Time Theft: Stop Employees From Stealing Time

Time Theft: Stop Employees From Stealing Time


Some Employees may be constantly 'stealing time.' Whether it be through constantly checking their cell phones, or neglecting important work due to distractions, employees take advantage of their company by consistently wasting time. Let's learn all we can do to stop employees from stealing time to help the companies stay productive and profitable.

Table of Contents:

What Is Time Theft?

Time theft is the misappropriation of company time or resources by not performing assigned duties or taking advantage of company time and resources. 

It is a broad term encompassing many different time theft scenarios, such as an employee working excessive overtime or taking advantage of company time and resources by using their cell phone for personal use.

Time theft is not limited to employees. It can also include partners, vendors, and any individuals who are integral to the company's day-to-day operations. Generally, for an employee to steal time, they must either be "under-scheduled" or "over-scheduled." For under-scheduling, the employee is given too much work for the time allotted. 

Their only option is to put in more overtime (or steal time) to finish their job. If over-scheduling occurs, it can be related to ineffective scheduling or ineffective delegation.

While workers may always be tempted to spend some personal time at work for various reasons (for example, checking personal email accounts, surfing the internet, etc.), they must learn to resist such temptations and focus on work-related activities.

Negative Impact Of Time Theft On An Organization

The financial consequences of time theft are significant; time theft costs companies an enormous amount of money. It is because it cuts into profits (due to wasted resources). To steal time is to steal the company's money—whether through overworking or poor work ethic. 

It represents a decline in both productivity and morale, with the first two being the most meaningful. The indirect losses that may result from time theft are often overlooked but can be even more significant. 

If an employee works overtime but does not complete their assigned tasks, the company essentially pays extra for not completing work. If an employee makes poor decisions due to distractions at work, there could be severe ramifications to the firm's reputation and overall brand image. 

For example, if an employee takes personal calls during work time, this represents a lost opportunity to have earned more income for the company. Companies spend lots of money to buy, equip, and pay for benefits for their employees. 

The amount they lose financially due to theft is much more significant than what they spend on them. The costs resulting from time theft also include the direct monetary loss. Other common forms of charge are

  • Overhead cost ("Lost Wages")
  • Lost Productivity
  • Increased Productivity Losses
  • Quality Losses
  • Reduced Productivity (Cost) Losses
  • Increased Workplace Conflict (Cost) Losses
  • Workplace Conflict (Cost) Losses (Productive Workforce)

Therefore, time theft has a significant negative impact on the organization. It is thus vitally important for management to understand the consequences of time theft and do all it can to curb it.

Types Of Time Theft

Several types of time theft occur in companies. Most times, stealers are aware that they are doing it. Below is a list of typical types of time theft:

Personal calls/texting/emailing at work: 

Employees are taking advantage of company time to spend their time on non-work-related activities. It includes personal phone calls, personal email checking, shopping online, surfing the internet, taking social media breaks, etc. 

It is a common form of time theft that can have serious consequences. According to a study, employees who send personal emails or texts during work hours waste an average of 3-5 working days each year. 

It is entirely up to the company's policies to allow or prohibit personal calls or emails during work hours. In addition, if there is a policy in place, management must enforce the policy consistently.

  • Taking extended lunch breaks
  • An employee taking a more extended lunch break than usual can be a sign of time theft. Employees may be taking advantage of the extra time to use for non-work-related activities. 

    If an employee takes longer breaks, it is essential to determine whether they are at work due to illness, personal reasons, etc., and make sure they make up the time with additional work. Particularly costly are smoking breaks, which can waste almost a full half-hour a day, every day. 

    According to a recent study, the U.S. leads the world in the percentage of workers who take extended lunch breaks, with 15 percent of all employees taking 20 minutes or more off every day. 

    Taking unauthorized sick leave 

    Taking unauthorized/fake sick leave is an act of time theft. It deprives the company of productive resources by reducing its ability to produce revenue and profit and costing the company money in lost wages and overheads costs. 

    It is therefore vital that management develop an in-depth understanding of what constitutes "real" sick leave. Furthermore, the company should be able to prove it to the employees in a written document. 

    It is not always easy, as it can be difficult for management to determine whether an employee's sick leave is genuine or not. Therefore, the company should have written policies for all types of sickness.

    Timecard fraud

    An employee fraudulently filling in their time card to avoid overtime by entering incorrect work time information can be a sign of time theft. It is the loss of money for the company and the time spent by management to investigate and address this issue. 

    The number of time card frauds in the U.S. is rising, with some employees even submitting fraudulent timecards for over 10 hours a week. Often, it takes the company at least a week to sort out this mess.

    Buddy punching 

    An employee punching in another person's time, whether they are there or not, could also be a sign of time theft. However, many employees who commit this mistake do not know that it is a severe and unacceptable practice and bluff to cover up for their actions. 

    It's often up to management to educate and train them about time theft. The problem is even worse when you have frequently absent staff and have no interest in the company or any responsibility. A recent study found that 1 in 3 employees are guilty of buddy punching at least once a year.

    What Can An Organization Do Once Time Theft Occur?

    As we know, time theft can be very costly to an organization; it may hurt the bottom line, whether it's through lost revenue or labor costs. An organization can take various steps to recover the damages incurred by time theft. 

