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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49 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Fedup2
    Aug 25, 2016 @ 14:31:00

    I have a coworker who arrives late to work daily 15-20 minutes.
    This employee also takes 1.5 -3 hr lunches daily. This employee continues to do this because he knows the manager will do nothing.
    Myself and two other employees reported this time theft to management and above. They have warned this guy but after 3 years it still occurs daily.
    The icing on the cake is this guy is by far the least productive in our department. Management has no accountability, none!!!


    • anitaclew
      Aug 25, 2016 @ 16:15:51

      Fedup, I understand your frustration that nothing is being done after you reported the time theft. Take comfort in the law of karma.


  2. Cappy Kay
    Aug 16, 2016 @ 17:30:23

    I would like to know what to do if the HR person is also my department supervisor? It appears (and I say it lightly) that she is aware of two employees
    (one being her own daughter who works in another dept) and another being a girl in our dept. (who are besties), coming in late, leaving early (and I use the term sneaking out lightly) and not adjusting the timecards to reflect the hours they are gone. (I collect the timecards but do not do anything but collect so of course I see the times they are saying they deserve pay for). Our company is 50 people. It really bothers me knowing I can’t go to HR because it is one in the same for me. So really, 3 people are in cahouts with one another and getting away with it. I also think they know I am aware of the shenanigans because I sit in the front and see everything out the windows. Do I ignore it? It feels wrong in my gut to do so, but I need my job. And no, I do not believe it will all come out in the wash later on. They are somewhat protected.


    • anitaclew
      Aug 17, 2016 @ 09:50:13

      Cappy, Who is your HR manager’s supervisor on the organization chart? Would you feel comfortable approaching him/her? You might say something like, “I want to bring a situation to your attention. I don’t know everyone’s employment agreements, so I’m not sure if discrepancies on time cards are an issue.” These employees may be salaried, so you want to present the circumstance in a non-accusatory way.


      • CappyKay
        Aug 17, 2016 @ 15:32:30

        My HR mngr. is also my supervisor in Customer Service. She has a dual role.
        So no, I am not comfortable approaching her. I believe she is aware of the situation and is allowing it to happen. The 2 employees I mentioned are non-exempt hourly employees. (1 is her daughter in a different dept, the other a
        c/s rep. in my dept.).
        So really, the problem centers around the HR person.
        Do I just ignore it, or do I consider going above her to her boss?
        It is very scary because I am afraid of getting fired for knowing and not saying something or getting fired for saying something.
        Is there a right thing to do in this situation?


        • anitaclew
          Aug 18, 2016 @ 08:25:30

          Cappy, I doubt you would get fired for knowing about the situation and not saying anything. In a criminal court of law, a person could possibly be considered an accessory, but in the everyday work world, unless you really aided and abetted the time thieves, you’re not likely to get fired along with them. If you do decide to go over your manager’s head, use the script I suggested.


  3. Ringo
    Aug 11, 2016 @ 12:42:49

    I’m a investigator for a large company and salary employees that work 18 to 25 hours a week is not right! Non-exempt employee bust their 8 hours with no problem and then you have salary people that take advantage of that right and leave every Friday at 10am or at noon or they put in vacation time and at the end of the payroll cycle they cancel their vacation but, don’t show up to work on those days! It sucks being the only investigator!!


    • anitaclew
      Aug 11, 2016 @ 15:28:57

      Ringo, Many salaried employees work more than 40 hours a week. But I understand your frustration with those who don’t.


  4. Lace
    Aug 08, 2016 @ 02:13:49

    When I get to work I have to clock myself in. I start work immediately and when I finish I am not allowed to clock myself out as my supervisor states she has to ‘work out how much time I worked’ and then she writes down a time I finish. When I go in the next day I see she has written down I finished at 11am when I didn’t, I finished at 2.30pm. Is this allowed in the work place because I’m being underpaid for the hours I work because of this. I work in a hotel as a housekeeper.


