Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Closing time

So, apparently my library is doing something illegal. All of our hourly employees, me included, have to digitally 'punch' a clock to record time worked. Every night I work the closing shift at the library, here's roughly how the last several minutes go:

8:50-8:55 Close the library catalog and my email program on my laptop (we each use our own at the reference desk, plugged into a monitor and docking station). Walk around the library and ask patrons who seem to be browsing if they need help. Tidy up the space.

8:55ish: Punch out.

8:55-9:05: Shut down my laptop and bring it back to my office. Bring my coat and briefcase downstairs. Stand around awkwardly while the checkout desk staff help any late patrons, count the cash drawer, grab their personal stuff, and put the cash in the safe.

9:05ish: Leave the library and go home.

See how I clocked out 10 minutes before I actually left work? It will round to 9 p.m. (it rounds to the nearest quarter-hour), so I actually only stay 5 minutes past my recorded clock out time. In addition, to be fair I am mostly standing around during those 5 minutes while other people do work. However, nearly all the staff does this nearly every night. Technically, this is forcing people to work off the clock which is not only icky but actually illegal.

Although I knew this in the abstract, I hadn't really thought much about it beyond a vague annoyance until I read this post on the Swiss Army Librarian, which talked about the importance of providing good service up until closing time. I replied to that post asking whether staff at his library were paid past closing time, and explaining how things end up getting shut down early because staff people want to get out right at 9. His reply to that comment, and other replies, prompted him to devote a whole post to the issue (you can see it here), which generated a bunch of other responses. One of those responses was from a fairly authoritative librarian, who pointed out the illegality of what my library did and suggested that if I had a friend in HR or administration, I might gently mention what might happen if we got audited by the Department of Labor.

Once she said it, the legal problems of our system, as opposed to just the practical ones, seemed really obvious. It's weird to me that the administration of my fairly large public library system don't seem more concerned. Do they think we actually leave at 9 p.m. each day? Do they know what's happening and just willingly take the risk?

What I'm curious about is whether this is a situation that is library-specific or more general. I imagine that retail businesses have a similar problem. I've never worked at a normal retail job, but I used to work at a custom engraving place in a mall. While they made a big deal of getting customers out of the store at closing time (very annoying if you were struggling to make that week's sales quota!), you had to stay after closing to get the next day's engraving done anyway, so they didn't expect you to be clocked out at a certain point after closing time. I was aware that all my counterparts in the other stores were heading out, but I don't know how their timecards worked.

Do you work,  or have you worked, somewhere where this is an issue? How does your workplace handle it, and what do you think?



    1. Interesting! I assume that our management must regard our off-the-clock time as either non-work (waiting for other people to be ready to leave) or an 'insignificant period of time.' You could probably make a good case for the former for most of our staff, but not for the latter, since this is something that happens every day.

    2. do you have a union?

    3. We do. It's actually a really good one. I could go to them and ask for their help in kicking up a fuss, but haven't committed to doing that yet.