    Here are the three steps you may take when time theft has occurred:

    Determine how much time the employee stole 

    The first step is to establish precisely how much time has been stolen by the employee. The organization can do it through several methods. Most commonly, an employee has to pay the fine by filling in a form that indicates the amount of time they have stolen.

    Fix the problem

    The second step is to fix the problem that caused the time theft in the first place. It may include introducing corporate codes of conduct that help people understand the importance of protecting valuable company assets. In addition, it is essential to train staff to follow the code of conduct and monitor their activities.

    Take action

    The third step is to take action (punishment) or adjust wages accordingly by deducting the appropriate amount from their paycheck and paying them the difference if they did work during that time. 

    It can be very tricky and open to interpretation, resulting in potential legal actions and expensive complications.

    Punishment For Time Theft

    Time theft is an administrative matter, which means it is not directly criminal but instead treated as an employee discipline issue. Depending on the severity of the offense and the history of time thefts by the employee, management has some options for dealing with time theft. 

  • Written warning 
  • Management may issue a written warning to the person, which communicates that future offenses will result in dismissal. Often, this is sufficient to deter the person from repeating the crime in the future. In addition, the warning should specify the amount of time the employee will have to make up for not working.

  • Suspension 
  • Management may suspend the employee for some time to help them learn a valuable lesson about time theft. In some cases, management reserves this option only for serious repeat offenders. Furthermore, the suspension period must be reasonable, giving the employee time to make up for any lost work time during the period.

  • Reduction in wages 
  • In other cases, management may reduce the wages of an employee found guilty by the disciplinary committee. It is a limited civil action in which any damage to the victim company's profits is not counted, and only the employee's wages are reduced. 

    In addition, this does not prevent them from continuing with their misconduct. In this case, it is essential to take specific steps to protect your business from any future possibility of further time theft.

  • Dismissal
  • For repeat offenders or in cases where management feels that the offense was particularly serious, dismissal from employment may be necessary. In this situation, the employee may be given a warning first. 

    It is a remnant from a time when companies had absolute power over employees. It also means that the company has to pay severance to the employee up to their entire notice period.

  • Charge Fine 
  • In many cases, a fine may be levied instead of dismissal. The amount levied depends on the seriousness of the offense. For relatively minor violations, charging a fine of less than a day's wages can be an option

    Thus, it is essential to implement strict policies to prevent time theft and monitor employees' activities. Furthermore, the company should prove that the employee has committed time theft with written documentation or timesheets submitted during investigations.

    How To Prevent Employee Time Theft?

    Organizations may take steps that can be helpful to improve employee work time management and help prevent employee time theft. Employers need to implement these strategies and measures as soon as possible to save a lot of money and headaches for an organization.

    Here are some tips to help you prevent employee time theft so that your employees are more productive and timely:

  • Set a good example
  • Many employees mimic their employers' behavior. Therefore, it is essential to set an excellent example to demonstrate how much time and money they waste by stealing time. 

    You may do so by always being on time and getting your work done in the fastest possible way without sacrificing quality. In addition, management should try to be flexible with employee work schedules.

  • Educate employees about the importance of not stealing time 
  • Management can educate their staff about the importance of not wasting time through company policies and strategies. For instance, companies with modern technology often implement intelligent mobile applications to help monitor employees' activities and locations. 

    It helps prevent employee time theft by allowing an organization to track their employees' use of mobile phones and computer devices for efficiency reasons, rather than keeping it secret, as most people tend to do.

  • Improve employee productivity 
  • Employers should give the employees incentives to work efficiently by increasing their wages or providing other benefits. Often, this will help them work more efficiently and improve their productivity. Additionally, employers need to understand that employees need to feel part of the company to gain their trust and put aside fears about losing their job. 

    Thus, it is essential to treat them well and offer them positive feedback and praise when working efficiently. Furthermore, employers should reward employees who take the initiative by providing additional benefits, such as higher wages or bonuses.

  • Take note of employees' activity
  • In some cases, an organization may even implement innovative time tracking software to monitor each employee's activities and share the information with the office manager and other staff in real-time so that employers can spot sudden changes in time. 

    It helps prevent employee time theft, as it allows the company to control employees' activities and decide when they should pay employees for their work during that period.

    Therefore, companies should try to avoid such situations by implementing various strategies and measures to prevent their employees from stealing time.


    Though Time theft is quite common, employers have the right to determine how their employees must use their time when working for them. Suppose an employee takes too long of a break during the workday or commits other possible illegal activities. 

    In that case, employers may take action by serving notice or implementing different disciplinary measures. Authority over employees is typically granted by an employer on the basis of his relationship with them, whether that relationship is expressed or implied. 

    Usually, an employer has the right to fire employees but may not have the right to force them to work overtime. However, a court can order an employer to pay money for unjustified overtime hours under certain circumstances. Thus, the employer must be careful to exercise control over their employees in order to avoid time theft.


    Can an organization take legal action for time theft?

    In the case of time theft, legal action is not a standard option available to businesses. It is because time theft is not a criminal activity. In addition, the costs involved in taking legal action against an employee can be prohibitively high.

    What's the difference between time fraud and time theft?

    Both time fraud and time theft are illegal. Though their definitions are different, both terms describe an employee who takes time away from work without permission, thereby preventing the employer from receiving all of the wages they are entitled to. Time fraud describes an act that occurs after an employee begins working for an employer (at least 40 hours per week) and allows the employee to work longer than 40 hours each week. When this happens, the employer will be due back pay for all hours worked.

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