Businesses have a responsibility to provide fair pay, benefits, health and safety protection and other vital provisions for their workforce. However, it’s also important to remember the obligations employees have to the organizations they work for.
As an employer, you should expect your staff to put in the time and do the work they’re being paid for. This means you need to be aware of a common but problematic practice: buddy punching.
What is buddy punching?
Buddy punching is when a worker punches a colleague’s time card on their behalf, giving the impression that the individual ‘clocked in’ or out at a time when they were elsewhere. Essentially, it’s a way for employees to give the impression they arrived at work earlier than they actually did, or left later.
As a result, people are being paid for time when they haven't been working, in some cases, this could even include overtime.
The consequences of this for employers can be significant. As well as paying for time and work that isn’t being delivered, you’re getting an inaccurate picture of punctuality and attendance within your workforce, which can jeopardize productivity and make HR management much more difficult.
How to prevent buddy punching
According to research by the American Payroll Association, more than 75% of companies lose money because of buddy punching,
Essentially, it can be classed as a form of ‘time theft’, along with other practices like overcharging clients and timesheet ‘padding’. A whitepaper published by time tracking solutions provider Replicon noted that buddy punching can create costs equivalent to 7% of a firm’s gross payroll every year.
Given how big a problem it can be, what should your business be doing to stop it?
It’s important for everyone in your organization to be aware of the significance of buddy punching, and the impact it could be having on the business as a whole.
Some people might view it as a harmless practice that helps co-workers free up a bit of time to allow for other parts of their lives, such as taking children to and from school.
If you're able to give some facts and figures about buddy punching - like how it cost American firms $373 million in 2017 - and explain how serious an impact it can have, employees might change their opinions and be less willing to do it.
Implement a zero-tolerance policy
Zero-tolerance policies usually apply to severe forms of misconduct in the workplace, such as drug use, violence, sexual harassment, racial discrimination or theft.
While some might consider it extreme to take a zero-tolerance attitude to buddy punching, this might be what’s needed to stamp out the practice once and for all.
This will show employees how seriously the organization views the issue. As a result, people will have a much more negative view of colleagues asking them to do it if they know it could put their job at risk.
There are many technological tools that can help you prevent buddy punching.
One option is to use personalized codes, passwords or key cards that are unique to each individual in your workforce. Indeed, digital systems will already be a reality for many employers, with old-fashioned cards that are physically time-stamped set to become a thing of the past.
While passwords or key cards can provide an extra layer of reliability, there is still a risk of the system being abused by those who are willing to share their information. The next step to take is biometric verification, which checks people’s identities by scanning their fingerprint, hand or eye. This might require a bit more investment on the company's part, but it's an extremely reliable way of confirming that someone was in a particular place at a certain time.
Ask if there are deeper issues
As well as simply trying to prevent the practice of buddy punching, it’s worth asking why it’s happening within your organization, and if there are related factors that require your attention.
If you discover that certain individuals are regularly struggling to get to work on time and are asking colleagues to clock in for them, have a conversation about why this is and how you can help improve their punctuality.
Furthermore, it’s always worth reviewing your attendance policies and asking if there are deeper problems that are allowing employees to take advantage of the timekeeping system.