Buddy Punching: How It’s Costing Your Company & How to Stop It

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When an employee is running late, they have a few options. They might text or call their supervisor to let them know, which is probably the preferred option among employers. But they might make a different choice to avoid getting into trouble or clocking in after their scheduled start time. This choice involves asking a coworker to clock them in before they arrive. Buddy punching is a problem that affects employers of all sizes and across all industries. Learn more about buddy punching, including how it costs your business and how to stop it.

What is Buddy Punching?

Buddy punching occurs when an employee clocks in or out on behalf of another. Its purpose is to make it look like the employee is at work when, in fact, they have yet to arrive or have already left. In some cases, buddy punching only gives an employee a few extra minutes. For example, if they’re running a couple of minutes late but don’t want to clock in after their shift start time.

But in other cases, buddy punching is used to steal large chunks of time from an employer. And even for employees who only use this method for a few minutes at a time, those minutes will add up. If a buddy punches in for an employee five minutes early, three days per week, this could result in 13 hours of stolen time over a year.

Buddy punching is a form of wage theft, allowing employees to get paid for the time they didn’t work. Stopping buddy punching requires the right tools and approach to employee time management.

How Buddy Punching Costs Employers Millions Annually

Research suggests that buddy punching and other forms of time theft affect 75% of all employers. In some industries, it can account for 7% of  the labor budget. In addition to the direct cost of higher payroll, it decreases ROI, productivity, and profit margins. It also reduces the employer’s ability to add more benefits for their employees.

Other Consequences of Buddy Punching

Buddy punching has other consequences for companies of all sizes.

Skewed Productivity Levels

One consequence of buddy punching is the skewing of reported productivity levels. Employees who are clocked in but not working can’t be productive. Most employers assess productivity by the hours spent at work and completed tasks. But buddy punching skews that data, as the hours worked are higher than they should be. An employee who appears to work long hours may have higher productivity expectations. But they’re unlikely to meet those goals if they’re not physically at work.

Low Employee Engagement

Employees willing to steal time from their employers typically aren’t very engaged. Low engagement levels hurt a business. Gallup data shows that companies with highly engaged teams are 21% more profitable than those with low engagement.

Engagement goes hand-in-hand with productivity and loyalty. Employees who are productive and loyal to their companies are less likely to steal time. By contrast, the actions of less engaged employees can rub off on their coworkers. Investing in engagement and morale is worthwhile when you want to stop buddy punching for good.

Dissatisfied Customers

One major problem with buddy punching is that the scheduled employee is not at work. If that employee serves in a customer-facing role, your business will have dissatisfied customers. When customers call in or visit your business, they expect a certain level of service.  Their satisfaction level will decline if no one is available to assist them.

The coworkers of the employee relying on buddy punching may also feel frustrated. This frustration is usually the result of an increasing workload. Poor behavior at work by one employee can cause morale throughout the workplace to drop. It’s especially problematic when the other employees feel overwhelmed and overworked.

How to Stop Buddy Punching

Stopping buddy punching starts with addressing it head-on. Explore these tips to prevent this form of wage theft in your business for good.

Create a Solid Employee Attendance Policy

Even with biometric clocks and notifications and alerts, employees can still steal time. Creating an employment policy around time stealing is necessary to curtail wage theft.

When a transgression occurs, make sure to deal with it promptly. It is much easier to correct paychecks while still in the pay cycle.

Dealing with violations also helps to curtail the spread of wage theft. Although a warning might be sufficient for a first time violation, subsequent violations should have a stricter enforcement. 

Upgrade Your Time Clock Software

Some time tracking methods make buddy punching easier than others. For example, a time clock that requires an employee number to clock in or out won’t prevent it. But if your budget allows for it, upgrade your timekeeping software to make it harder to buddy punch.

As you compare time clock software, make sure to consider the following options:

Proximity Swipe Cards

Employers can help to reduce buddy punching through proximity swipe cards. While it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of buddy punching, it does reduce it.

Employees who are running late to work are less likely to have planned for buddy punching by leaving their card with a coworker. Proximity cards or key fobs must be near the time clock and are individual to each employee. They must be near the time clock when the employee punches in.

Biometric Time Clocks

Verification time clocks can use numerous methods. They require the individual characteristics of each employee to identify the employee.

When scanning clocks are used, the employee has to be physically present. This eliminates buddy punching.

