Time Theft: Is it really a crime?

A reader writes…

Hi, Anita:

One of my co-workers always shows up to work right at 8:00 a.m. and clocks in. After she makes her mark on the time card, she is out the door to park her car in the lot down the street and then to the cafeteria to get breakfast. By the time she actually starts working, it is at least 30 minutes past. Is it just me or is there something seriously wrong with this picture?

Dear, Time Sensitive:Time

What a great question! This applies to everyone from employees and supervisors to managers and business owners. Your belief that this practice is unethical is spot on. The official term for this type of behavior is “time theft.” Time theft happens when an employee is paid by their employer for work that has not actually been done. Many people may not even know they are doing something wrong but, in reality, they are costing their employers thousands of dollars a year.

There are a few types of time theft that everyone should be aware of. Your employees, co-workers, and even you may be guilty of time crimes.

  • Time Clock Theft: Employees who do not show up for their scheduled shift and have a friend clock in for them are committing time card fraud. This can also include our reader’s co-worker who comes in to work and clocks in but gets to work later than the start of hershift. Most of us are not being paid just to be in the building. We are paid to work and produce results. Forging time sheets to show additional hours worked is another way that unethical employees are trying to cheat the system.
  • Excessive Personal Time: Most managers and employers understand that their employees have lives outside of their jobs that may require attention during work hours from time to time. But when this becomes a routine, that is where the time theft concern arises. Non-work-related calls, emails, personal discussions, and social networking are the primary time wasters that are making employers pay the price.
  • Over-Extended Breaks: Employees are due a break or two during their shift according to federal labor laws. The most common instances of time theft occur when employees either take more breaks than allotted during their shift, do not clock out for breaks that they take, or extend the break time without making up the time.
  • Using Sick Time Inappropriately: Sick time is set aside to help employees in the event that they are ill and cannot be at work. Sometimes, employees will use these days to receive pay when they are taking a personal day off.

For a better understanding of how much these small actions can affect your productivity and profitability, take a look at the following chart from Acroprint. It shows how much arriving even five minutes late and leaving five minutes early can cost employers on a typical, full-time (250-day) work year.

Number of employees






Hourly Pay


Profit Loss






















As you can see, even a small bending of the time rules can cost employers thousands of dollars.

While I applaud you for doing the ethical thing and not committing time theft yourself, I do suggest that you keep your co-worker’s behavior to yourself. Eventually, your supervisor will catch on and the employee will have to face the consequences. It is best to only be concerned with your work ethic and your performance. These issues typically work themselves out in the end.

Readers, do you find time theft occurring in your workplace? What would you do if you noticed your co-workers bending or breaking the rules and committing time crimes?

Best wishes,


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19 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. leighshann@yahoo.com
    Apr 02, 2014 @ 21:03:49

    There are no federal labor laws requiring paid break periods. There are some state laws that either require break periods and paid break periods, such as California and Colorado.



  2. Danielle
    Dec 06, 2013 @ 00:35:24

    I work in retail, and my salaried manager will always leave 3-4 hours early. She only works between 25-30 hours per week and is paid for 40. She makes out a schedule showing herself working a full 40 hour week and faxes it to our DM. Then she will change the schedule around, or just leave the store if there is another person working. She will also sit at her desk and take naps, which I also consider time stealing!



  3. teaandcoffeegirl
    Jul 25, 2013 @ 14:52:02

    Just been trawling through some of your posts.. Hooked!



  4. Employer
    Jul 11, 2013 @ 11:25:40

    Being an employer, I just wanted to point out something people do not think about; all of those wasted minutes equal complete loss. Complete loss forces an employer to have to compensate for it: cut back staff, cut back hours, cut back products / selection, RAISE PRICES, outsource, or, as Andrew mentioned above; look into robotic options that replace employees as a whole. At a time when everyone is complaining “There are no jobs!”, “Stop Outsourcing!”, “Lower Your Prices! We Can’t Afford It!” – think about this thread next time you complain or hear someone else doing so.

    I would also like to point out that hourly employees can be rightfully entitled to overtime:
    Nonexempt hourly employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) must be paid overtime for hours worked over 40 hours per week.
    When an employee is entitled to overtime pay, the rate cannot be less than one and one-half times (time and a half) an employee’s regular rate of pay. For example, if your hourly rate of pay is $10/hour, the overtime rate is $15/hour.

    Typically, only executive, supervisory, professional or outside sales positions are exempt positions.



