TIME THEFT: Meaning, How to Spot It and How to Reduce It

Time Theft
Image Source: Time For Business

Even though we’re well into the modern era, many companies are still using outdated methods to gauge employee performance. Even though there are constant shifts in when, where, and how work is done, one constant is the clock. Employees and employers may argue over business time use, but if things get heated, workers may be accused of theft. If an employee is accused of time theft at work, they will almost certainly face disciplinary action, if not termination. There could possibly be laws guiding time theft if an employee is found guilty. Also, this is a controversial topic that is only getting more so as more and more companies watch their remote workers’ personal lives. So, in this article, we will discuss examples of time theft and how to fight it.

What Is Time Theft?

“Time theft” means paying an employee for the time they did not work but were still paid for. Theft of working time has always been an issue for companies, but with today’s increasingly mobile and internet-connected workforce, the problem has escalated. big enough to account for billions of dollars in annual lost productivity.

Employee theft can take various forms. Giving discounts to close family and friends without their consent is another example, as is stealing inventory or office supplies. Perhaps there is no comprehensive plan to track instances of time theft.

Employees commit “time theft” when they either fail to work within their scheduled hours or fail to show up for work. This covers everything from “shirking,” or failing to complete tasks, to outright fraud (like stealing from a time clock).

Most theft occurs either accidentally or because of low morale among workers. While employee time theft is more difficult to detect, establish, and prosecute, it is preventable.

What Are the Types of Time Theft?

There are a number of ways in which workers steal time from their employers. We’ll break down the various forms of time theft into the following categories:

#1`. Excessive Personal Time

An employee having to leave work to take a personal call or reply to a personal email is very normal. Urgencies arise. On the other hand, time theft occurs when this practice becomes routinely exploited.

Another familiar example of excessive break is when a person uses company time to conduct a side business. This could mean keeping a website or social media profile, connecting with customers, or even selling to former employees.

#2. Using the Internet

Having a complete toolkit at your fingertips can be both liberating and frustrating. If an employee is frequently checking their phone, they could be wasting time on the job. They may get distracted by other apps after they pull out their phone to check for fresh messages.

Employees may use their phones for social networking, messaging, calls, online gaming, shopping, and side businesses time theft

This is especially true in small businesses like gas stations and convenience stores, where employees frequently work alone or in remote locations.

#3. Buddy Punching

As a result, many companies face serious issues with “buddy punching.” It’s the place where people with time clocks have their friends punch in for them. Swipe card sharing allows one worker to clock in for another.

Paper timesheets make it too easy for one employee to sign in for another. But with biometric technology, we can stop “buddy punching” before it even starts. These days, you can find a wide variety of time clocks that use biometric data like a person’s face or fingerprints to determine when they started and stopped working.

#4. Extended Lunch Breaks

Most companies give their workers 30 minutes to an hour for lunch, but some employees may make a habit of taking much longer. In rare circumstances, it’s fair to run over break time, but doing so consistently might lead to productivity concerns. If an employee isn’t in the office when they should be, it could affect everything they work on.

Some workers do “buddy punching” with their coworkers to avoid getting in trouble. Taking even longer lunch breaks because of buddy punching constitutes intentional time theft.

Examine local laws regarding employee breaks to make sure you’re meeting or going beyond the minimum requirements. If you are giving workers enough time, you can address their use of extra time.

#5. Employees Rounding Time Up

Time and attendance software may round to the nearest minute or second in different ways. Time may be rounded in some systems to the closest 15 minutes (0.25 hours), whereas others may only round in three-minute intervals (0.05 hours).

If an employee thinks they won’t make their daily hour quota, they could intentionally delay leaving the office in order to clock out for good the next minute. The U.S. Department of Labor says that employers can round off employees’ clock-in and clock-out times as long as they make sense. Because of this, the skewed timesheet might be fixed if it can be shown that an employee is taking longer than necessary on purpose to make it look like they are more productive than they really are. These changes should be rounded to the nearest increment, and neither you nor the employee should get a better deal.

Can You Get Fired for Time Theft?