Iris or retina scans work like a finger scan and are just as an individual. Face scans measure the features of the face of the employees. These types of time clocks are more costly and are often more than many employers want to spend. One exception is when security is integrated with biometrics.

More commonly used is finger or hand scans. Finger scan biometrics scans the surface of the finger and will often use various points on the tip to identify the individual. Swipeclock’s finger scan biometric clocks use a hash against the unique characteristics.

Finger data cannot be recreated from the information and hash stored. This ensures that personal biometric information is not compromised.

Hand geometry biometric clocks measure the size and length of the hand and fingers. These clocks do not scan the surface of the hand. Because of this, they are allowed under New York State Labor Law.

While biometric clocks do prevent buddy punching, they do not prevent employees from clocking in and then running back out to their car for personal items.

Geofence and GPS Time Clocks

Geofencing and GPS time clocks track the locations of employees. They may only allow an employee to clock in and out when within a specific boundary. Or, they may simply track the employee’s location with the timestamp. Both tools determine whether employees were at their worksites when punching.

Set Up Automatic Notifications and Alerts for Employees

Another way that employers lose time to employee theft is when employees claim that they forgot to log into the time clock. Employees must then estimate their arrival time and this opens the employer for additional mistakes in employee time.

WorkforceHub can send an alert to employees when they are scheduled for a shift and they have failed to clock in. This eliminates the human error of forgetting to log in.

Notifications can also go out to managers to notify them of open punches. This helps to prevent employees forgetting to punch out. As an added advantage, notifications can also alert employees who are approaching overtime thresholds which can help managers reduce unplanned overtime expense.  

Improve Your Company Culture

The culture of your business affects employee performance and engagement levels. Additionally, your company culture may impact whether employees follow the rules. A culture focused on accountability makes it easier to hold employees responsible. As a result, they may be less likely to clock in for others or violate other attendance policies.

Investing in your company culture is also worthwhile in improving:

A positive culture is a win all the way around. Take the time to establish the culture you want for your business or improve what’s already in place.

How to Handle Buddy Punching When It Happens

When buddy punching does happen, these steps can help you handle it swiftly and fairly.

Find Out Why

The first step is finding out why an employee is asking another to clock in for them. They might be dealing with a challenging personal situation that makes it hard to get to work on time. An employee might be struggling with engagement. Offering support or resources can help them re-engage in their work.

Employees may be more willing to communicate their needs in response to direct questions. When having this conversation, a manager can also ask for feedback from the employee. It’s helpful to ask what could be improved to increase their engagement and desire to get to work on time.

You might learn that employees feel overwhelmed or frustrated with a particular policy. These feelings often result in disengagement. Any information may help you adjust your culture and attendance policy. Changes made based on employee feedback increase the chances of success.

Foster Open Communication

Open communication drives innovation, creativity, and collaboration in the workplace. Keeping the lines of communication open also boosts trust between supervisors and employees.

Being open to communication is essential in eliminating buddy punching. Employees have to feel comfortable talking to their supervisors about their situations. An open communication policy creates a transparent and honest culture for your workforce.

Issue Warnings in Accordance with Employee Attendance Policy

Of course, buddy punching is a genuine concern that your business doesn’t have to take lightly. You can also take disciplinary action as you strive to understand why an employee might engage in this behavior. Depending on your employee attendance policy, you might issue a warning or take a more drastic step based on their previous attendance habits.

Ensure all employees know the consequences of violating the attendance policy. The workforce must understand that buddy punching is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated. Consider sending a company-wide memo or discussing the policy in detail during an all-staff meeting. It may be worth having all employees sign an attestation that they understand the buddy punching policy and its consequences. A signed document can be a form of legal protection for the company.

Stop Buddy Punching for Good with WorkforceHub

If your small business struggles with buddy punching, WorkforceHub can help. Our workforce management solutions are tailored to the needs of small businesses. Additionally, our competitive pricing fits into nearly any budget.

A unified timekeeping, scheduling, and HR management solution is one part of the equation. The other part is a time clock that eliminates the option to punch in or out for someone else. A finger or facial verification time clock ensures that only employees can clock themselves in or out. A geofencing or GPS-based solution notes the location of every punch. WorkforceHub is a trusted name in time and attendance, scheduling, and applicant tracking software. We can help improve your company’s bottom line.


Updated December 1, 2022. Originally published January 23, 2018.

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