Time theft is a big problem for business. Employees shirking work by clocking in late or out early is the bane of employers and can lead to many thousands of pounds in lost revenue every year. And with employees sometimes helping each other in their fraudulent endeavours with buddy punching, spotting who is and isn’t working the hours they are paid for can be difficult. Left unchecked, buddy punching can become a serious problem. It costs businesses millions of pounds each year and can, in some cases, contribute to their failure.

In this article, we are going to discuss exactly what buddy punching is, why an employee might do it, and what employers can do to prevent it from happening.

What Is Buddy Punching?

Buddy punching is when one member of staff clocks in or out of a shift on behalf of another. This can happen in a variety of ways, including via a time clock, swipe card system, or a paper sign-in sheet. The ‘punch’ part in the name comes from the old-fashioned time clocks that employees would use to punch holes in a timecard to register when they began and finished work.

The act of staff clocking each other in and out of shifts isn’t new. The term ‘buddy punching’, however, has become increasingly common in recent years. This is mainly because employers have become wise to the act and have begun to realise that it is costing them considerable sums of money each year.

What Problems Can Arise from Buddy Punching?

Buddy punching can lead to a variety of problems for a business, including:

  • Loss of working hours and reduced productivity. If staff aren’t present when they should be, they cannot perform the work they should be doing.
  • Loss of revenue and overpaying staff. Buddy punching is fraud and by committing it, employees are stealing from their employer.
  • Inaccurate records of who is on site at any given time. If a fire breaks out, it is vital that a business knows exactly who is on site and who isn’t. Without this, emergency services may risk their lives looking for staff members who aren’t actually at work.

buddy punching and time theft an issue for businesses

What Are the Main Reasons for Buddy Punching?

It generally happens for one of the following reasons:

  • To cover for an employee being late to shift.
  • To cover for an employee leaving their shift early to complete a personal task.
  • To artificially extend working hours so the employee receives more pay.
  • To extend break periods and rest times to give the impression that an employee is working when they are not.

Why Do Employees Feel the Need to Buddy Punch?

It’s easy to put the blame for buddy punch on the shoulders of the offending employees. Sure, some unscrupulous workers may try their luck, but there is often more to the situations than staff trying to get one over on their employer. Often buddy punching is a symptom of a bigger problem, such as:

  • Unhappy staff.
  • Poor scheduling and rota planning.
  • Too stringent or ill-advised work policies.

Usually there’s no single cause for buddy punching and it tends to be a combination of some, or all, of the following:

Fear of getting into trouble

If staff members know they’ll be in trouble or lose pay as a result of being late to work, they are far more likely to ask a co-worker to clock them in if they are running late. Often buddy punching occurs when an employee fears being reprimanded.

Feeling disinterested in work

Sometimes, an employee will arrive late purely because they set off for work at the last possible moment. They may then ask a fellow employee to buddy punch for them to hide the fact that they are late. This lack of urgency can stem from a worker feelings of disinterest in their job.

Anger towards an employer

In rare cases, staff clocking in for one another can be a sign that employees simply don’t like their employer, their work, or their shift pattern. Often the act is done as an act of defiance and a show of displeasure towards their job.

How Can an Employer Prevent Buddy Punching?

While buddy punching may be difficult to spot, the good news is there are ways to prevent it. These include:

1. Use A Digital Method of Clocking In And Out

The easiest and most efficient way to stop buddy punching is to force staff to clock in and out digitally. Paper timesheets can be easily forged, punch cards used by anyone, and swipe cards passed between staff. Digital, web-based solutions make buddy punching all but impossible as logging in and out of a device requires far more effort and knowledge.

2. Make Buddy Punching an Explicit Disciplinary Matter in Your Employee Handbook

If you don’t already list buddy punching specifically in your employee handbook, then it should be. We also recommend making it part of your employee induction processes. It’s not always enough to tell your staff that buddy punching is ‘bad’. Everyone knows this already. Rather, your staff need to be aware of the possible repercussions of the act and the implications for the business as a whole.

3. Have Better Staff Rotas and Flexibility That Work for Your Staff

Preparing staff rotas and employee schedules can be tricky without trying to work around employees’ preferences. But neglecting the needs of staff is a sure-fire way to cause upset and scheduling issues. By inviting staff to share their availability and providing flexibility in scheduling, an employer can make life easier for staff. This can reduce the need and urge to buddy punch.

And Finally

When it gets out of hand, buddy punching can lead to serious problems for any business. Issues from overspending on staffing, to putting people’s lives at risk if a fire breaks out can be disastrous in any workplace.

We hope you have enjoyed our article. For more informative workplace information, check out the rest of our website.

Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams 🙂