    • anitaclew
      Aug 08, 2016 @ 09:01:35

      Lace, That is a lot of unpaid hours. Does your hotel have a human resources person? I would voice your concerns with the HR department or your payroll department.


  5. Kandice Velez
    Jul 28, 2016 @ 11:34:24

    What if I clocked in at 825 and started working but my boss changed it to 8:30 who do I talk to about that


  6. delorese k harrington
    Apr 07, 2016 @ 15:58:43

    this is the biggest crock every invented to maintain the slave owner mentality of management in America. People are people. They have lives. You are paying for the employee the person not the time they are devoting strictly to your tasks. People are thinking feeling creatures with families and need for food, biological breaks, mental breaks from tasks, etc. You are not a slave plantation owner. You are not working with robots. Start treating your employees with dignity and respect and their productivity will go up. Penny pinching their minutes will make their productivity go down.


  7. Valenie Figueroa
    Apr 01, 2016 @ 15:17:56

    If im workingon a task past my shift is this consider stealing time????


    • anitaclew
      Apr 01, 2016 @ 15:42:17

      Valenie, It’s the opposite of stealing time! In fact, if your supervisor authorized it and you are a nonexempt employee, you may be entitled to overtime if this puts you above 40 hours in a work week. Check with your manager.


  8. Annoyed
    Mar 23, 2016 @ 07:28:48


    Corporations tend to steal wages from employees more than employees steal time from corporations.


    • Andrew Cheadle
      Mar 23, 2016 @ 11:31:33

      Two wrongs don’t make a right. It’s best to do what’s right than to steal in a feeble attempt to get what’s owed you or someone else. Choose the right and you won’t need to worry about getting caught.


  9. kim
    Jan 16, 2016 @ 17:29:41

    Obviously Anita is a advice columnist & doesn6t have a real job. As far as time theft goes,to expect people to work every minute as if their machines & to make it seem that every minute concievable is somehow “time theft ” ,because productivity is lost is ludicrous.It reminds me of the industrial revolution where people had to work 16 hrs days(no weekends),had no breaks ,as well as children being young as 12 had to work.Why not deal with fair wages,safety issues,harrassment etc rather than a slave master mentality


    • Gary Behling
      Jan 18, 2016 @ 07:11:08

      Kim, I understand your viewpoint and have heard it many times before but the expectation of the employer is that when you are being paid you should be available to them to do the work that you are being paid for. In this case the young lady was not available. She clocked in, parked her car and then went to the cafeteria to eat breakfast, all on the company’s time. That is “time theft”. If the company told you to work for the last thirty minutes of your day without getting paid would you do it? I hope not, that is improper also.

      Good luck to you.

      Obviously Anita is a advice columnist & doesn6t have a real job. As far as time theft goes,to expect people to work every minute as if their machines & to make it seem that every minute concievable is somehow “time theft ” ,because productivity is lost is ludicrous.It reminds me of the industrial revolution where people had to work 16 hrs days(no weekends),had no breaks ,as well as children being young as 12 had to work.Why not deal with fair wages,safety issues,harrassment etc rather than a slave master mentality


      • Tyler Jones
        May 18, 2016 @ 18:28:36

        Who gives a **** what you think? Both of those things area reasonable things to do, and honestly she should get paid for doing them.


  10. Gary Behling
    Oct 13, 2015 @ 11:43:21

    Time theft has been going on for years and it should be stopped but in many cases it is hard to catch unless supervisors/managers are watching for it. Other employees clocking in for someone else, sleeping on the job, extended breaks, etc are all considered time theft. In my previous positions this is the same as theft from the company especially if the employee is getting paid during this time or is receiving some type of benefit during this time such as H&W or Pension/401k payments. Theft is theft and should not be tolerated.


  11. 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.


    • FED UP
      Mar 30, 2016 @ 08:07:35



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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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