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Buddy Punch Meaning and Prevention

a photo of two coworkers conspiring to buddy punch

Table of Contents

A buddy punch is when an employee clocks in or out for another employee. When this happens, it intentionally or unintentionally results in time theft. Buddy punches are surprisingly common at many workplaces. There are a few reasons why buddy punches are a problem, not least of which is that they cost the business valuable labor dollars. Below, we’ll cover some of these reasons in more detail. We’ll also tell you how you can prevent buddy punches from happening at your workplace.

What is a buddy punch?

A buddy punch is when an employee clocks in or out for a coworker, usually as a favor to a work friend. The term comes from a time when physical punch cards were more commonplace. Have you ever had someone clock you out because you forgot to do it yourself? Or maybe someone asked you to clock them in because they were running late and wanted to avoid getting in trouble with the boss? It happens all the time in workplaces everywhere. It’s similar to the problem of sweethearting in retail.

A few other common examples:

  • Justin has a crush on Jessica, so he clocks her in 5 minutes early every day as a favor
  • Brandon clocks his friend Tyler out a couple of times each week when Tyler leaves early for night class
  • Beckah “forgot” to clock out before she left work, so she calls her coworker and asks them to do it for her
  • Beckah actually did forget to clock out, but she’s got to pick up her kids from school, so she calls a coworker and asks them to do it for her because she’s worried about being cited and losing her job

Why are buddy punches a problem?

There are many why reasons employees buddy punch for each other. As you can imagine, they’re not all evil reasons – it’s not always about greed or taking advantage of the company. But buddy punches, regardless of the reason, are always harmful to your business, especially over time. Five minutes here or there may not seem like a big problem at first, but add that up over multiple employees across multiple locations over multiple weeks, and you start to realize just what a slippery slope it can be.

The first and most obvious reason buddy punches are a problem is that they cost the company money through time theft. Meaning, employees receive pay for time they didn’t put in and work they didn’t do. This leads to another problem: inaccurate payroll and labor reports, which can lead to poor decisions based on bad data. Less obviously, buddy punches are also a problem because they create tension between employees who consistently do the right thing and those who don’t. This tension leads to poor employee morale and undermines the reputation of your business.

These are the main reasons buddy punches are bad for your business, though they’re probably not the only ones. Next, let’s look at some things you can do to deal with the problem.

How to deal with a suspected problem

Maybe you read our article on the signs of buddy punching and realized that you actually do have a problem. Or maybe one of your employees clued you in, or you caught someone in the act. Now, it’s time to address the issue because it’s costing you money.

One of the first and easiest things you can do is to make your employee attendance policies very clear. This means making your policy on buddy punches explicit in the handbook and in any onboarding materials you give to employees. (If you use TimeForge, you can do this through our Human Resources module.) For many businesses, the first offense results in a warning, the second results in termination. It’s also not a bad idea to post a notice next to the place where employees typically clock in, just to remind them that time theft can get them in trouble.

Once you’ve done the above, the next step is to buddy-punch-proof your timekeeping process. Often, this means upgrading to a time and attendance system that simply makes buddy punches impossible. If you think that sounds hard, it’s not. Fingerprint time clocks are a quick and easy way to keep accurate time. Many businesses use them, especially in the grocery, retail, and restaurant industries. You can more about this in our article on preventing buddy punching with technology.

The bottom line? If you’re still using paper to track time, you’re almost certainly spending more on labor than you should. A modern timekeeping system will eliminate the problem.

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