What Happens if You Steal Time at Work?

steal time at work

Today more than ever, business owners around the world are investing time and resources into optimizing and improving their business efficiency. After all, time is money – and an efficient business can produce more within shorter timeframes.

But recent statistics show that over 75% of businesses operating in the US are negatively affected by their employee’s time theft schemes – which account for the most common type of time fraud, embezzlement, and occupational abuse.

Sporadic episodes of time inflating and buddy punching might seem negligible at first. But stealing time at work can be considered a crime similar to other employee theft, such as stealing money or equipment, which means potential criminal charges. So, what happens if you steal time at work? Here is all you need to know about what stealing time means and what happens if you get caught stealing time at work.

Note: If you’re an employer looking to eliminate all forms of time theft from your company, we highly recommend you use attendance software to monitor employees. Buddy Punch is a time tracking software we designed to maximize employee productivity and cut down on time theft throughout the workday. Click here to learn more information about how you can use our tool to track employees.

What Happens if You Steal Time at Work?

Simply put, if you steal time at work, your employer could terminate your employment and ask for compensation for the loss of resources. Since time theft can be on a par with other types of employee crimes and occupational abuse, employees caught stealing time will be required to repay their employee for the financial damages caused, i.e.: they will have to return the payment received for the time they didn’t work.

That said, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that employees be fairly compensated for all hours worked. Refusal to pay an employee for the time they’ve worked is known as wage theft, the opposite of time theft. The difficulty begins when there’s a dispute over employee hours – how much time is accurate, how much time is stolen? It can become a huge legal hassle with law enforcement getting involved, and some employers might opt out of the fight entirely.

However, other more tech-savvy employers might instead turn towards introducing monitoring software into the work environment to help them identify and document all types of time theft.

While new regulations impacting full-time work might affect time theft in the future, today, there are no federal employment laws that outline what repercussions an employee caught stealing company time will face. Ultimately, in most cases, disciplinary procedures will depend on your employer’s policies and approach (usually outlined in the employee handbook).

What Does Stealing Time Mean?

Bottom line: employee time theft is defined as an employee being distracted, absent, or unproductive during the time they are paid for by their employee.

According to recent studies, nearly 45% of employees admit to clocking in or out a few minutes before or after their scheduled break time or shift start. Exaggerating the number of hours of work might seem an innocent practice at first, but new estimations show that this occupational abuse can cost companies over 7% of the yearly payroll. The smudging of time data makes it harder to calculate true labor costs, which in turn hampers a business’s ability to optimize and grow.

This kind of occupational abuse is far more common among hourly employees rather than salaried employees.

But what are ways employee steal time? And what are the actions that could be condemned by employers?

Ways in Which Employees Commit Time Theft

Time theft can happen in a variety of ways. For your company’s HR department to assess the scale of the issue it is essential to carry out an accurate investigation into the habits of employees. Here are just some of the ways in which employees steal time:

  • Inflating their timesheet by punching into time card apps several minutes before starting work or waiting after their shift has ended to punch out
  • Buddy punching – which occurs when employees clock in for a colleague or other worker on their behalf. This often happens if an employee is running late or is planning to be absent for the day.
  • Taking extended breaks can be seen as time stealing if the employee claims to have worked the time in which they were actually on a break (including smoke breaks and unauthorized lunch breaks). Make sure to review the legislation and internal policies regarding breaks to understand what you are entitled to.
  • Using work time to work on personal tasks, such as spending time on the internet or on social media, can be considered time theft. Other personal activities that fall within this category include making personal calls, scheduling appointments, checking personal emails, or working for another employer.

Distractions – such as time on social media platforms and non-work-related conversations – can represent employee time theft.

Can You Get Fired for Time Theft?

If you are wondering whether you can get fired if you are caught stealing time at work, the answer is probably. Today, there are no state or federal laws that define what disciplinary actions employees stealing time should face for their transgression.

However, each company will have its own set of internal rules and clear policies that can tell you a lot about what to expect from getting caught stealing time at while at job sites. Check with your human resources department if you’re unclear.

Thanks to today’s easy time clock software for small businesses, employees have a real-time tool to register accurate work hours, prevent buddy punching, and eliminate time theft. However, it is still difficult for employers to prove that your reported hours are inaccurate. Nonetheless, in a substantive case, your employer might file a lawsuit against you and face attorney fees to prove the theft of company money and time.

We consider our own software, Buddy Punch, to be one of the best tools on the market when it comes to cutting down on time theft. But we’re not the only ones. On the popular review site Capterra, Buddy Punch has a rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars, based on 789 reviews (as of this post’s writing). One of the best parts about Buddy Punch is that even though it works on Desktops and Smartphones, it’s easy to use for even non-tech-savvy employees. This means it’s unlikely to negatively impact employee morale.

What Happens if You Get Caught Stealing Time at Work?

If you get caught stealing time at work, you might face a range of disciplinary procedures and negative consequences – from pay restitution to demotion. Here are some of the most common actions most employers will take against employees stealing time.

  • Reduced pay or salary docked by the time you are caught spending on something else rather than work
  • Increased labor management and oversight
  • Demotion or pay decrease

If your time theft scheme has caused substantial damages or has been going on for several weeks, your employer might also decide to put you on probation or suspend you. In the worst-case scenario, you might see your employment terminated. Depending on how this is handled, it’s possible that you might want to seek out a defense attorney for legal advice.

How To Avoid Accidentally Stealing Time At Work

While most of the time theft schemes are intentional, employees might run into trouble because of some mistakes. If you are looking to avoid time theft incidents, you should consider:

  • Speaking to your employer about the issue – employers know that their employees are the company’s most important aspect. If they notice a drop in productivity and low morale, they might introduce solutions such as better work-life balance, increased pay, and development opportunities. Don’t forget that, in most cases, happy employees equal less absenteeism and time theft episodes!
  • Review your company’s policies – be clear on what your company expects from you and what the potential repercussions of stealing time at work might be. These policies will also outline what the company considered time theft.
  • Ask for time clock software that fits the company’s needs – work from home is here to stay, and companies should adapt to this new way of working. If you or your colleagues are struggling to keep up with clocking in or out, consider asking your employer to introduce a solution suitable for remote employees, such as PC time clock software, or industry-specific apps like construction time-tracking apps.

Invest in a Customized Time Tracking App

Each company is unique, and so are the needs of its workforce. At Buddy Punch, we are committed to helping employees find balance at work through the right time tracking system. Get in touch today to find the best solution for yourself, your colleagues, and your company alike.  

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