What Happens if You Steal Time at Work?

steal time at work

Today more than ever, businesses around the world are investing time and resources in 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 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 stealing money or equipment. 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.

What Happens if You Steal Time at Work?

Simply, 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.

While new regulations impacting full-time work might affect this in the future, today, there are no federal rules 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.

What Does Stealing Time Mean?

Before diving into the consequences of time theft, let’s look at what employee time theft actually is. Stealing time at work means that an employee is 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 time. 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.

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

But how does stealing time take place? And what are the actions that could be condemned by employers? Learn more below.

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 in several minutes before starting work or waiting after their shift has ended to punch out
  • Buddy punching – or the intentional practice of asking a colleague or other worker to access the clock in and out apps to sign in on your 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 tasks 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 policies that can tell you a lot about what to expect from getting caught stealing time at work.

Thanks to today’s easy time clock software for small businesses, employees have an extra 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.

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
  • Dormition 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.

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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