Time Theft: What it Is and How to Stop It

Do you think an employee is stealing time from your company? There are many types of employee time theft. And, worker time fraud can be expensive for your business.

Let’s say you have an employee who steals 15 minutes of time per shift, and they work five times per week. The employee earns $10 per hour. Because of the employee’s time theft, you would pay out $12.50 per week for time the employee didn’t really work. That might not seem like much now, but those wages can add up.

Now, let’s say you have 10 identical employees who do that. You would lose $125 per week, totaling up to $6,500 per year. By preventing time theft, you can save your business money.

Luckily, there are ways you can prevent and spot time theft. Below, you’ll learn about the types of time theft, then you’ll learn what you can do about it.

What is time theft?

Time theft is when an employee receives pay for time they did not actually work. This is considered stealing company time.

Time theft is not specific to any position or industry. Many types of employees commit time theft.

Time theft primarily applies to hourly employees. There are more ways for hourly employees to commit time theft than there are for salary employees.

Types of time theft

There isn’t just one type of time theft. You should watch out for the following types of employee time fraud in your business.

Time clock theft

Employees might be able to fudge their time clocks or cards.

An employee might ask another employee to clock time in or clock them out. By doing this, an employee might be able to skip out on part of a shift, or even a whole shift.

For example, Patty is running late for work. She calls her co-worker Austin and asks him to clock her in at her assigned start time. Austin clocks her in, but Patty doesn’t arrive for another 30 minutes. This is time theft.

An employee might find another way to lie about how much time they worked. This is easy if you do your business’s time tracking on paper. Or, if employees type their time into a program, they can easily adjust their time.

It’s common for employees to round on their time card. Let’s say an employee leaves work at 4:48. The employee might round their end time to say 5:00.

Extended breaks

Employees might steal time by taking longer breaks than you permit in your employee break time policy. An employee might leave early for a break or come back to work late.

Let’s say you let employees take a 30-minute lunch. Jesse runs an errand during his lunch. He gets stuck in traffic and comes back 15 minutes late. Even though he took a 45-minute lunch, he marks his time card as if he took a 30-minute lunch.

Excessive personal time

Employees might steal company time by doing personal tasks at work. Personal tasks tend to become time theft when they become excessive.

An employee might make a lot of phone calls to deal with personal situations. For example, they might frequently be on the phone to handle bills, children and other family members, schools, babysitters, health care, or more.

Employees might also spend a lot of time sending emails or texts.

If an employee has a side hustle, they might run their own business on your business’s time. This might involve answering calls and sending emails. Or, depending on your workplace, an employee might meet with clients while on your clock.

Some employees might be more daring. They might steal time from you by napping at work. Even though the employee is at work when they should be, they are clearly not working.

Internet time theft

Employees might also steal time by using technology for non-work-related purposes.

Employees might browse the internet for their own leisure. They might do personal research. Or, they might do online shopping.

Some employees might use social media when they should be working. They might simply scroll through their social feeds, or they might also craft posts and interact with other users.

Employees also commit time fraud by playing games. These can be games on their phones, on the web, or downloaded onto a work computer.

Disappearing workers

Employees who travel to do their job can find sneakier ways to steal time. These are workers such as delivery drivers, home health aides, home cleaners, etc.

It can be difficult for you to track where your mobile employees are. They might pull over somewhere and sit in their vehicle. They might hang out at a coffee shop or restaurant. Or, they might go home until the end of their shift.

How to prevent time theft

Preventing employee time theft is possible. Use the following tips to prevent theft of time in the workplace.

Monitor employees

By keeping a close eye on employee comings and goings, you can better spot employees attempting time theft. You set their schedules, so you know when they should come to and leave work. You also know their job tasks, so you can tell if what they are doing is job related or not. If you aren’t at your business all the time or if employees work remotely, watch for tasks that aren’t getting done. This might be a sign that employees aren’t showing up or are focusing on other things.

Check employee time cards to make sure what they recorded is the same as what you observed. If there are discrepancies, you can make changes. You might also want to talk to the employee about the differences.

You shouldn’t act like Big Brother and pry into everything employees do. This will only cause employees to distrust you and dislike working for you. Be careful not to be too intrusive when monitoring employee time.

Use time and attendance software

When you use online time and attendance software, you can better track when employees are working. Employees can clock in and out, creating a time punch. And, employees have their own accounts with unique login information, which can limit co-workers’ ability to clock someone in or out.

Online time and attendance software is great if you have remote employees or employees who travel. For example, an employee with a company vehicle can commute to a job site, clock in, and then clock out before they return home.

Check out Patriot’s online time and attendance software for small business. It’s an add-on to our online payroll software, so you can send employee hours to payroll in a few clicks. Get your free trial of our payroll and time and attendance software!

This article has been updated from its original publication date of July 18, 2018.

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

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