Top 5 Forms of Time Theft in the Workplace

Updated October 6, 2023

It is more common than people may think, it is often subtle and goes unnoticed, and many times those guilty of it are not even aware they are doing it. What is this quiet culprit? Time theft.

Time theft is when an employee is accepting pay for work and time that they should be putting in, but are not. Time theft takes on many forms and is not always obvious – so much so that those who are committing time theft may not even realize they are doing so. In order to prevent time theft from happening in your workplace, recognize when it is happening and ensure that you don’t take part in it as well, you must first understand the various types of time theft that occur in businesses big and small. Below is a list of the five most common forms of time theft in the workplace.

1. Internet Time Theft

Internet time theft is one of the most common forms of time theft, and one of the subtlest as well. What is it? Internet time fraud is when an employee is using the Internet in excess for purposes that are not work related. This could include things such as consistently checking personal email, browsing topics not related to their work, and spending too much time on social networking sites (if it is not a necessary part of the job).

The problem with this form of time theft is that it often goes unnoticed as in today’s businesses, using the Internet is a large part of many jobs. As well, the people who are doing this are often unaware and are usually just getting carried away when doing something else online. With the rising popularity of smartphones in the workplace too, surfing the web has never become so easy and discreet.

2. Time Card Fraud

Time card fraud is a type of time theft that takes on a few different shapes. The most common of these are:

* Time rounding

* Lying about hours

* Buddy punching.

Time rounding is when an employee clocks-in late or clocks-out early from work, but rounds their time up or down to make it seem as if they were in on time and staying at work later. While the amounts may only be minutes in a day, over a longer period of time it can really add up, especially in pay.

Another form of time card fraud is when an employee lies about the amount of hours in a day. This is different than time rounding because rather than stealing a few minutes each day, this employee would be stealing hours at a time.

And finally, a common fraud using time cards is something called “buddy punching” or “buddy swiping”. This is when one employee clocks-in and out for another employee who is absent, so that they may still get paid for their shift despite not being at work. Unlike certain forms of time theft like Internet time theft, the people who commit forms of time card fraud are very aware of what they are doing.

3. Ghost Employees

Time theft in the form of a ‘ghost employee’ is a more serious form of time theft and can occur in more than one way. The first way is when an actual employee of a business comes to work to clock-in for the day, but then takes off for the day to do their own thing, only to return to work at the end of the day to clock-out. This way they are still getting paid for a full shift without actually staying at work.

The second, and much more severe type of ghost employee is when management creates fictitious employees for their company, puts them on payroll and signs them in every day only to take the fake employees’ paychecks and cash them for themselves. This is not only a severe form of time theft, but it is also considered a type of embezzlement.

4. Excessive Personal Time

Excessive personal time as a form of time theft can often be a tricky situation depending on who is committing it. Some employees may spend far too much time during their shift checking and sending personal emails, taking personal calls and stepping out of the office for a few too many moments every day. When this sort of behaviour happens in excessive amounts, it is safe to say that this employee is committing an act of time theft. However, if there are some employees who have young children, it may be necessary for them to make more personal calls and sick days than the average employee. If this is the case, it is best to take an understanding approach and evaluate the situation carefully.

5. Overextended Breaks

Employees who overextend their breaks on a consistent basis may be committing a form of time theft whether or not they realize it. Overextending a break could mean that the employee is leaving early for their break, coming back late from break, or leaving early and coming back late from their break time.

For this to happen once in a while shouldn’t be too big of a concern. However, if you notice that certain employees are doing this not only on a regular basis, but also with all of their break times in a single shift then there is reason to be concerned. This is when you should sit down with the employee and discuss the issue at hand, informing them of what they are doing in case they are not aware.

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