receive warns us against "theft" for the company. It just seems excessive, that the punishment doesn't fit the crime, particularly for people who may have had a year of punching in, and then miss one, which can be related to all kinds of circumstances (in my case, I was rushing around trying to get to a funeral). But sometimes in my business we work under very stressful conditions and/or limited sleep, and I would like to know more about the intention of progressive discipline, and ways that companies implement it that leads to greater empowerment and performance, rather than a demoralized and despondent work force.

Thank you!! And thank you so much for your answer to me.


Rosanne - If you go to the SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) website,  they have some general information about progressive disciplinary policies that is available to nonmembers.  In addition, if you Google progressive disciplinary policies, quite a few large employers have their policies posted on line.

In this age of high unemployment,  employers have little incentive to make nice with their employees, as replacements are easily obtained.  Don't get your hopes up that a reasoned discussion about the existing policy will have a positive result. But, if it works, I'd love to hear back about your success.

Best of luck.

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Margaret M. deMarteleire


I can answer most questions about employment law, federal or state. I am an attorney, not an HR professional, so questions about HR careers, coursework, prospects, etc. are not within my scope.


Attorney for 20 years, currently working exclusively with employment law - FLSA, FMLA, federal contracts, pay, etc.

Temple University School of Liberal Arts, BA, Rhetoric & Communication, 1982 Temple University School of Law, JD, 1990 Certificate in HR, Cornell University ILR School, 2006

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