There are three common types of systems for tracking employee time and attendance:
- Punch clocks.
- Biometric or fingerprint time clocks.
- Software or tablet time clocks.
All three types of time clock systems have their own advantages and disadvantages, so review your options before deciding which is the best time clock for your business. Regardless of what system you use for time and attendance, an efficient way of tracking employee hours is essential for a business owner.
Punch clocks are the oldest form of time and attendance tracking still in use. It’s what’s often used in movies and TV shows when people are clocking in or clocking out of their shifts.
Manual time clocks, like uPunch time clock, are called punch clocks because you punch your employee time card with a timestamp to track your shifts. These are physical employee time cards, with stamps.
As you might guess with such an old form of employee time and attendance tracking, there are a lot of disadvantages: all the records are kept manually, which means that payroll also needs to be done manually. With physical time cards and a punch clock for time tracking, payroll can take hours or even be a full-time job, depending on the size of your team. A manager on your team (or you, the business owner) will have to manually enter in all the time card data — a clock in and out at the beginning and end of their shift, plus at least one clock in and clock out for their lunch break — for every single day and every single employee into a timesheet to process payroll.
Punch clocks also make legal compliance a lot more complicated. To stay compliant with the Federal Labor Standards Act, you should keep employee time cards for two years after they’ve left, just in case someone files a complaint against your business, for something like failing to pay proper overtime. To prove your case, you’ll need time card records. If you don’t keep them, you may be liable not only for the unpaid overtime, but for a fine to the Department of Labor for failing to retain employee time card records. Your best bet is to keep electronic time cards — there’s an audit trail, and they also take a lot less physical space (not to mention you don’t have to worry about fires, flooding, or any other natural disaster wiping out your time card records).
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage to physical punch clocks is their lack of security. With punch clocks, you can’t prevent buddy punching, where an employee clocks in or out for another employee. There’s no additional data beyond the timestamp, so unless you have another employee keeping an eye out on who’s clocking in or out for each person’s time card, you run the risk of an employee — even accidentally — clocking in or out of a shift or break.
Likewise, with physical punch clocks, you can’t prevent employees from clocking in early, or going into unapproved overtime. Those are the most common forms of time theft. Clocking in early, even just a few minutes, really adds up. Businesses save, on average, $192 per month by preventing early clock-ins. With overtime, it can be much more, but with a punch clock, there’s really nothing you can do about it. Using a time clock app, however, keeps you in control. You’ll receive an alert whenever an employee is about to hit overtime.
Time card errors are also much more difficult to deal with when you’re using a physical time clock to track time worked. If an employee misses a break, or misses a clock out at the end of their shift, you’ll need to track them down and hope they remember the time they were supposed to clock out. And, most likely, you won’t even realize the clock out is missing until you’re about to run payroll, adding an extra layer of complexity.
Bottom line: there aren’t really any reasons to use physical punch clocks any more. They’re bad for you, and they’re bad for your employees.
Biometric or Fingerprint Time Clocks
Biometric time clocks have one main advantage over punch time clocks: using unique body data, like a fingerprint or facial recognition, business owners can be sure the right employee is clocking in and out. In other words, biometric time clocks eliminate the risk of buddy punching.
But that’s where the advantages end. Without integration with your employee schedules, the biometric time clock does not know whether the employee that just clocked in was scheduled to work that day, or for how long. That means you’re still at risk for unscheduled overtime costs, and you can’t prevent early clock ins.
Likewise, most biometric time clocks do not integrate with payroll providers, meaning your managers will need to spend time entering employee time card data into timesheets for accurate payroll.
Bottom line: biometric time clocks are useful if preventing buddy punching is very important to your business, and you’re willing to deal with other inconveniences in exchange for that security.
Time Clock Apps
Time clock apps — often a mobile time clock app you can use to clock in on your phone, or time clock tablet apps — are the newest way for employees to clock in and out for their shifts and breaks. Web-based time clock software offers very similar benefits, but generally requires the use of a desktop computer. But you can use all these devices in tandem with cloud-based time and attendance software.
Online time clock apps like Homebase offer a nice balance of security and flexibility, in addition to saving some money. There are a lot of advantages to a time clock app — for one, you aren’t limited to a single physical device. Employees with manager approval could, for example, clock in on their phones, using their phone’s GPS tracking to ensure they’re at the work site. Most often, employees clock in to their shifts using a unique PIN.
A cloud-based software like Homebase also integrates directly with your payroll provider, your employee schedule app, and even your point of sale device. By integrating with your payroll provider, the time clock app makes exporting employee timesheets a breeze. This cuts down the time it’ll take managers on your team to process payroll from several hours to just a few minutes.
There are other advantages to a cloud-based time and attendance tracking app as well. To prevent buddy punching, Homebase takes a photo of the employee when they clock in or out, and attaches that photo to their employee time card, so you can be sure it’s the right person.
Homebase also integrates with most modern point of sale (POS) systems, so your employees can actually clock in and out — and, in some cases, declare cash tips — right from your POS, reducing your need for yet another tablet in your back office. They also sync directly with a companion mobile app so your team can check their work hours and pay in real time. And because Homebase functions as a web-based time clock and attendance software, you’ll see real time clock-ins from anywhere you can access the internet, even if you aren’t on-site.
Where time clock apps really shine, though, is in the employee time cards and ensuring labor law compliance. In addition to storing time cards for four years (beyond the two years required by the FLSA), employees and managers will receive notifications in the mobile app if an employee has missed a break, or if they forgot to clock out at the end of their shift. Employees can then enter in their clock out time right from the mobile app. Having complete and error-free time sheets makes running payroll much faster. And the break reminders ensure employees return to work on time or, if necessary, to take a legally mandated break they may have forgotten about.
Finally, tablet time clock apps can help business owners save on labor costs by preventing early clock ins and sending managers a mobile alert when an employee is about to hit overtime (along with sharing a list of employees available to clock in to replace the overworked employee).
By scheduling and tracking time together, your managers will get a clearer picture of labor costs with payroll reports. You’ll also find out which employees are showing up on time most often for their shifts with real-time data. And there’s a host of other valuable reporting that isn’t available with old school punch clocks or biometric time clocks. Time and attendance software, used together, can not only save you time, but also improve your business health. Knowing managers are keeping an eye on these metrics will also encourage better employee attendance compared with less integrated time and attendance systems.
Bottom line: employee time clock apps are the best bet for most businesses to track employee hours. The best time clock balances security, labor law compliance, and labor cost savings, and time savings in an easy-to-use attendance system.
What’s the best time clock?
A time clock app, of course! Get your business on track today with Homebase for free.
Homebase’s cloud-based solution makes managing hourly work easier for over 100,000 local businesses. With free employee scheduling, time tracking, team communication, and hiring, business owners, managers, and employees can spend less time on paperwork and more time on growing their business.