How to Curb Employee Time Theft and Buddy Punching — and Save Your Company Money

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It’s not fun to think about, but employee time theft and buddy punching are more common than we’d like to admit. We did the legwork to get to the bottom of these costly issues, and the results were shocking: US businesses lose billions annually. But, rest assured, there are ways to prevent these types of situations — or, at least, make them less common.

 

The time theft problem

First of all, what is time theft? Time theft happens when an employee is paid for minutes or hours they did not work by accidentally padding their timesheets or simply rounding their time at the beginning or end of a scheduled shift.

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Whatever the circumstances may be, this behavior inevitably leads to more expensive payroll costs. Our research found half of US employees admit to adding between 15 minutes and an hour to their timesheets!

It might not seem like a lot, but compounded over time, those little minutes really add up. To put this into perspective, an extra 15 minutes on half of America’s weekly timesheets could add up to $11 billion dollars in unworked hours.

And then, of course, there are the outrageous cases. In September 2017, a nurse in Florida was arrested for falsifying 35 timesheets over the course of three months, amounting to a total of $5,900 in wages she didn’t earn.

 

Buddy punching is extremely common

Buddy punching is so common, you’ve probably done it once or twice in your life. Buddy punching happens when one employee clocks in for another (their “buddy”) to ensure they have a certain number of hours on their time card or aren’t dinged for being late or absent from work.

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Employees who clock in using old-school punch clocks or paper timesheets have an especially easy time buddy punching. But even with high-tech systems, it’s too easy for employees to share their PINs and passwords.

A recent TSheets survey of 1,000 hourly employees found 16 percent of workers admit to punching in on behalf of a fellow employee. You’ve heard the stories before: One employee is running late but wants to appear punctual nonetheless. Or someone clocks in their friend so that employee can reach their required hours for that week or pay period.

For the most part, it’s ok to believe employees are well-intentioned, honest, and simply want to do their best work. But regardless of intention, at the end of the day, friends helping friends fudge timesheets is still time theft. And it’s against the law. So how can employers prevent those extra minutes from impacting their bottom line?

 

3 ways employers can ensure their teams are accurately tracking time:

  1. Include a time theft policy in your employee handbook. Let your employees know you have a no-tolerance policy against time theft and buddy punching. Have an open conversation, put it in writing, and help your employees understand time tracking best practices.
  2. Implement time tracking software with photo capture or biometrics. Say cheese! When your employees clock in and out, tools like the TSheets Time Clock Kiosk take their photo. Admins can then review those photos on the back-end before they approve timesheets for payroll. Plus, TSheets’ facial recognition feature notifies admins if any employee doesn’t look like whoever clocked in.
  3. Try location-aware technology. Employee tracking apps with location-aware technology allow your employees to clock in and out with their smartphones (something they’re not to give out to their coworkers). Plus, GPS technology helps you see where employees are when they clock in and out.

 

Your employees won’t likely try anything as fraudulent as stealing thousands of dollars from you in a few weeks, but time theft and buddy punching shouldn’t go unchecked. It’s important to have the systems and tools in place so employees feel empowered to make the right decisions when it comes to tracking their time.

 

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11 Comments

  1. Denice says:

    We found some employees clocking in on the mobile phone app and then turning off the app so the GPS tracking would not be able to track them during the shift. At the end of the shift they turn the phone back on and clock out. So we see a GPS reading on clock in and at clock out but no readings in between. The other TSheets trick is clocking in and then put the phone in the airplane mode so the GPS is disabled.

    When this was discovered the employees had several months of not performing construction work during night shifts.

    • mike says:

      @Denice, We just implemented T sheets and once the employees figured out that they were being tracked GPS while on the clock they would clock in and then turn the GPS off until it was time to clock out. Is there a remedy for this?

      • Myranda Mondry says:

        @mike, yes, employees can turn off GPS tracking by turning off their phones — and there’s nothing we can do about it. However, TSheets will still track location while the phone is in airplane mode. And if the admin requires location tracking to be turned on for employees to clock in (this can be found in company settings), turning off location services after clock in will automatically clock the employee out.

