Allevity Blog

Preventing Timecard Theft

Mar 21, 2018

No doubt about it, bosses and employers see work issues differently than their workers. What a boss sees as opportunity, workers see as a bigger workload. When employees aren’t recognized or rewarded for their efforts they simply take a reward they feel they deserve, are entitled to, or should have simply because they need it—like time. For instance:

Susan’s youngest daughter was sick at daycare and needed to be picked up 30 minutes early.

“Go ahead and leave; I’ll clock you out,” a co-worker said. She was just being sympathetic to Susan being a single mom. After all, what’s 30 or 45 minutes? Susan often worked through her break times and had at least an hour of earned time coming to her. Susan agreed and left work 45minutes early. It was no big deal. She’d only be clearing off her desk and getting her things together to leave for at least 15 minutes of that time. She wouldn’t really be “working” at all then. That extra 30 minutes? She would make it up later. It was a one-time extended break. Right? Wrong.

But that’s how employees see time. It’s a soft, quid pro quo thing, very flexible and give-and-take only they often err more on the take side. Employers see the same incident as timecard abuse and outright theft. After all, they’re the ones paying the bills. So when employees start falsifying their timecards, in the company’s eyes, it’s theft.

As soon as employees falsify their timecards once and get away with it, it turns into a semi-regular thing. The more they do it, they more they justify doing it. They start thinking, “Well, I cut my last break short yesterday, so I’ll just leave 10 minutes early today.” It’s up to the employer to set the boundaries and the consequences for violating the rules.

Time theft can become more than a payroll issue. If you’ve ever been sued by an employee over timecard issues, you’re all the more likely to lose subsequent lawsuits unless you can prove accurate time-keeping records are kept. If employees are allowed to “fudge” their time, that will be impossible.

There are a lot of reasons for having a zero tolerance policy for time theft. And there are even more reasons for understanding why employees think like they do. Getting them to see your side of things, while appreciating their needs, is critical to having a time-theft-free workplace.

Whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour, time theft is theft. It’s accepting pay for work that has not been performed. It’s falsifying a timecard. Any time a worker punches in or out for someone who is not there, it is theft. Even clocking in four minutes early and out four minutes late is time theft. Those eight minutes a day add up to 40 minutes of unauthorized overtime a week. If you don’t think that adds up when multiple employees habitually do it over time, check with your bookkeeper! Larger companies could hire additional employees for what timecard theft costs them in a year.

Things that signal time theft include over-extended breaks and excessive time spent socializing, making personal calls or running personal errands. Those five-minute smoke breaks can easily turn into 20-minute gabfests.


  • Have a zero tolerance policy for time theft and make sure employees know it.
  • Have a clear policy for breaks in place. Spell out how you expect employees to manage their work and break time. 
  • Give concrete examples of what time theft actually is. What you see as time theft, employees often see as job perks, flexibility or rewards for hard work, as in, “I stayed late last night to get my work done so heck, yeah, I’m taking an extra 30-minute break today.” Make it clear that when you pay employees overtime for a critical project, it doesn’t mean they can slow down the next day to “make up for it.”
  • Make it clear when employees can and can’t receive or make personal calls, run personal errands or talk to co-workers about non-work related items.  
  • Use time and labor management software for monitoring punch times of employees.
  • Configure rounding to reduce unauthorized overtime.
  • Use biometric time clocks which use fingerprint or iris scans, or employees’ smartphones to prevent timecard fraud and “buddy-punching.”
Finally, make sure employees have a set amount of personal time, vacation time or other time available regularly to ensure they’re not tempted to steal time from you.
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