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8 Examples of Time Theft (And What To Do About It)

When we think about theft, we often think of a person stealing something tangible, like a car, authentic jewelry, or money in the form of cash. To us, thievery is wrong, unethical, and completely unjust.

When we think about theft, we certainly don’t think of time theft, which is actually a form of theft some (maybe most) of us are guilty of. As wrong as thievery is, what if we are actually guilty of committing it ourselves?

There are laws to protect both employees and employers (like the fair labor standards act) from time theft, but unfortunately time theft is still rampant in many workplaces.

Time theft occurs when employees are not honest about how they report the time they worked, and their time records don’t match up with actual time spent on the job.

Time theft can take many forms; Employees may show up late to work, leave early, take long breaks, do personal work while on the clock, or even log time for hours they never worked.

It’s important to recognize time theft as a big issue in workplaces, as it not only affects employee morale but also costs employers time and money.

What is employee time theft?

Why is it bad and how might you be doing it? These are all really important questions to ask when the topic of time theft in the workplace surfaces.

Time theft occurs when an employee accepts pay for time that s/he did not put into their work.

When an employee collects a paycheck for a forty-hour workweek, but actually only truly worked thirty of those forty hours, said employee has committed time theft.

In short, if an employee is not completing the amount of work necessary during their shifts that they are being paid for, they are essentially stealing time from the company.

89% of employees say they waste at least 30 minutes everyday at work. This adds up to 2.5 hours per week. And this is just at a minimum. That means the average employee is spending work hours doing personal tasks – and wasting a large amount of time doing so.

You might notice employee theft looking like staff members taking longer breaks or business owners stepping away from a job site during the day. These are examples of time fraud and employee theft.

It might not seem like a big deal, but the theft of time can really put a strain on the work environment.

8 Examples of Time Theft (And What To Do About It)

Based on company policies, these are typically considered time theft:

1. Altering your time in/out without reporting it.

Do you tend to arrive ten minutes late to work and leave ten minutes early every day? If you’re contracted to work specified hours, you need to stick to the hours you and your employer agreed to.

It doesn’t matter if you are an hourly employee or a salary employee. Twenty minutes per day equates to almost two hours per week and nearly seven hours per month of time that you’re “stealing” from the company. This is time that you’re being paid for that you did not actually work.

Be mindful of when you arrive late and/or leave early. Make sure you’re compensating for missed time by using benefit time (e.g. sick time, vacation time, personal time, etc.) or make up for it by working late.

2. Long lunches and extended breaks.

It’s easy to get away with long breaks during the day, especially if you eat lunch with your work BFF, and you want to vent about your work day. However, these extra long lunches and extended breaks can really catch up with you.

People will notice if you’re gone longer than your authorized thirty minute or sixty minute lunch break. They will be aware that you’re going for long walks, extended smoke breaks, or extra long bathroom trips that you haven’t been authorized to take.

Be sure you’re sticking to your guaranteed break time so that you do not abuse the company policy. It’s unfair to steal time from the company because you want to take an extra long lunch without permission.

3. Internet surfing.

While the Internet is at many times an amazing resource, it can also be an amazing waste of time.

If you find yourself scrolling through your social media platforms, watching cat videos, messaging your cyber friends, and/or taking Buzzfeed quizzes, online shopping, or other personal activities, chances are high that you’re not spending your work time wisely.

If you are really that bored at work, it might be time for you to ask for more responsibility from your boss, or find a new job if your current career is not stimulating or challenging you mentally. 

When you catch yourself Internet surfing while you’re on the clock, stop. You shouldn’t be paid to watch cat videos, no matter how funny or adorable they are.

4. Unauthorized socializing. 

The temptation to goof off with coworkers may seem all too great sometimes, but it really is a form of time theft when you socialize during your work day.

A quick greeting or brief conversation about your colleague’s weekend is one thing, but it’s entirely inappropriate if forty-five minutes have passed by before you return to your desk.

Unauthorized socializing and goofing off are forms of time theft. You’re stealing time from the company by playing around when you should be working. If you really want to spend time with your colleagues, meet up for happy hour after five o’clock.

5. Misusing paid leave.

While no one can really prove if you misuse your company paid leave (unless you share a social media photo post of yourself partying after you called out of work for being “sick”), it still is a form of time theft.

Using paid sick time, vacation hours, or personal time improperly is abusing the paid leave your company offers.

Be mindful of why you’re taking leave time. Using paid time off for a mental health day is a great use of paid leave.

However, calling out sick to avoid a big meeting at work or because you went to a concert the night before and want to sleep in really is time theft. Watch out for these habits.

6. Excessive personal time.

A major culprit of time theft is when you take extended time for yourself in the workplace. If you find yourself making and accepting personal phone calls, texting, visiting with family or friends who surprise you at work, etc. then you are stealing time from the company.

Work is not the place where you book appointments, call your s/o, chitchat with your mom, or plan your dinner menu with your kids. Work is work.