  5. zarvette
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 13:01:59

    I’m sorry if nobody likes my responses, but the last job I had to use a punch card was for a bank in 1993. Every job I’ve had since, timesheets are considered Official Confidential (OC). Personal time off is ours to use how we like, and if something comes up and we have to come in late or leave early, you just make those hours up during the week, with Supervisor permission, or use an hour of PTO. In my case, someone reporting me for time fraud without the evidence, including looking at OC, would be reprimanded or fired.
    Every single job I’ve had has always placed worker safety above minutes. Bad ergonomics cost a company money, so they say “take walking breaks, stretch your arms, legs and back. Go outside. Don’t get eye strain.” Rushing to work/driving dangerously to punch in, skipping meals, rushing to get a job done all have costly consequences. It got so bad at one company, that the President called a All Hands Meeting to say “knock it off!” People were crashing and dying on the way to work. People were getting their eyes blinded by lasers because of shortcuts to meet deadlines. Even, being rushed thru hallways has caused employee collisions and injuries, including falling down stairs.
    So, while walking to a coworkers office to have a one-on-one, instead of endless email chains isn’t tantamount to working at Starbucks (which is a great job to have, BTW). This builds camaraderie and trust, it’s not about shooting the shit and wasting time, it’s about getting work done, as well as showing an interest in a colleagues weekend activities. It gets the conversation going. If that doesn’t exist, that lack of trust cultivates dysfunctional behavior for a person. They’ll become overly concerned and wrapped up in a “that’s not fair” attitude. “I don’t do that. I’m good, but those people get away with everything.” You’re only going to end up hurting your health, your attitude, and create animosity and tension in the workplace. It’s the company’s obligation to keep up on their employee’s standards, but co-workers set the example, too. Nobody wants to work around negative energy.
    I’m not saying these people asking others to fraudulently alter their time cards are right. That behavior is unethical. But if people are getting fired and replaced at a high rate, there is a bigger problem in that work environment, and it needs to be addressed!
    “Work output does not scale linearly with manpower. The marginal benefit of adding a sixth or seventh person to a team rarely outweighs the marginal costs associated with additional communication and collaboration effort (specifically for knowledge work that requires close collaboration like software development).” -Alan Rutledge. An example that illuminates this rule perfectly: “9 women can’t make a baby in 1 month.”
    Logic follows that being at work 7 hours a day rather than 8 does not mean the person who is there longer is more productive. In most cases, the person who is “just there” and “just does their job” does not exceed the other employee’s performance, when that employee produces, completes, and delivers a tangible and measurable product, in a fraction of the time.
    It’s counter-intuitive, but “You can accomplish more if you work less and sleep more. Hypothetically a well-rested person working 55-hour work weeks can usually outperform a sleep-deprived person working 80-hour work weeks in terms of quality, all else equal (specifically for knowledge work).” – Alan Rutledge
    I know the “watching every minute” employee type. They openly admit, “I’m just trying to make it to retirement.”



    • ecw
      Sep 15, 2013 @ 07:44:28

      That is so dramatic, I was in the Marines for 8 years and did not work in the office, I can guarantee the mishaps you pointed out never happened and the workload was much more strenuous. Meaning dodging bullets,rigorous physical fitness and such. I guess that exhaustive STORY excusing time theft makes you sleep better.



      • SillyDill
        Sep 16, 2013 @ 13:05:28

        I never said I was stealing time. I was making equivalence in an office environment, and what could happen when people start rumors based on insecurities and matters that weren’t their concern. They are equally stealing time wasting their day thinking about it, letting them consume their thought s and gossiping to other co-workers, now wasting their time hohumming over it….for years.



  6. Robin
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 16:04:11

    This has a snowball affect on everyone and will only resolve when the instigator is counseled and stopped or disciplined/ terminated. The person who is stealing usually always has a good “reason” but the terms of your employment probably stated that this rule being broken is a termination offense. Think of it this way, a mechanic is repairing your vehicle…they charge $90 and hour, the mechanic clocks in the time at 8am but only starts working on your vehicle at 8:30am, (-30 minutes) he takes a break at 10am returns after 25 minutes but only 15 is taken off your time charged, (-10 minutes) now it is lunch time and he takes an extra 10 minutes, your time is still only 30 minutes, (-10 minutes) second break he is on time (-0 minutes) quitting time is 10 minutes early (-10 minutes)…that is a full hour extra charge on your repair bill…that is $90 you pay that the employee stole from you. I know I wouldn’t want that mechanic working on my vehicle again! It may appear that the employer is benefiting but really they are not…



    • zarvette
      Jul 08, 2013 @ 08:29:47

      I like this mechanic analogy, only because as recent as last week, i was having major repairs. It’s good to get references and not use your usual mechanic for all things. The person I found took my car Wednesday afternoon around 3pm. He gave me a ride home and quoted me around 4 hours or 250$. I was worried when I contacted him Wed. evening to see what the status was. he said he started the job but had to get back to it Thursday morning and that It would be ready at noon. He supplied some parts out of pocket and ended up only charging me 240$ (after I offered to reimburse the supplies).

