Time Theft: The Employee Issue You Don’t Know You Are Having

The concept of “time theft” was a new term to me just a year ago.  However, just because I didn’t know the term previously it doesn’t mean it wasn’t an issue at my company. Time theft is the snake in the grass in any business. So what is time theft?  According to Time Well Scheduled, “Time theft at work occurs when an employee accepts pay from their employer for work that they have not actually done, or for time they have not actually put into their work. Since the employee is not actually doing the necessary amount of work during their shift it is considered a theft of time from the company.”

Time theft comes in many forms and many employees don’t even realize what they are doing is wrong.
-Timecard time theft: When one employee clocks another one in for work when they are not present. This is the most serious type of time theft in my opinion because in reality it’s actually fraud. Plus it involved multiple employees versus just one.
-Early clock ins: This most common form of timecard theft is when employees clock in before they are ready to work.  This is the scenario we all see in our businesses; an employee arrives at work, they clock in, they go put their lunch in the fridge, they make a cup of coffee, they have a conversation with a co worker, they send a few texts, and go to the bathroom.  You have just paid an employee 10-20 minutes for them to do absolutely no work. We recently hung a sign above our time clock explaining this form of time theft and warning against it.  I am starting to wonder if the people it is directed to have even noticed it though…
-Paid break overages: Similar to early clock ins, paid break overages occur when an employee’s ten minute paid break extends to 15 or 20 minutes.  Often you will see this time theft combined with early clock ins as they get back in work mode post break. At my company we had such an issue with paid break overages as well as smokers poking their head outside for a quick three minute smoke break every hour that we now require employees to clock out for their paid breaks. Our clock system is set to have the first ten minutes as paid and once they go over that ten it starts docking their time.  It has helped immensely with paid break overages and keeping people honest.
-Internet and phone time theft: Do you have a cell phone policy at your facility? You should or your employees will undoubtably take full advantage of your flexibility by phone time theft. I recently read a study that said when you are distracted constantly at work you are 28% less productive.  Your phone chimes, you have a text, you pick up your phone, open it, read the text, think of a response, send the response, set down your phone, try to remember what you were doing, finally get back into the groove and “ding”, another text and you start the cycle over.  You have just wasted about five minutes per text.  So why are you paying your employees to have a social life at work?
-Unapproved Overtime: Unapproved overtime time theft occurs when employees stay late or start early without prior approval.  At my company our business fluctuates between decently busy and extremely busy seasons.  When we are in our busy seasons I don’t bother watching overtime as I assume that after working an extra one or two hours for multiple days in a row, my employees want to go home and are therefore not going to milk the overtime. However, when it’s slow and I am already wondering what they have been doing all day, I am on super heightened monitoring of overtime hours.  Another way employees can steal overtime is by clocking in from breaks early.  We require employees to take an unpaid, 30-minute lunch break, as defined in our state’s labor laws.  We recently had an issue where an employee would clock in 10-15 minutes early from lunch each day and 10-15 minutes early. By the end of the week she had over an hour of overtime that was unapproved and unwarranted.  We changed our clock system to not allow early clock ins.

Wouldn’t it be great if employees were all honest and fair?  Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to monitor breaks and overtime?  Unfortunately it’s just not this way these days, at least in the production industry. Time theft is an issue that most of us never even thought about even though it’s something going on right under our noses.

Do you have a clearly defined policy on time theft?

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