Most businesses have policies in place to prevent and penalize workplace theft by employees. However, most small and medium business owners are unable to safeguard against the more nebulous type of employee theft, which is time theft. In simple terms, time theft is when an employee gets paid for a period of time they did not work. As someone tasked with managing a workforce, you might find your employees engaging in the most common type of time theft, which goes by the name of buddy punching.
Budding punching happens when a co-worker punches in another employee’s timecard in their absence. Say you are already running late for work and won’t make it in time, so you send a text message to your co-worker asking them to clock you in. Alternatively, you may leave work early because you have some errands to take care of and ask your co-worker to clock you out at the end of your shift. This type of time theft involves a certain degree of solidarity between the employees, hence the name, buddy punching.
Some employees may not realize the harm they are doing by engaging in an activity that feels like “helping a buddy out”. This is why you have to set crystal clear policies and train your subordinates that this way of “helping a friend out” is actually an act of timesheet fraud. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to curb buddy punching entirely. As the old saying goes, rules are meant to be broken and technology can only partially deter any attempts at buddy punching. Though with multiple measures stacked upon each other, it is possible to reduce this type of timesheet fraud to a minimum and we will be discussing these measures later.
The legalities involved in buddy punching may vary depending on the state or country you are located in. However, in many cases, buddy punching does constitute fraud and is major grounds for employment termination. Most businesses should have policies that outline rules regarding time tracking. Put merely; buddy punching is a dishonest practice and in severe instances, it can be treated as an illegal act.
Time theft may seem ephemeral but it is actually very expensive. It is difficult to come up with an accurate dollar estimate but some research shows that the average worker steals about 4 hours each week, which, when summed up, equals almost six weeks annually and costs businesses upwards of 400 billion in the US alone. If you have a large workforce with many employees engaging in buddy punching, the implicated costs can quickly add up.
Before one can start to look for solutions to stop buddy punching, it is essential to first understand the main causes of it. Below are some of the most common scenarios.
Strict rules and inflexible managers can instill resentment in employees and make them feel indifferent towards the organization they are working for. This negative sentiment may act as justification for unfair behavior in relation to the company they are working for.
Employees may have a sense of solidarity towards their colleagues who are of equal status in the workplace. This, combined with indifference towards the employer provides a stimulus to buddy-punch. If the benefit of punching a buddy in outweighs any risks of getting caught and getting punished for it, many an employee will often take that risk for the sake of not being ostracized in the collective.
If an employee feels like they are being underpaid or if they feel like the employer owes them compensation for the extra work they’ve done, they may feel like punching a buddy in is no big deal. It’s not like I’m appreciated here so who cares, right?
Note that this should not be confused with actual mistreatment of your subordinates and such cases must be diagnosed and treated accordingly. Oftentimes, however, unethical behavior may be a result of a sense of actual entitlement in your employees which has little to do with how you actually treat them.
While most companies nowadays will have policies relating to clocking in and out, many of these policies may not specifically address buddy punching. In many cases, employees may not fully understand the severity of buddy punching and its consequences simply because rules governing time theft are not clear enough.
A disgruntled employee may intentionally commit or take part in time theft as a way to get back at your organization for some real or alleged mistreatment. The more compulsive their leanings, the more they are willing to use deception and manipulation in worming their way into your bottom line.
Again, it is important to diagnose what exactly can be causing your employees to feel resentful. If you do find issues within your organization that are causing your subordinates to act negligently, make sure to fix that first.
As mentioned previously, buddy punching may occur simply because employees do not understand the severity of this action. It is crucial, therefore, to have a sound attendance policy that keeps employees on the same page and will make them think twice about making an early clock-in or a late punch-out for a colleague. It is crucial to clearly explain the consequences and always ask them to sign an acknowledgment they have reviewed and understand the policy.
Timekeeping policies should have rules around how late or early a worker can clock in or out without approval from the manager and outline the disciplinary measures incurred due to buddy punching. Explain that any case of time theft will be met with zero-tolerance and if an instance of buddy punching does occur, follow through with disciplinary action without hesitation.
Policies are only useful if your subordinates follow the outlined and established policies. To make sure rules are upheld, you must be steadfast in introducing sanctions. When dealing with individuals who downplay buddy punching as “no big deal”, it is always important to be assertive and take immediate disciplinary action. It will take care of the short-term problem and set an excellent example for the long-term.
Modern technology provides managers with powerful tools to manage attendance and effectively prevent buddy punching. One of such technologies is GPS tracking and geofencing.
Geofencing relies on GPS, mobile data, and Wi-Fi to create an invisible perimeter around your business. Once the perimeter is set, employees can only clock in after their devices send out a signal indicating they are inside the perimeter. And just like GPS tracking, there are many different geofencing options available. Buddy punching is eliminated since employees are only clocked-in once they are inside the perimeter, and no one else can clock them in or out as they must be physically present within the premises.
A biometric time and attendance system makes use of unique physical modalities to track the time and attendance of employees. Since biometric attendance uses physical data that is unique, it is virtually impossible to spoof this method of clocking in and it can eliminate buddy punching completely. It is an almost foolproof way of keeping your employees from abusing your time management system.
However, biometric time clocks have their pros and cons. Biometrics may come at higher upfront costs and there are some legal nuances you should be aware of. Laws concerning the use of biometric time and attendance systems govern the way biometric data can be collected, stored, and then deleted. Consider consulting with legal counsel before implementing biometric attendance systems in your workplace.
Having a good company culture is an effective way to cultivate employee morale in the workplace. A satisfied and loyal employee who is well familiarized with policies ruling time theft will be less likely to clock a colleague in or engage in other fraudulent behavior for that matter. Here are a few ways you can facilitate a positive culture:
Buddy punching might feel like an immaterial issue, but the costs associated with this method of time theft are far from being intangible. If left unchecked, buddy punching can result in a brutal cycle of lost money and productivity. By regularly monitoring employee punches, implementing clear timekeeping policies, and providing an effective attendance experience, organizations can identify any potential time theft and address it early on to correct the behavior, saving your organization from losses incurred due to