September 8, 2023

4 Common Comp Time Errors & How to Avoid Them


Compensatory time off, often referred to as comp time, is time off given to employees in lieu of paying overtime. It is commonly used in the public sector because it allows organizations to compensate employees for extra time worked without incurring the immediate costs of overtime. However, managing comp time can be a tricky task, and many organizations may inadvertently mishandle it, leading to potential compliance issues and employee dissatisfaction. In this blog, we’ll explore four common mistakes made in managing comp time and how to avoid them.

Error #1: Not Having a Well-Documented Comp Time Policy

In our experience at TCP, we have found organizations typical adhere to three common strategies for handling comp time:

  1. Well-documented comp time policy
  2. Comp time is not allowed
  3. Hazy, black box policy where nothing is documented or official

A clear and well-documented comp time policy is essential for avoiding misunderstandings and disputes. Without a written policy, employees may have different expectations regarding how comp time accrues and can be used, leading to confusion and frustration.

Solution: Develop a Comprehensive Comp Time Policy

Create a detailed comp time policy that outlines the rules and procedures for accruing, requesting, and using comp time. Ensure that all employees are aware of this policy and have access to it. It should cover topics like eligibility criteria, maximum accrual limits, advance notice for requesting comp time, and any restrictions on when it can be used. Regularly communicate updates and changes to this policy to keep everyone informed.

Error #2: Not Giving Employees the Opportunity to Use Comp Time

Some organizations accumulate comp time but fail to provide employees with reasonable opportunities to use it. This can result in them feeling trapped by their accrued time off, ultimately leading to burnout and decreased morale. Most employees prefer to be paid overtime instead of accruing comp time for this very reason.

Typically, comp time is not paid out at year end and continues to accrue, so not allowing them to use the comp time they’ve accrued is a good way to make employees feel like you are taking advantage of them. That said, some employees are happy to earn comp time if they have an upcoming need for time off, such as maternity or other leave. Others don’t mind comp time because it is taxed at a lower rate than overtime pay.

Solution: Encourage and Facilitate Comp Time Usage

Encourage employees to use their comp time by actively promoting work-life balance. Managers should be aware of their team members’ comp time balances and make an effort to ensure they have opportunities to use it. This might involve allowing employees to take half-days or extended weekends when their workload allows or offering comp time usage during slow periods.

Error #3: Not Paying Comp Time Properly

Improper payment of comp time is a hot-button issue for the Department of Labor (DOL) and can lead to serious legal trouble. Employers often run into comp time payment trouble because they mistakenly pay comp time like regular PTO. Since comp time is offered in lieu of overtime (1.5x), it must be offered at a 1:1.5 ratio.

Even for employers who understand the correct amount of comp time to offer, many still get it wrong because calculations sometimes get tricky. Without proper tracking and trustworthy, automated calculations, comp time can still be paid incorrectly, especially if employees earn varying levels of comp time (1.5x, 2x and so on).

And finally, if an employee leaves an organization, you may be required to pay out any earned comp at the time of termination.

Solution: Understand the Legal Requirements to Ensure Proper Payment

Ninety-nine times out of 100, comp time errors are due to misunderstandings of the law, not malice, but the DOL doesn’t consider intent when dealing out penalties. Comp time is subject to specific labor laws and regulations, which can vary by jurisdiction. While offering comp time is a common practice in the public sector, in most cases, it is illegal in the private sector, so be sure to consult with legal counsel or HR experts to understand the laws applicable to your location and industry. In some cases, you may be required to pay out accrued comp time in cash when an employee leaves the company. Ensuring compliance with these regulations is crucial to avoid legal liabilities.

Error 4: Not Using Software to Track Comp Time

One of the most common mistakes employers make when it comes to managing comp time is failing to use appropriate software for tracking. Relying on manual methods like spreadsheets or handwritten records can lead to inaccuracies and misunderstandings between employers and employees, making comp time a financial liability. Moreover, it can be incredibly time-consuming to manage comp time manually, especially in larger organizations.

Without software, a DOL or other regulatory agency audit will be a major headache and can leave you paying thousands or even millions in penalties. Comp time violations can cost your organization up to $10,000 per violation. The average cost of compliance penalties is $14,000,000.

Solution: Invest in Comp Time Tracking Software

To streamline comp time management, organizations need robust time tracking software. Tools like TCP’s TimeClock Plus software can help automate the process, ensuring accurate records, reducing errors, and providing transparency for both employees and employers. Our software automatically calculates comp time according to your company policies, helping you avoid costly human errors. Additionally, it can generate reports to help you analyze and manage comp time effectively. And bonus, TimeClock Plus integrates with all the major payroll and ERP/HCM providers, allowing seamless data transfer.


Properly managing comp time is essential for maintaining a healthy work environment and complying with labor laws. By having a well-documented policy, giving employees opportunities to use it, paying it properly and using software to track it, you can avoid common pitfalls and create a more transparent and employee-friendly comp time management system. Ultimately, this benefits both your organization and your workforce by fostering a happier and more productive workplace.