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Employee time theft is on the rise—find out how people are stealing time.

Time theft occurs when an employee is paid for work they have not actually done, or for time they were not actually at work. And with today’s growing mobile workforce and easy access to internet, time theft is an even bigger issue for employers today. So big, that it is costing billions of dollars in lost productivity annually.

But time theft it is not confined to any one type of person, title or industry. Time thieves are everywhere and can get creative in how they avoid work—and with today’s mobile workforce landscape—it is certainly on the rise.

Here are the top 7 ways that employees commit time theft:

1. Beat the (Time) Clock

It’s not uncommon for employees to fudge their time or round down their minutes when completing paper time sheets. In fact, it probably happens more often than not. Some employees even find ways around electronic timekeeping systems—like waiting to punch out until the next quarter hour.

2. Buddy Punching

Buddy punching is a big problem for many employers. It’s where one friend punches in for another—even those with time clocks. It’s often as easy as one employee giving his swipe card to a pal so she can punch in on his behalf.

The problem is even worse for employers that track time via paper timesheets, as it’s almost too easy for one employee to sign in for a friend.

Buddy punching can be prevented, however—thanks to the advancement of biometrics. There are many time clocks on the market that can read individual faces, fingerprints and hand prints.


3. Long Lunches and Extended Breaks

Extending authorized meal times and breaks is another common form of time theft. A 30 minutes lunch can easily turn into a 45 minute lunch, especially when employees are not required to clock out for their lunch breaks.

Particularly costly are smoke breaks. According to a recent study by Ohio State University, each smoker costs employers an average of $5,816 more than non-smokers, largely due to breaks and lost productivity.[i]

4. “Goofing Off”

Employees face a wide variety of temptations throughout the workday, which can amount to lost work time. This includes:

  • Too much socializing/chatting
  • Excessive personal phone calls
  • Unauthorized or extended breaks
  • Napping on the job (29% of workers report falling asleep while at work, according to a National Sleep Foundation survey[ii])

5. Beware of the Internet

The Internet creates unique challenges for employers, especially with the advent of smartphones and tablet. Too many employees spend too much time:

  • Checking personal email
  • Online shopping
  • Playing games online
  • Operating another business on company time
  • Using social media

Social media is a big culprit for time theft. Productivity drops by 1.5% when staff can access Facebook at work, according to a study by Nucleus Research. 61% of surveyed employees use the site at work for 15 minutes per day.[iii]) But Facebook isn’t the only site out there. From LinkedIn to Twitter, Instagram to Pinterest…the list goes on. Social media is a major employee distractor and a popular form of time theft.

6. Swipe Card Shenanigans

Time clock swipe cards are supposed to be a time-tracking tool. Ironically, some employees use their swipe cards as a tool for not being tracked.

If you’re using time clocks with swipe cards, your managers probably hear plenty of excuses like this:

“I forgot my swipe card.”

“I lost my swipe card.”

“I didn't commit time theft, the time clock just wouldn’t take my swipe card.”

“So-and-so lost their time card, so I loaned them mine.”

7. Hide and Seek

When employees are on the move—drivers, landscapers, home health aides, for example—it’s especially difficult to know if they’re really where they’re supposed to be. They could stop at Starbucks for a few minutes, go home to let the dog out or not even show up to work at all all. If you don’t have checks and balances in place, it’s easy for workers to disappear off the radar. Often, employers don’t find out until a customer complains, or it becomes painfully clear that the work isn’t getting done.

Luckily for you, there are ways to prevent workforce time theft.

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[iii] (from

How EPAY Can Help Prevent Workforce Time Theft

At EPAY, thwarting time theft is all in a day’s work. As the leading provider of time and attendance systems for employers with distributed workforces—the ones that are the toughest to track and particularly vulnerable to time theft.  We offer a range of data collection options, such as employee time tracking software, which allow employers to track and manage employees in virtually every work environment while routing out time theft in its many devious forms. Staying on top of time theft helps reduce your labor budget. Learn more time theft mitigation with our human capital management software.

13 responses to “Time Theft: Top 7 Ways Employees Steal Time”

  1. W. Mortensen says:

    Falling asleep on the job: Seems to me that this is an employer-caused problem. I’ve never fallen asleep on the job but have lost valuable personal time off the job due to longer sleep time. This cuts into personal activities which are far more important to the employee. It may be family time, off-the-books income (this is a big one), or an overuse of overtime.

  2. […] employee may punch them in. This means you end up paying the employee for 30 minutes they are not working. It constitutes time theft and it is a major problem in businesses around the United States. If […]

  3. […] While overpaying for a few minutes here and there may not seem like much, the fact is that these minutes can add up significantly over time; especially for companies that have a number of employees. In fact, it’s estimated that time theft costs billions of dollars in lost productivity annually. […]

  4. Keith G says:

    There are also instances where the concept is being used to wrongfully indict employees or even target certain ones for wrongful termination – rules are meant to cover the whole workplace not just Aa select few !

  5. Lisa says:

    If your employees are constantly sleeping on the job or scrolling through social media instead of working, then you probably aren’t a very good leader. Just saying.

  6. Nae nay says:

    Do you still get your last check after fired for stealing time

  7. […] fraud is an issue for many organizations –and costs billions of dollars in lost productivity each year. It’s also considered to be the number one source of accounting fraud and employee theft. For […]

  8. […] No business is above time card fraud, and many have employees who are actively participating in it. Whether it’s in the form of time card falsification –the most common method of time theft, or paying ghost employees –workers that don’t exist, time card fraud is a form of theft –and workers that engage in it are stealing from their employers. It’s estimated that time theft costs billions of dollars in lost productivity annually. […]

  9. Talib says:

    #2,#3, and #4 ate big problems in my company. Send me more information.

  10. JJ says:

    No one mentions employees clocking in, then leaving. This is currently a problem at my workplace. Managers come in to work to clock in, then leave to get their nails done, hair cut, go to gym, etc. They do this multiple times a week and stay gone most of the day, come back to clock out and leave. The regional manager is offsite majority of the time and completely trusts these people with the business. Their employees see it and know what’s going on, other people see it, but saying something will make things much worse. Nothing is confidential; you will be blasted throughout the entire company for tattling or ‘lying’, especially since the managers have worked for them 17+ years and they fully trust THEM, not you.
    Difficult situation.

    • Colleen Watson says:

      2 employees are stealing from the company I work for one employee is our HR. When one leaves she does not clock out. The other employee in HR puts her time in the next day. I’ve been seeing this go on. They don’t have a clue that I know. Should I tell my boss.?

  11. Jenny says:

    I’ve seen some employees at my job leave after everyone else does and leave their time card blank and a “buddy” goes in and clocks them out at random hrs 5am-8pm I’ve also seen them clock in and also leave “forgetting “ to clock out come in next day and say they got out hrs later than they left. And lastly I’ve seen everyone finishes the day except for a group of friends that stay to heat up lunch and have little friend party and socializing when work is completely finished..hrs later they finally leave. But no one does anything because one of them is “the big tough scary woman” And the managers are so blind to not add up the little work of the day to their outrageous amount of hrs….cameras don’t work and the boss and his wife never fire anyone.. I still haven’t “snitched” them out but I hope my bosses love their money more than that lady to finally put an end.

  12. Maggiemae says:

    I see everyday a coworker sits and does no work and plays on cell phone part of the night when there work to be done.No supervisor does anything about to me this is stealing time from the company.

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