Time theft is a common, costly workforce management problem that affects most employers, whether they know it or not.
Time theft occurs when employees get paid for time “on the job” that isn’t, in fact, spent working. While it’s hard to measure how pervasive it is—after all, when time thieves are successful, employers are none the wiser—human resources experts estimate that time theft costs employers billions of dollars in payroll losses every year.
No industry or company size is immune to time theft. Both hourly and salaried employees commit time theft, also known as time fraud.
While time theft is an age-old problem, in challenging business environments, it’s even more damaging to the bottom line. It’s up to employers to know it when they see it—and put safeguards in place to prevent it in their workplace.
Common Types of Workplace Time Theft
Time theft can be intentional or incidental. Some subtler forms of time theft include:
- Excessive socializing with co-workers
- Making long or frequent personal phone calls at work
- Taking unauthorized or lengthy breaks and lunches
- Using the web for personal activities such as shopping, playing games and browsing social media
- Napping on the job—a surprisingly common offense
To combat time theft, many employers rely on time and attendance solutions, especially when managing hourly paid workers. Ironically, this has created more intentional forms of time theft as workers find ways around the systems, such as:
- Misstating or rounding up clock-in and clock-out times when completing handwritten time sheets—the least-secure time-tracking method.
- “Buddy punching,” which is when coworkers clock in and/or out for each other, whether by completing another’s time sheets or running their swipe card through the company time clock.
- “Forgetting” to clock in or out, then misstating their time to their managers.
The Best Ways to Prevent Time Theft
Preventing time theft starts with a rigorous time and attendance policy—one that employers need to communicate clearly and frequently via the employee handbook, during onboarding and in conversations with managers. Managers should be trained on and ready to deploy disciplinary procedures when needed.
And while time theft is a big no-no, it’s also important to point out that improving employee engagement might go a long way toward building a better workplace culture where workers might be less inclined to “take their time.”
When it comes to deterring time theft, nothing outperforms a digital time and attendance system. While a number of options are available, according to HR and technology experts, those that rely on biometric time clocks are the most foolproof solutions.
Biometric verification works by measuring elements of a worker’s unique physical characteristics—say, a face or fingerprint, which unlike swipe cards and signatures, can’t be shared or forged. In fact, facial recognition technology is so effective, employers can even find it on advanced mobile time-tracking apps.