        In our experience, this problem can usually be solved just by talking to your employees about GPS tracking in the workplace.

        Many of them worry GPS tracking will use too much data or drain their batteries — but we’ve built TSheets to use minimal amounts of both! Show your employees how to check their data and battery usage by app (we’ve got a handy infographic for that! Find it here: https://cdn.tsheets.com/documents/GPSConcerns_infographic.pdf) and their concerns while likely be resolved.

        If they’re still unsure, we have a few articles to help you talk to your employees about the benefits of GPS tracking in the workplace:
        https://www.tsheets.com/resources/gps-battery-data-concerns
        https://www.tsheets.com/gps-survey

        We’ve found that the majority of employees who have used GPS tracking in the workplace had a positive experience with the technology! They just need to give it a try :)

        If you have any additional questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to our customer support team. They’ll be more than happy to help you find a solution for your employees.

  2. Greg says:

    “Time theft” is estimated to cost US employers around $373 million/yr. This pales in comparison to the $15 billion/yr estimate of wages stolen from workers by their employers and so I’m wondering what features TSheets is working on to combat the far greater problem of wage theft. As our company’s TSheets admin I am able to change the hours of any employee without getting their consent—this seems like one feature/bug that is almost certainly being used by some bad employers to steal from their workers. Perhaps this could be partially remedied by requiring employees to approve changes to their timecards. Could you let me know what TSheets is working on to prevent wage theft?

    • Myranda Mondry says:

      @Greg, thank you so much for your comment, you make an important point! And your timing couldn’t be better. We’re in the midst of a research project we hope will determine exactly how wage theft effects employees across the country and what we (and business owners everywhere) can do about it. After all, at TSheets, we <3 employees! We work hard to ensure employees are paid fairly for every second actually worked.

      For now, employees can always access their activity log in TSheets to see what, if any, changes are being made to their timesheets. Additionally, when employees clock in through the mobile app, TSheets will track and log their location. If and when it comes down to a case of “he said, she said,” the employee will have solid proof they were at work when they said they were.

      Obviously some employees will have more or less control over their TSheets account depending on the company settings put in place by the admin. But we really strive to strike that delicate balance between protecting employees and protecting the people they work for. I will pass on your great suggestion of allowing employees to approve timesheet changes to our dev team — if you have any additional ideas on how we might help solve the wage theft conundrum, please don’t hesitate to send them our way! You can submit ideas anytime at https://feedback.tsheets.com/forums/170512-product-ideas or contact our customer support team directly. We absolutely LOVE to get customer feedback!

      • David says:

        @Myranda Mondry, I would stop using TSheets if my employees had to aproove changes I made. I’m paying for TSheets not my employees. If they don’t trust me not to steal hours from them they can work somewhere else.

        • Myranda Mondry says:

          @David, above all else, we work to encourage employee accountability and mutual trust. It’s a delicate balance to be sure :) The great thing about TSheets is that you can always customize it to do exactly what you need and want it to do!

  3. mike says:

    some employees do not want to put the app on their phone because they are on limited data plans and say it uses too much data, can you tell me how much data the app actually uses?

    • Myranda Mondry says:

      @mike, great question! The exact amount of data the app uses varies based on the device being used, how often an employee uses the app, and whether or not they’re using wi-fi. That being said, our research shows that the TSheets app uses the same amount of data all day that the facebook app uses in minutes! (In other words, an extremely small amount). For more information about checking data usage (and talking to your employees about data usage), check out this handy infographic: https://cdn.tsheets.com/documents/GPSConcerns_infographic.pdf — and please don’t hesitate to reach out to our customer support team directly with any questions or concerns.

  4. […] 2017 survey found around half of US employees admit to adding between 15 and 60 minutes to their timesheets. […]

  5. […] Originally Published on TSheets by Quickbooks on January 15, 2018, by Kim Harris […]

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