There are upsides and downsides to any timekeeping system, but one of the hottest options in recent years are biometric systems. These can offer increased security and accuracy, but also come with a significant price tag. Is the investment worth it? The answer may depend on your needs and circumstances.
What are biometric timekeeping systems?
Biometric timekeeping systems use a unique physical identifier in order to ensure that the person clocking in or out is actually the same individual as the name indicates. Types of biometric scanning devices include:
- Face recognition. This is the same kind of technology that made waves when it was released as a smartphone feature. As many of the stories at that time pointed out, it can be fooled fairly easily (especially by close family members).
- Iris recognition. This involves taking a photo of the patterns in the iris, the colored ring on the front of the eye.
- Retina recognition. More involved than iris recognition, this requires close scanning and looks at the patterns of veins located in the back of the eye.
- Fingerprint recognition. Although some people’s fingerprints grow fainter over time, they remain unique to the individual. This is the most common type of biometric identification.
- Hand geometry recognition. Rather than looking at tiny patterns as with fingerprint recognition, hand geometry recognition looks at larger structures like the width of the hands and the length of the fingers.
While biometric recognition equipment is used for a variety of reasons (access to secure areas, forensic investigation, etc), biometric timekeeping uses this technology to track the times workers clock in and out with greater security and accuracy.
Why might a business invest in biometric timekeeping?
Time theft and other types of payroll fraud are the primary reasons for choosing biometric timekeeping. Businesses that have struggled with this issue may find that the initial investment is well worth it for the reduction in buddy punching that results. A PIN or badge system might be sufficient for your purposes.
If you’re looking to increase security overall and are considering biometric screenings for building or data access, then adding a timekeeping component might make good sense. Biometric scans also have the benefit of requiring no other input besides the employees themselves; nobody can ever give the excuse that they forgot their fingerprints or left their iris in their other wallet.
About the Fingerprint System
A fingerprint template maps key points on a finger, just like these numbers map places in California. It’s impossible to recreate a map of California just from these numbers but given the map of all 50 states, an intelligent computer program can uniquely detect these numbered dots as matching only California.
The fingerprint reader works exactly the same way to recognize and associate the print with an employee. The system does not store or record any fingerprint images. The only thing stored is a numerical series of key points taken from the finger. These are called “minutiae”. Fingerprint “minutiae” are landmarks - encoded as a series of numbers - that can be used to verify whether a fingerprint is the same. The original finger-print image cannot be recreated from minutiae.
What are the downsides to biometric timekeeping systems?
The first, obviously, is the expense. The smallest businesses should expect to pay $1,000-$1,500, while large corporations may spend five or six figures. Less secure methods are often a fraction of that cost. If time fraud hasn’t cost you much in the past, you may not make up the larger cost in payroll savings for years, if ever.
Personal data concerns are another possible issue. Biometric data can be used in identity theft and needs to be kept in extremely secure conditions. There have been class action lawsuits against employers who failed to take the necessary steps to keep this information secure.
Another issue is the reality of an increasingly wide distribution of the workforce. If your employees enjoy remote work or travel a great deal for their jobs, consistent biometric timekeeping might be an impossibility for a significant percentage of your workforce. The more decentralized your employees are, the less efficient a biometric system becomes.
Biometric timekeeping can be a fantastic tool in the right circumstances.
Knowing those circumstances (and whether they apply to you) is a key part of making decisions about timekeeping procedures in your business. Interested in more guidelines to help you along? Download the Timekeeping Compliance Checklist to get started.
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.