Yes, you can get fired for time theft as an employee; it’s called time theft termination. When an employee steals time from the company, the company’s behavior policies may come into play. Even though an employee’s behavior is not strictly unlawful, if it violates business policy, you may have grounds to terminate their employment.

Time Theft Laws

If you have reason to believe that someone is stealing time from your company, you can take legal action if you think the situation is serious enough. However, before you go ahead and accomplish that, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind.

Employers are bound by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) to pay employees for the hours they put down on their time sheets. This provision applies to both private and public companies. Even if you have reason to believe that someone stole your time without your permission or on purpose, you could be sued if you don’t pay for it. An employee can file a lawsuit to get back pay equal to twice the amount of earnings that were withheld, plus all legal costs and fees.

Time Theft Termination

Check the employment laws of your state to learn whether or not you have the power to terminate an employee for stealing time from the company. This situation needs to be handled with the utmost care, since an employee who is fired for stealing may not be able to get unemployment benefits if they were fired because of theft. As a direct consequence of this, the possibility of a legal challenge has increased.

When deciding whether or not to fire an employee for stealing time from the firm, the company’s conduct guidelines may become relevant. Though the employee’s actions violate business policy, you may have grounds for firing them for their improper use of company time, even if their acts did not legally violate any laws. This is true so long as the employee’s conduct was in violation of company policy.

An employee who is the subject of an investigation should already know everything about the investigation before being fired. When the time comes to terminate employment, you should have a confidential meeting to do so in which other members of the staff are present to act as witnesses. So that you don’t get accused of discrimination, targeting, or having a conflict of interest, you should talk to an attorney about how much information you need to share with the employee during this conversation.

Can You Get Fired for Time Theft?

The answer to the question of whether or not one can be fired for stealing work time is “probably.” Currently, neither federal nor state laws specify what kind of disciplinary action should be taken against employees for time theft

However, each company has its own set of internal laws and procedures that may give you a good idea of the ramifications of being involved in time theft

With the help of modern, easy-to-use time clock software for small businesses, time theft can be stopped and accurate timekeeping can be maintained. It is still difficult for employers to prove that your working hours are false. However, in a more serious scenario, your employer may launch a lawsuit against you and be forced to pay your legal bills in order to prove that you stole money and time from the business.

How Do You Prove Time Theft?

You have reason to believe that some of your workers are stealing time. You’ll have to do some investigating to prove your assumptions

It’s not always obvious when an employee is involved in time theft. One strategy is to train HR managers and supervisors to recognize the warning signs of time theft. They may be the most powerful deterrent you have against time theft in the workplace.

They are able to observe the actual act of buddy punching and recognize it. Keep an eye out for rampant increases in unapproved overtime. Pay attention to when workers clock in and out during breaks.

It may seem obvious, but the Fair Labor Standards Act mandates that workers only be compensated for actual time spent on the job. In addition, spread the word that time theft is not tolerated and that offender will face consequences.

Nonetheless, evidence of time theft might be difficult to come by for employers. Be careful as you try to enforce laws, and take your time as you look into employees who indulge in theft at work.

You could get sucked into an expensive wage-and-hour lawsuit for back pay if you refuse to pay for the hours worked because you believe they were erroneously reported. You may be guilty of retaliation if you respond to the lawsuit by claiming that the employee stole your time. Keep in mind that retaliation is possible; therefore, filing your claim in good faith with supporting evidence is essential.

Lax time-and-attendance regulations and simple timekeeping increase your risk of wage-and-hour and overtime litigation. Automated time tracking systems are becoming increasingly popular among business owners who want to keep tabs on their employees’ time spent on the job.

What Are the Four Modes of Theft? 

Taking someone else’s property without their permission is a serious crime known as theft or larceny. There are two types of theft charges that might result from an arrest: petty theft and grand theft. Under these two broad terms, there are four different types of theft: embezzlement, shoplifting, fraud, and robbery. Even though many of these crimes have things in common, they each have their own features and possible punishments. The four modes of theft are explained below.

