Time Theft: Is It Really a Crime?

A reader writes…

Hi, Anita:

One of my co-workers always shows up to work right at 8:00 a.m. and clocks in. After she makes her mark on the time card, she is out the door to park her car in the lot down the street and then to the cafeteria to get breakfast. By the time she actually starts working, it is at least 30 minutes past. Is it just me or is there something seriously wrong with this picture?

Dear, Time Sensitive:Time

What a great question! This applies to everyone from employees and supervisors to managers and business owners. Your belief that this practice is unethical is spot on. The official term for this type of behavior is “time theft.” Time theft happens when an employee is paid by their employer for work that has not actually been done. Many people may not even know they are doing something wrong but, in reality, they are costing their employers thousands of dollars a year.

There are a few types of time theft that everyone should be aware of. Your employees, co-workers, and even you may be guilty of time crimes.

  • Time Clock Theft: Employees who do not show up for their scheduled shift and have a friend clock in for them are committing time card fraud. This can also include our reader’s co-worker who comes in to work and clocks in but gets to work later than the start of hershift. Most of us are not being paid just to be in the building. We are paid to work and produce results. Forging time sheets to show additional hours worked is another way that unethical employees are trying to cheat the system.
  • Excessive Personal Time: Most managers and employers understand that their employees have lives outside of their jobs that may require attention during work hours from time to time. But when this becomes a routine, that is where the time theft concern arises. Non-work-related calls, emails, personal discussions, and social networking are the primary time wasters that are making employers pay the price.
  • Over-Extended Breaks: Employees are due a break or two during their shift according to federal labor laws. The most common instances of time theft occur when employees either take more breaks than allotted during their shift, do not clock out for breaks that they take, or extend the break time without making up the time.
  • Using Sick Time Inappropriately: Sick time is set aside to help employees in the event that they are ill and cannot be at work. Sometimes, employees will use these days to receive pay when they are taking a personal day off.

For a better understanding of how much these small actions can affect your productivity and profitability, take a look at the following chart from Acroprint. It shows how much arriving even five minutes late and leaving five minutes early can cost employers on a typical, full-time (250-day) work year.

Number of employees






Hourly Pay


Profit Loss






















As you can see, even a small bending of the time rules can cost employers thousands of dollars.

While I applaud you for doing the ethical thing and not committing time theft yourself, I do suggest that you keep your co-worker’s behavior to yourself. Eventually, your supervisor will catch on and the employee will have to face the consequences. It is best to only be concerned with your work ethic and your performance. These issues typically work themselves out in the end.

Readers, do you find time theft occurring in your workplace? What would you do if you noticed your co-workers bending or breaking the rules and committing time crimes?

Best wishes,


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26 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Amanda
    Jun 03, 2015 @ 12:13:44

    My boss has been doing this for some time, as in at least 6 years. More and more work is being placed on staff because she isn’t there to perform her duties. She is a salary employee but never works over time and never pass on her 40 hours. Major cuts have been made due to budget issues. It’s time that this is brought up, but I’m not sure how. I don’t want to have any back lash.


    • anitaclew
      Jun 03, 2015 @ 14:22:40

      Amanda, As a general rule, salaried employees are paid for their body of work rather than the actual number of hours put in. (Note that they don’t get overtime, either, save for for rare exceptions.) If your boss can get her tasks accomplished in 30 hours rather than 50, more power to her. However, it’s not the best management practice to sneak out early while your subordinates are racking up overtime. If you do bring up the subject to your boss, her superior, or your HR department, make it all about you. Outline the extra duties that you have had to take on over the past months, and document your overtime. You may want to point out that you’re a team player, but consistent, long-term overtime is an indication that there is too much work for one person to handle. Ask your supervisor to help you prioritize what is high priority and what tasks may be eliminated, passed off to someone else in the company, or outsourced, perhaps to a temporary agency.


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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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