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

2

5

10

25

50

Hourly Pay

Cost/Minute

Profit Loss

$8.00

$0.1333

$1,333

$3,333

$6,667

$16,667

$33,333

$12.00

$0.20

$2,000

$5,000

$10,000

$25,000

$50,000

$15.00

$0.25

$2,500

$6,250

$12,500

$31,250

$62,500

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,

Anita

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35 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. 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.

    Reply

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

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

    Reply

    • 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.

      Reply

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

    http://www.epi.org/blog/wage-theft-by-employers-is-costing-u-s-workers-billions-of-dollars-a-year/

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

    Reply

    • 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.

      Reply

  4. 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

    Reply

    • 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

      Reply

  5. 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.

    Reply

  6. 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.

    Reply

    • 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.

      Reply

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

      ANONYMOUS LETTER

      Reply

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Disclaimer

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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