First, let’s start with the biggest question employers have about biometric time clocks.

What is a biometric time clock?

A biometric time clock uses a unique body measurement to identify an employee about to clock in. Usually, biometric time clocks use a fingerprint, but some use an iris scan or facial recognition.

Because these markers are unique to each employee, it prevents employees from clocking in or out of someone else’s shifts.

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In general, biometric technology is any technology that uses a unique body measurement. In this case, using biometric data like face recognition or a fingerprint identifies employees that are clocking in for their shifts.

Why do some businesses use biometric time clock systems?

Virtually every business with hourly employees needs a time clock to stay compliant with federal and state labor laws. An employee time clock tracks the hours every employee works down to the minute. (Though a business may choose to round up or down the time worked, pursuant to federal labor laws.) More broadly, time clocks are used to track employee attendance.

Timekeeping is good for employees too, as it ensures that they are paid accurately for the hours they work.

Biometric time and attendance tools, though, have a more specific use case. They’re designed for employers who are worried about time theft. Time theft is when employees clock in and clock out for each other.

How else can I prevent buddy punching?

While biometric time clocks may be useful in some situations to track employee attendance, there are other ways to prevent so-called “buddy punching, which is when an employee may clock in or clock out for somebody else. Biometric time clocks may not be legal in your jurisdiction, so you should consult a local employment law attorney or, better yet, avoid the technology altogether.

The Homebase time clock, for example, takes a picture when someone clocks in on the web or tablet time clock. This picture is attached to their employee time card, so you can verify that the right employee clocked in when you’re about to run payroll.

For businesses with off-site employees, you can also allow employees to clock in from their mobile phone—so you’ll know it’s them. You’ll even get a screenshot of their location on a map.

purple fingerprint

What is the best biometric time clock for my business?

Consider why you’re looking for a biometric time clock. There are lots of options, but some may not be legal in your state, so you should consult a local employment attorney.

Your best bet for a legal time and attendance solution is to use a time clock app, which can include features like integrated scheduling, easy payroll export, hiring tools, and more.

The best biometric time clock integrates with your employee schedule, your payroll provider, and your other team management processes. It should also include a mobile app component, so you can see who’s clocked in, who’s late, and who’s on break at a glance, no matter where you are.

How does a fingerprint time clock work?

A fingerprint time clock is a type of biometric time clock. Also called a thumbprint time clock, it uses a fingerprint scanner to match your finger to a stored image of your fingerprint to clock you in or out of your shift.

Employers use fingerprint time clocks to prevent buddy punching. Since fingerprints are unique to each person, fingerprint time clocks are one way to ensure each employee is clocking in or out for themselves. In some states, fingerprint time clocks may not be legal, so check with a local labor law attorney before using one.

A much easier — and legal nationwide — way to prevent buddy punching is to use a time clock app like Homebase. The Homebase time clock takes a photo of employees when they clock in or out. When approving timesheets, you can review the photos to make sure no buddy punching occurred.

Are fingerprint time clocks legal?

Only in some states.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, some states like Illinois do not allow employers to use biometric data like fingerprints for time clocks. The data stored by these systems is often considered intrusive and not compliant with privacy-minded data collection rules. Before using a fingerprint time clock, consult with a local labor law attorney to confirm that they are legal in your city and state. Or, better yet, use a free time clock app like Homebase.

Your employees probably also want to protect their biometric data and would prefer you not use a biometric time clock, even if it’s legal in your state. Using cloud-based software as your time and attendance solution offers a ton of advantages for your workforce. They’ll be able to view their schedule and time card data on their mobile device using the free mobile app. They can even estimate their pay for the week, so they’ll be able to budget their finances accurately, like an advanced preview of their pay stubs.

Your team can even trade shifts, update their work availabilities, and communicate with the rest of the team. All from their mobile device in real time. Empowering your team with these employee self-service tools will not only save your supervisors time. It’ll establish a paper trail that’s useful for your human resources department.  And it will put your workforce in charge of their work life.

In fact, an H&M store in Chicago was sued for using a biometric time clock.

What are some alternatives to a biometric time clock?

While you have a lot of options for employee clocks, your best bet for preventing time theft, staying compliant with local laws, saving time on payroll, and tracking attendance accurately is time clock software like Homebase.

Other options, like a physical time card, punch cards, a proximity card, or swipe cards all have weaknesses. Regardless of which version you may user, a card will not prevent time theft and it might not have an ability to export to your payroll software, plus you have very limited access to data. Though, that said, if your business requires employees to wear badges, software won’t replace those (but they’ll no longer use them to clock in and out).

Time clock software has a lot of added bonuses. Using your tablet’s built-in camera, you’ll get a photo of each clock in and clock out on the employee time card, so you can be sure the right person is clocking in for their shifts. Paired with the included shift scheduling app, which you can access from any web browser, you’ll get a better handle on overtime hours, total payroll and labor costs, and robust attendance tracking data that includes a ranking of who on your workforce is most often on-time for their shifts. You’ll also get other reporting that’ll help you and other business owners more efficiently manage your workforce, so you can focus on growing your business and empowering your employees.

Your supervisors in charge of running payroll, and managing human resources will save the most time when your workforce management systems all integrate with one another.

For complete time and attendance solutions, look to the cloud. These days, software is your best bet, for both your employees and for your managers. What’s more, these software based solutions are incredibly affordable—even free—making them affordable for small business and robust enough for the enterprise.

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