Tackling Unauthorized Time Recording in the Workplace         


According to 2023 data, the average wage in the US was just under $1,100 per week. Stolen time costs employers around $2,000 a year for each staff member consistently coming to work 15 minutes late.

Is time theft a crime? Yes, but it is notoriously difficult to prove. Employers are obligated to pay their employees earned wages. If not, they can be charged with wage theft. The law does not permit withholding wages over a time theft claim. If an employee accuses the company of withholding wages and the company responds with a time theft claim, it could be perceived as retaliatory.

It’s not impossible to sue an employee for time theft, but it’s usually costly and easier to move on. The best approach is preventing time theft. This article explains how.  

1. Establish a time theft policy

You need a written time theft policy before you set out to address the issue. It should detail how time theft is monitored, the different types of time theft, and the consequences of time theft.

Time tracking helps avoid time theft by making sure employees work their proper hours. Exact time data can solve cash flow, overtime, payroll, and understaffing issues. Tracking and scheduling software can help you implement breaks by setting up reminders.

You will receive notifications when employees clock in late, enter overtime, or leave work early. An overtime tracker can prevent overtime by correcting or rescheduling hours in advance.

Excel spreadsheets can help schedule employee hours and shifts, but they are usually a temporary solution. Ultimately, you’ll need to use scheduling software that not only generates schedules automatically but also offers productivity tools and manages projects by tracking time.

2. Recognize the type of time theft

Employees steal time in different ways. Types of time theft include time clock theft, buddy punching, socializing, surfing the internet, and working slowly on purpose. Time clock theft is when team members adjust their time sheets to reflect more hours than they have actually worked.

This occurs in one of two ways. If the company uses a time clock, employees might loiter waiting for the minutes to pass by. If the time clock rounds 9:05 down to 9:00 and 5:09 to 5:15, an employee might stand around to earn an additional 14 minutes.

Secondly, employees can round manually written timesheets. An employee who works from 9:05 to 4:55 will be paid for working from 9:00 to 5:00. If this happens every time, he gets paid for an extra 50 minutes a week and more than three hours a month.

Chatting and socializing

Employees who play games, chat with other employees or otherwise ignore work steal time. Some even have a nap at work.

Surfing the net

Phone notifications waste time, including at work. When an employee checks a message, they are pulled into other messages, and so on. People waste time on social media, online games, phone calls, and browsing e-commerce sites at work. Some even run a side gig on their phone. Employees at convenience stores and gas stations are particularly likely to do this because they are largely unsupervised.

Working slowly on purpose

Another way to steal time is by working slowly in the hope that they’ll get overtime pay to finish their work.

3. Enforce your policy

Poor policy enforcement will cause issues down the line. Your behavior as a manager will set the tone throughout the workplace. Your employees will consider long breaks part of the policy if you don’t point out they are a problem.  

If you try to punish an employee for stealing time, the unenforced policy will not be seen as the official one.

4. Conduct an investigation

The investigator and the person who became aware of the unauthorized time recording cannot be the same person. The investigator must collect evidence and question the employee in the presence of witnesses. Time theft is hard to prove, and the negative publicity could outweigh the potential settlement value.