Q: What Is a Timesheet?

A timesheet is a tool used to track how many hours an employee or contractor works over a:

  • Time period;
  • Specific project; or
  • Both.

Gusto makes time tracking easy and efficient; check out our time-tracking tool.

What does a timesheet look like?

Whether paper or software, a typical timesheet uses a grid to map out the time spent per day on specific tasks and/or projects.

Timesheets generally include the following information:

  • Employee’s name
  • Pay period
  • Date worked
  • Hours worked each day
  • Total hours worked each week

However, you can also have employees include other details, such as their ID number (if applicable), their hourly rate, overtime hours, lunch breaks, mileage, time off, and more.

In addition, it may help to have workers—especially consultants and contractors—break down their workweek by both task and project, like in the example below.

Timesheet example

Employee name: Jaden Doe
Pay period:
5/3/21 – 5/8/21
All Times in HoursMondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridayTotals
General Administration5340012
The Gusto Project: Writing2468525
The Gusto Project: Reporting1100.535.5
Totals88108.5842.5

Or, if you wanted employees to record the actual times they clocked in and out, your timesheet could look something like this:

Employee name: Jaden Doe
Pay period: 5/3/21 – 5/8/21
DateStart timeEnd timeTotal hours
May 39:005:008
May 48:304:308
May 58:006:0010
May 68:305:008.5
May 78:004:008
Total hours: 42.5

Why would I have my employees use timesheets?

Having your employees use timesheets can help you understand where and how they are using their time. This is especially true if you’ve temporarily or permanently switched to remote work

Specifically, timesheets can help you with:

  • Payroll: Timesheets help you calculate how much you owe your hourly employees each pay period. Using an online timesheet tool, especially one that integrates with a payroll solution, can help automate regular payroll tasks and ensure you’re paying workers the right amount. Without timesheets, you could underpay employees, which could lead to lawsuits and/or fines.
  • Project estimation: Timesheets give you a historical record of how long it takes your employees to complete a task or project. This can be highly valuable when scoping and billing projects for your clients.
  • Project and staff management: Knowing how long projects take can help you plan and staff projects in the future. Timesheets can also show you how new employees are adjusting and which employees may need more coaching and training to improve their skills. In addition, it can keep your workforce accountable and more on-task.

Another big reason why you’d want to use timesheets? Sometimes it’s required.

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Which employees need to submit timesheets?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulates how workers should be treated and includes rules around what kind of information—e.g. time and pay records—employers need to keep and for how long.

In short, you must follow the time-keeping requirements under the FLSA for all nonexempt employees. Generally, nonexempt employees are paid hourly and are entitled to overtime and a minimum wage, though the distinction between exempt and nonexempt employees is a bit more complicated than that. It’s important to comply with the FLSA, so check out these guidelines from the Department of Labor or talk to a legal counsel or business advisor if you’re unsure how to classify and treat employees.

Note: While FLSA rules only apply to nonexempt employees, you can still require exempt employees to submit timesheets. This could come in handy if you want to track your team’s productivity or keep track of other metrics, such as sick pay or vacation time.

How long do I need to keep timesheets?

In addition to identifying information, such as the employee’s full name, SSN, and address, the FLSA requires employers to maintain detailed records around nonexempt employees’ hours and wages, including:

  • The time and day of the week the employee’s workweek begins
  • Hours worked each day
  • Total hours worked each week
  • How the employee is paid (e.g. $15 per hour or $600 per week)
  • Hourly pay rate
  • Total daily or weekly straight-time earnings
  • Overtime earnings for the week
  • Any wage additions or deductions
  • Total wages paid each pay period
  • Date of payment and pay period

Note: If a nonexempt employee has a fixed schedule, instead of having them record their hours each week, you can keep a record of their exact schedule and note they followed the schedule. Whenever the employee deviates from the schedule, simply note the number of hours they actually worked that week.

Records that you use to figure out how much to pay employees, such as timesheets, work and time schedules, and wage additions and deductions, should be kept for at least two years. However, their cousin, payroll records, which include hours worked each day and total hours worked each workweek, need to be kept for at least three years.

The U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division has the right to inspect these records, and if they find you willfully violated the law, you may be subject to criminal penalties, such as fines or even imprisonment, so it’s important to comply.

Do I need to use a specific timekeeping method?

You can use any timekeeping method you want as long as it accurately keeps track of the information the Department of Labor requires.

There are two main methods employers usually use to track time:

  • Timesheets capture how many hours an employee worked per day and week. They’re often more flexible than time clocks, which usually makes them easier to edit if the employee makes a mistake. However, they can be less accurate than time clocks, as the employee manually fills out each timesheet.
  • Time clocks capture the exact time an employee clocked in and out (i.e. began and stopped working). Usually, time clocks automatically calculate the number of hours worked once the employee clocks out. This can be a good option if you want to keep track of the exact time employees are working and taking breaks. However, it may be more difficult to fix errors if, say, the employee forgets to clock in and out.

Tips for using timesheets

Timesheets can be a great way to keep track of employee hours and comply with FLSA rules. If you’ve never implemented timesheets at your business, here are some basic tips to get started:

  • Review each timesheet before approving them. If a timesheet is incorrect, send it back to the employee to make any necessary changes.
  • Require employees to submit timesheets by the same day each pay period. While you can’t withhold pay if an employee fails to submit their timesheet, setting this rule can help form the habit and ensure you maintain good records.
  • Require employees to record all time worked, including times spent in trainings, traveling for work, and time not spent in the office. For example, if an employee checked their work email outside of their regular workday, they should record that time. 
  • Use the same type of timesheet for each type of employee to keep your records consistent and organized.
  • Use software if possible. Digital timesheets can save you time on organizational tasks, keep each timesheet consistent, and make it easier to search for necessary information. Plus, employees don’t have to keep track of a physical piece of paper and worry about providing evidence of their work.

Bottom line

There are many ways to create timesheets, including Excel, Google Spreadsheets, or various software. However, the easiest and most accurate method might be using payroll software that offers time and project tracking, such as Gusto. This can help you track everything in one place, automate tedious tasks, and stay compliant with FLSA rules. Don’t waste time tracking time— learn more about Gusto’s employee time tracking tools or get started today.

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