  1. Embezzlement: The theft of assets (money or property) by a trusted individual is known as embezzlement. Most instances of this sort of crime occur in business and office environments.
  2. Shoplifting: Shoplifting refers to the theft of merchandise from a store. One of the most common property offenses in the Golden State, shoplifting carries a required punishment of $50 to $1,000 and/or up to six months in jail.
  3. Fraud: When someone commits fraud, they steal by using deception to get someone else to part with their money or possessions. Commonly known as a “white-collar crime,” fraud does not require physical force.
  4. Robbery: A robbery is a form of theft that involves the use of physical force, threats, or intimidation to take possession of another person’s property. As a result of the potential for further violence, the penalties for this offense are frequently more severe than those for simple theft.

How Do You Fight Time Theft?

It is possible to reduce employee time theft with the use of transparent policies, time-tracking software, and close supervision. Time theft has a direct impact on productivity and profitability. Here are some ways to fight time theft:

#1. Implement a Digital Timekeeping System

Time theft is most common when employees use paper timesheets and physical time clocks, as both may be explained away with various tales of misfortune.

A smartphone app can serve as a gentle nudge to get staff back to work after breaks. With time-clock software, employees can’t steal time or clock in too early.

The use of time and attendance systems like Workforce eliminates the possibility of buddy punching. When there is an issue with a time card, both employees and managers will receive automatic warnings and messages.

In addition, managers may keep tabs on their staff in real-time from anywhere with the use of a mobile tracker app, and the monitoring doesn’t stop when the employee clocks in. Also, read THE BEST ATTENDANCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS FOR YOUR WORKPLACE.

#2. Keep an Eye on the Employees Without Becoming Intrusive

Make sure everything is running smoothly with your employees. Inspect your team’s development without being too intrusive.

While at work, here is how you can keep tabs on your employees and fight time theft:

  • The ability to detect an employee who is attempting to steal time by observing his or her attendance and absence records.
  • Making sure everyone knows when they should arrive and leave for work by creating schedules for them
  • The ability to determine whether or not an employee’s actions during work hours are actually tasks.
  • Keeping an eye on the outstanding tasks, as this is an indicator of inefficiency.
  • Make sure that the hours worked recorded on time cards are the same as what you saw in the field

#3. Respect the Rules and Carry Out Punishments as Necessary

You should avoid being harsh with employees. It can be expensive, taxing on people’s emotions, and detrimental to company morale. Nonetheless, if you do find proof of time theft, you’ll need to have preventative measures in place.

Create and share your company’s manual, which should explain what will happen if someone steals time and how they will be punished. For example, you could set up a program in which an employee gets a verbal warning, then a written one, then a plan to improve their work, then they are suspended, and then they are fired.

#4. Establish Measures of Efficiency

Given that you know two individuals can get your store in order in eight hours, let’s pretend that’s what you’ve decided to do. There are grounds for concern if, at the end of the day, they haven’t wrapped up their work because they were chatting, so you should probably talk to them about how they spend their time. If, on the other hand, they finished the task ahead of schedule, the conversation could have made them feel better and led to more work.

If you don’t have a strong understanding of how productive an employee should be, you won’t be able to quantify the influence on productivity. Time theft can be costly to a business, so it’s important to take the time to determine how many shirts an employee can fold per hour, how many cups of coffee they can make per hour, and how quickly your receiving staff should be able to break down an order. This is the most effective method to fight time theft at work.


Having full visibility into how things are running is essential for effective staff management. Give your supervisors a way to track attendance and monitor productivity from any location and any device to cut down on time theft.

There are several options available to help you reduce or eradicate time theft in your workplace. Organizations can better detect time theft and take early preventative action against it if they understand the root causes of the problem.

Expenses due to time theft from the company need not be seen as inevitable.

Time Theft FAQs

Is time theft ethical?

Such conduct is unethical and detrimental to the company. Since workers are paid for work they didn’t do, stealing time is almost the same as stealing money. A corporation might not notice the effects on its bottom line if only a few employees steal time.

Is time theft a big deal?

Time theft is a major problem that can lead to disciplinary action from the organization. When at work, be careful of your time and never allow buddy punching to occur. This is time theft, with harsh implications if caught. Keep in mind that time is money, and time theft costs the organization money.

What Happens if You Get Caught Stealing Time at Work?

If you steal time at work, you will face paying restitution, demotion, or other disciplinary measures.

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