      But I digress. I usually don’t leave my vehicle anywhere for repairs. I will wait and I will watch. Too many dishonest businesses saying they changed parts and topped off fluids when they never did. When practical, I always ask for the old parts back and recheck my fluids when I get home.



  7. Andrew John Cheadle
    Jul 03, 2013 @ 15:53:27

    I’ve been out of work for years, looking and applying for many jobs daily so I may be biased in my reply. If you have a job be grateful and don’t take it for granted. If you want to get away from the computer, socialize & walk around I suggest you quit and find the nearest Starbucks. In this economy I’m sure there is a line waiting to take your place. BTW I lost a job to automation so if being a robot gets me paid I say BRING IT ON!



  8. godzgirlfather
    Jul 03, 2013 @ 14:53:11

    In my last job, there was a coworker who actually asked me to clock in for her because she was constantly late. Once would have been understandable (which I still didn’t comply) but being asked on three separate occasions was just too awkward. Since I wouldn’t clock in for her, after her third request or shall I say demand, I felt quite uncomfortable. She was a bit of a bully and I felt that when I didn’t do as she had asked, she found a way to let me know she was angry. She texted me several times about the final refusal in not so friendly terms and I eventually took the matter to my supervisor in hopes that she would speak to her. Much to my surprise, the Department Manager terminated the employee and they diverted me to a supply room so I would not know what was going on. After all was said and done, I felt terrible. I know what she wanted to do was unethical and I did the right thing, but a person losing their job because of me is a hard thing to swallow.



    • gaconservativepolitics
      Jul 04, 2013 @ 12:22:05

      I lost a job, because I knew of someone falsifying timesheets, and did not report it, so you did right twice, first for not doing it, and second for reporting it. She got what she deserved, so don’t continue to beat yourself up over it.



  9. stesse
    Jul 02, 2013 @ 16:51:26

    I have noticed that the people who take advantage usually do so because they are favorited by the supervisor who has a “wink and nod” attitude about the behavior that was described. It is behavior that would not be tolerated from other employees who are expected to “do their job” and keep their mouths shut. It is demoralizing and creates a culture in the environment that is unpleasant. The supervisor needs to be called on the carpet as well as the employee, but in this situation, the corruption goes all the way up the ladder. Better to get out of such a place.



  10. zarvette
    Jul 02, 2013 @ 09:30:15

    I just read the acroprint print. By that logic, shouldn’t employers encourage employees to come in a few minutes late every day? Imagine the money they’d save!

    I feel horns, bells, and whistles to cattle in their workers would be a terrible environment to work in. I can’t even believe places like this exist. “Crack the whip!” is equivalent to slave labor, and would create many disgruntled workers, who would intentionally take bits of time here and there for being treated so poorly.

    There is a difference between a few minutes and actual time fraud, like saying you worked a day when you didn’t. I’d quit in a heartbeat if someone was timing my bathroom breaks or blowing horns in my face. Just the image of someone looking at their watch and tapping their foot, or co workers waiting for any opportunity to promote themselves over you makes my shoulders tense up and my stomach turn into a knot. That kind of stress is not conducive or healthy. Profit is never above health and safety of your employees.



  11. Meg Smith
    Jul 02, 2013 @ 08:43:02

    Great read, Anita. Loved this.



  12. zarvette
    Jul 02, 2013 @ 08:35:03

    Could you please discuss the difference between hourly and salaried employees? I appreciate that you mentioned the concerned person to mind their own business. While things may seem a certain way, they are not always as they appear.

    I had a co-worker once who just could not stand me. I had just started working and there was no reason for the animosity. She would come in at 6 am and leave at 3:30. Nobody knows what she was doing for those early hours, yet, she couldn’t stand it if I came in at 8:30. In the end she almost got fired for workplace gossip and harrassing me. She never bothered to consider my time arrangement was approved by my manager, and that I stayed well until 6pm, sometimes more with no breaks and 1/2 hour lunch.

    I however do feel your minute by minute breakdown is a bit pedantic. We are humans, not robots. We will need times where we have to get away from the computer, time to socialize with coworkers, time to walk around. In reality, the most productive work occurs within 5 hours. So, in the end, everyone is spending a chunk of their day not actually working. But they are at work and perhaps delivering a stellar performance.

    I just wasted 20 minutes reading and replying to this blog post. It will have zero effect on my work day and product deliverables.



    • anitaclew
      Jul 02, 2013 @ 09:14:37

      In a nutshell, an hourly employee’s work is based on an hourly basis and you are eligible for overtime hours. As a salaried employee, you get paid the same no matter how many hours you work as long as you put in the required 40 hours a week (or whatever the agreement was initially between you and your employer).



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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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