No matter your business’ size, type, or industry, timekeeping is a critical factor in managing both productivity and costs. And unlike many products and procedures, it requires input from employees on all levels and in all departments, multiple times a day. Even when everyone is acting in good faith, there are inevitably errors that need to be corrected, from missed punches to double punches to incorrectly categorized time.
While these errors can be a hassle (since they need to be corrected manually), they are not nearly as insidious as the problems that arise when people deliberately falsify their time tracking. One of the most common issues is “buddy punching.”
What is buddy punching?
Buddy punching is when one employee clocks in or out for another, allowing their friend to remain on the clock (and thus, getting paid) without actually being present.
Though buddy punching is often used in small amounts to prevent friends from being reprimanded from tardiness, some employees have been discovered to use buddy punching to get paid for hours or even days of work they never completed. In total, buddy punching costs American employers $373 million annually.
How to put an end to buddy punching.
There are two groups of people who engage in buddy punching: those who don’t realize that it’s inappropriate (this is a larger group than you might imagine), and those who engage in buddy punching with the full understanding that it’s illegal.
To eliminate buddy punching in the workplace, you’ll need to make sure you’re addressing both groups.
1. Make sure your timekeeping practices are explicit.
You’ve obviously shown your new employees how to track their time using whatever system or program you have. Was part of that training an explanation of time theft and payroll fraud? For some people, the idea of saving their friend a walk down to the time clock and back doesn’t connect with their idea of a crime like fraud.
Make sure you’re being clear that clocking yourself (and only yourself) in and out isn’t optional, and that clocking someone else in or out (or asking a friend to do it for you) is a serious offense. It can help to explain that this goes both ways: if they would be horrified to know that management was falsifying their time, they should know that falsifying their own time is equally serious.
2. Ditch the old paper timecard.
While most organizations these days have moved on to digital time clocks, there are still plenty smaller employers that are still asking employees to track their time on paper. Unfortunately, this is the easiest kind of system to fake.
If you have absolutely no other option but paper timekeeping, at least make sure that each individual employee has their own time card or sheet, and that the time clock is located under someone’s watchful eye, whether it’s a manager, an administrative or HR employee, or someone in security. Make sure that the time clock’s guardian is aware of what to look for when it comes to buddy punching. Installing a prominent security camera aimed at the time clock is always a good idea as well.
3. If using standard digital punches, make passwords sensitive.
With digital time clocks, you typically need a unique ID number or username and sometimes a PIN or password in order to clock in or out. Of course, this doesn’t stop employees from sharing their code with others.
One way to combat this is by making the login data something that employees might not want to share with others. If the ID number is the same as their social security number, most employees will want to keep that information private. Similarly, if the username and password to use the time clock is the same username and password for accessing tax documents and payroll information, this immediately decreases the chances that these will be shared between coworkers.
4. Biometric scans can be effective.
Face, fingerprint, hand, or iris scans are all options for linking time clocks to a single person, and they’re becoming more popular over time. While these can be effective, they usually require special software in addition to the equipment itself.
Depending on how many employees and locations you have, you may be looking at more money to purchase and maintain the system than you are losing in time theft each year. A thorough analysis of your specific needs is smart before investing in biometric technology.
Buddy punching is just one of the many wrinkles that reality throws into our ideal systems.
Is your timekeeping system serving your business well, or is it doing a better job serving an imaginary company where everything runs perfectly as a matter of course?
To get a better idea of where your system stands, download your free copy of the Timekeeping Compliance Checklist. It will help you run a quick quality check on your current timekeeping practices to ensure that yours are legal, accurate, and effective.
If you're a small business owner or HR Manager trying to wrap your head around the complex world of time and attendance, check out our comprehensive resource page, Time and Attendance - A Complete Guide. This page spells out literally everything you'd need to know about time and attendance, including timekeeping procedures, time clocks, employee scheduling, compliance considerations, emerging trends and a whole bunch more.