Time theft is a very common form of fraud in the workplace. It is both discrete and easy for employees to justify, but this doesn’t make it any less of a problem. What may seem to be a few minutes here and there can result in major losses for employers. According to a Software Advice study, 43% of hourly workers admit to exaggerating work time during shifts. Furthermore, in the book, Biting the Hand That Feeds You, Terrance Shulman cites evidence that time theft costs employers more than $400 billion per year in the U.S. alone! What constitutes time theft, and how can it be prevented in the ever-expanding remote workplace?
One form of time theft involves altering “clock-in” or “clock-out” times to create the appearance that an employee was working longer than they truly were. In some cases, employees have the ability to alter their own time records, while in others, they may need to rely on a coworker. The latter, called “buddy punching,” involves a coworker altering time records on behalf of a friend who is getting a late start or finishing the workday early. Employees may alter their time records to make more money or to avoid punishment for arriving late or leaving early for an unexcused reason.
Time theft can also occur in the middle of the workday through extended breaks, non-work-related conversations, and personal activities. While 100% efficiency and on task behavior may be unreasonable, chronically allowing lunch break conversations to bleed into worktime, making personal phone calls, or online shopping instead of working on the computer are clearly unacceptable practices. It is hard to argue that if you are being paid for working during a timeframe, you should be working during said timeframe!
With increased working from home comes decreased ability to monitor on-task behavior during the workday. For this reason, employers need to ensure that employees understand expectations and accurately track their time. Expectations for breaks, attendance, timeliness, personal activities, and time tracking should be explicitly discussed in video conferences and in online employee handbooks or documents. In addition, organizations should implement the use of time tracking software so that employees are held accountable for the time for which they are being paid. Finally, as with all types of fraud, the use of a whistleblowing hotline such as Red Flag Reporting can help uncover cases of time theft before they become out of hand. Time theft is a significant problem that often goes unnoticed. Thankfully there are relatively easy precautions to safeguard organizations.