You need to minimize personal time, unless there is a true emergency. Not only is excessive personal time a form of time theft; it’s also plain rude. Your coworkers sitting near you don’t want to hear your personal conversations. Keep the personal time minimal.

7. Rounding Time Up

Rounding up your time is another form of time theft.

Don’t be tempted to round up your time. If you’re supposed to be at work at 8 and you arrive at 8:09 and are meant to leave at 5 and clock out earlier, you’re committing time theft.

Be mindful of time when you’re clocking in and out. Don’t round up your time, as it’s stealing time from the company.

8. Buddy Punching

Finally, time theft can also occur when you allow another employee to clock you in or out.

This type of time theft is called “buddy punching.” Buddy punching is when someone uses another person’s time card or punch in code to log time for themselves.

Not only is it not fair to the other person to time theft time, but it is also illegal. Don’t engage in buddy punching or allow someone to clock you in and out if they are not supposed to be at work.

Time theft is a serious issue and can result in disciplinary action by the company. Be mindful of your time when at work, and never allow buddy punching to occur.

Doing so is time theft that can have serious consequences if caught.  

Remember, time is money and time theft costs the company money. Be honest and respectful of the time you spend at work.  Don’t become a time thief!

Employers Taking Action

If your workplace suffers from time theft, you shouldn’t be surprised if you employer takes action.

Employers must take steps to prevent time theft by providing proper training and supervision, installing time clocks, monitoring schedules, employee clocks, an attendance system or attendance software, using time clock software, mobile apps, and implementing disciplinary policies.

It’s also important for employees to understand time theft is wrong.

Recognizing time theft for what it is, a form of thievery, may help employees feel more accountable and take ownership in preventing time theft from happening in the workplace. If you are an employer or employee, make sure to do your part to avoid employee time theft.

Otherwise, you shouldn’t be surprised if disciplinary action is taken.

Time theft at work is an unethical act that results in losses to the business. Employees who are found guilty of time theft may face disciplinary action or even termination from their job if they are found guilty.

It’s important to be aware of time theft and take measures to prevent it from occurring. Being mindful of time at work is one of the best ways to avoid time theft and protect your job security.

Wihtout time theft laws in the united states, employers should have clear policies in place.

You should know what disciplinary measures will happen if you are caught time thefting.

Be aware of time theft and take steps to prevent it from happening in the workplace. Doing so will help you maintain a good work ethic, protect your job security, and keep your employer from taking action against time theft.

It’s important to remember that time theft is an unethical act that results

By understanding what time theft looks like, you can make sure that you aren’t stealing.

How To Stop Time Theft If You’re Stealing Time

If you find yourself stealing time at work, it’s important to take steps to change your behavior.

Start by recognizing time theft for what it is: a form of thievery that can have serious consequences. Then, make sure to be mindful of time when clocking in and out or taking breaks.

Finally, never allow buddy punching or time clock fraud. Speak up if you notice someone committing time theft, and make sure to follow your company’s policies on time reporting.

Time theft is wrong and can result in disciplinary action from the company, so make sure you are always honest when it comes to time accounting. With these steps, you can stop time theft and help protect your job security.

Employers should also take actions to prevent time theft, such as providing proper training and supervision, installing time clocks and attendance systems, monitoring employee time cards, using time clock software and mobile apps, and implementing disciplinary policies. By taking these steps, employers can reduce the risk of time theft and ensure a safe and secure workplace.

Time theft at work is an unethical act that can result in serious consequences, both for employers and employees. It’s important to understand time theft, recognize the signs of time theft, and take steps to prevent it from happening in the workplace. By following these tips, you can help protect your job security and ensure a safe and secure workplace.

By following these tips, both employers and employees can help prevent time theft from occurring in the workplace and keep their jobs secure. Time theft is a serious issue that should be addressed immediately, so make sure to take the necessary steps to ensure time theft does not happen in your workplace.

By understanding time theft and taking the appropriate measures, you can help protect your job security and ensure time is being used productively and ethically.

Time Theft Is a Serious Issue

Time theft in the workplace is serious. While it doesn’t seem as horrifying as robbing a bank or hijacking someone’s car, it’s a form of theft all the same. Getting paid for money you didn’t truly earn is stealing from your company.

Make sure that you are not performing these acts of time theft.

Some of these examples may not seem all too serious, but when you add them all up, you can actually see how you may have robbed hours of time from the company by goofing off, taking long lunch breaks, making personal calls, surfing the Internet, etc. all while getting paid. Take time theft seriously; it’s likely that your company does.

Are you guilty of committing time theft? If so, how? Do you work with people who commit time theft? Share your thoughts about this topic in the comments!

About the Author

Rachael Warren (Tulipano)

Rachael is a University of Southern Maine graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a minor in Sociology. She remotely works full-time as a Senior Content Marketing Specialist for Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. In her leisure time, Rachael enjoys traveling with her husband, finding the next Netflix series to binge, and taking too many photos of her dogs Jax and Kai. Rachael is obsessed with chapstick, favors the Oxford comma, and is a proud Mainer. You'll likely find her exploring New England + beyond.