time theft represented by a close-up photo of an analog watch

13 Sneaky Ways Employees Commit Time Theft

Featured image by Sonja Langford via Unsplash

In workforce management, time theft is an issue that requires vigilant monitoring. Understanding the various methods by which time theft can occur is critical for maintaining the integrity of company time resources. This analysis does not cast judgment but seeks to inform about the reality of this behavior.

Time Theft in Plain Sight: Long Breaks and Personal Errands

Employees sometimes extend their breaks or run personal errands on company time. It might start as an extra five minutes here or there but can quickly add up. For instance, an employee who extends a lunch break by 15 minutes every day effectively “steals” over an hour of paid time per week. Monitoring these breaks can be tricky without infringing on worker privacy or creating a feeling of distrust.

The Misuse of Work Resources as a Cause of Time Theft

Work resources like computers and internet access are sometimes used for non-work-related activities during office hours. Employees might spend time browsing social media, shopping online, or even completing tasks for a side job while clocked in. While it’s understood that everyone needs a mental break now and then, this behavior becomes problematic when it takes up a significant portion of the workday.


Time Clock Tampering

One of the more direct methods of time theft involves tampering with the 13-time clock. This could be as simple as logging in or out for a colleague who isn’t present or more complex manipulation of digital tracking systems. Therefore, it’s essential for employers to establish clear policies regarding time tracking and to audit their systems regularly to prevent such occurrences.

Time Theft by Working Slowly on Purpose

Some employees may intentionally work slowly to accrue extra hours. This is particularly difficult to detect because it requires supervisors to distinguish between genuine performance issues and deliberate time theft. Clear performance metrics and regular reviews can help mitigate this, thus ensuring that employees are working efficiently and within their designated hours.

Phantom Tasks and Exaggerated Workloads

Employees might also commit time theft by claiming to be working on tasks that don’t exist. Or they might exaggerate the time they need to complete real tasks. This type of deception requires a manager or supervisor to have a good understanding of the time it takes to complete specific tasks and to check in regularly on work progress.

Overestimating Work Hours

Some individuals might report more hours than they actually work, especially when they’re on a flexible or remote work schedule. This isn’t always done with ill intent. Instead, sometimes it’s a matter of poor time management or failing to keep accurate records of work hours. However, employers can address this by providing training on how to manage and record time effectively and by periodically comparing reported time against work output.

Time Theft Through Inadequate Supervision

In environments where supervision is lax, time theft can become more common. Employees may feel that they can get away with arriving late, leaving early, or taking longer-than-scheduled breaks. This doesn’t just mean having more managers or supervisors, but also ensuring they are trained to recognize and address time theft.

Technology Distractions

The ubiquitous presence of smartphones and tablets means personal distractions are always at our fingertips. An employee might think a quick text or a glance at a notification is harmless, but these moments can accumulate substantial lost time. Employers might need to set policies regarding the use of personal devices during work hours to minimize time theft due to these distractions.

Buddy Punching and Proxy Attendance

Buddy punching, where one employee clocks in for another, is a classic example of time theft. This can be combated with modern timekeeping systems that require a personal identifier to clock in, such as a fingerprint or a unique PIN code. However, employers must balance security measures with trust to avoid creating an oppressive atmosphere.

Scheduling Mismanagement

Sometimes, the issue of time theft arises from poorly managed schedules rather than deliberate actions by employees. Overlapping shifts, unclear task durations, and inconsistent workload distribution can lead to periods where employees are on the clock but not effectively engaged in work. Therefore, managers must craft schedules that align with actual business needs and ensure that every hour worked by an employee is an hour needed by the employer.

Unapproved Remote Work

As remote work becomes more common, so does the temptation to engage in time theft. Employees might log in as if they are working full hours while actually attending to personal matters. Establishing remote work policies that include regular check-ins and using project management tools can help maintain productivity and accountability.

Theft by Inefficient Time Reporting

In some cases, time theft is not so much about dishonesty as it is about inefficient or complicated time-reporting systems. Employees might round up their work hours out of convenience if the system makes accurate reporting difficult. Simplifying time reporting and training employees on the importance of precise time tracking can reduce this type of time theft.

Unmonitored Workspaces

Employees who work in unmonitored or isolated areas of the business might be more inclined to misuse their work time. This could range from spending time on personal phone calls to taking frequent unrecorded breaks. It’s important for employers to ensure consistent oversight across all work areas. This might include occasional check-ins or the use of monitoring software where appropriate.



Awareness and understanding of the various methods of time theft are necessary for creating more secure and fair work environments.