Many trades rely on timesheets to prove the times and hours that work was done, and those same timesheets also form the basis of how the contractor generates the invoice for that work.

So it goes without saying that there ends up being plenty of payment disputes around timesheets. These documents can be better managed by each side if some obligations are in place and carried out by the contractor and the client.

Agreed Form: The first thing to get clear is that the timesheet is going to be the agreed form of establishing the quantum of hours worked. Often a dispute will arise when the contractor argues for timesheets while the client says a lump sum was agreed. This needs to be agreed, preferably in writing, up front so that the contractor is clear that documented timesheets are going to be the method of measure.

Sign-Offs: Too often, we see that timesheets are only signed off by the contractor and not the client. This happens for several reasons among them.

In some cases, the contractor only creates the timesheet well after the work was done. This is a no no. The timesheet must be the primary document; not one created out of other records.

Other times, the client refuses to sign them or else makes themselves unavailable to sign them. This is also unjust. If timesheets are the agreed method, then the client is obligated to sign them too and indeed to be around while the work is being done to be satisfied that the hours are correct.

There are also times when work is being done out of hours. In this case, you need an agreed authorisation method. I suggest sending a timesheet to the client the next day asking for approval. That is, don’t delay at all.

Meals and Breaks: Make sure that if some of the hours are meals, you keep them in or out depending on what was agreed. If it is agreed that meals and breaks are not paid for, then deduct them from the hours on the sheet – maybe in a separate column. Often, a client will impose back charges for all sorts of breaks because the contractor did not deal with them up front.

Time Types – Standard, Over, and Double: Agree up front on what you both consider to be the standard, double, and overtime hours. Often this is never agreed and the contractor simply applies higher rates for weekend or late work. While the client may accept that the rate will go up, the issue is ‘by how much’? So get a schedule of rates into your contract showing rates and durations.

Match to Invoice: There is nothing that will hurt your credibility in a claim more than having invoiced amounts that do not reconcile back to your timesheet. After all if you are relying on the timesheet as proof of work done, then your invoice must match those hours. If they don’t, then the believability of those timesheets will become an issue. Take special care when adding up the hours and always supply the timesheet with the invoice.

Different work, different rates: If you supply different skills and staff to the work hours, and you are charging different rates for those hours, then have the rates agreed up front. On the timesheet, indicate which names attract what rate. This avoids a lot of confusion at the end when your client will argue that he thought ‘Sam’ was on a lower rate than the one you have charged.

Get the timesheets back: Even in this age of apps, most timesheets are still paper-and-pen territory. If your staff members are keeping these documents themselves, get them to get it back to you immediately and preferably on the day of the work or next day. Often we have clients whose timesheets never got returned from staff who then lost them or staff who left the business. Now there is no proof of the hours worked at all. So get these back quickly.

The key is to get all of these rules working together. This will result in a timesheet that is pretty much a bulletproof piece of evidence of the hours of work you have provided to your client.