Managing your team’s working hours can often feel like a demanding task that requires constant attention. If you’re seeking a more effective way to track employee hours and reduce unnecessary labor expenses, a biometric time clock could be the solution you’ve been seeking.
As with any important business decision, you’ve got to do your research. This is particularly true for biometric time clocks. Biometric time clocks aren’t for everyone—they’re bit controversial and even illegal in some states. So, let’s do a deep dive into the pros, cons, and legal considerations to determine whether this innovative approach is right for your business.
Don’t worry: if you live in a state that has banned biometric time clocks, we’ll also introduce alternative options that offer similar benefits without compromising privacy. Let’s get to it!
What is a biometric time clock?
A biometric time clock is a small business time clock solution that utilizes unique body measurements to identify employees as they clock in and out.
These types of biometric time clock systems typically use fingerprints, hand geometry, facial recognition, or iris scans to identify individual employees.
Biometric time clocks are more than just fingerprint time clocks
Although biometric time clocks may seem like a futuristic way to clock in and out for a shift, businesses used this technology as early as the 90s. In the 40 years since then, biometric time clock technology has expanded to include different biometric identifiers. Today, businesses can choose to use their employees’ unique fingerprints, palms, facial features, or irises for accurate time clock identification.
1. Biometric fingerprint time clocks
As the name suggests, biometric fingerprint time clocks use fingerprints to ensure the correct employees are clocking in for their shifts. To clock in, employees simply place their index finger or thumb on a fingerprint reader. Then, the biometric system identifies the employee by matching the scanned fingerprint to its database of stored images.
Although fingerprint time clocks are relatively straightforward to use, they aren’t exactly foolproof. In fact, a recent study found that the scanners sometimes produced false matches when employees had wet or dirty fingers. Even hand lotions and sanitizers were found to degrade fingerprint quality, leading to identification errors and complicating the clock in process—the opposite of what you’re looking for.
2. Biometric palm time clocks
Much like fingerprint time clocks, palm time clocks use a biometric scanner to identify the unique patterns and geometry of each employee’s palm. To ensure proper placement, most systems have a template indicating where your employees should place their hands.
Once scanned, the system compares the unique palm pattern to its database of employee biometrics. Barring any errors, it’s then able to identify the individual employee and check them in for their shift.
3. Biometric facial recognition time clocks
Unlike fingerprint time clocks, facial recognition is touchless. This made the technology an increasingly popular option during the pandemic. To clock in, an employee simply stands in front of the clock while it scans their face. The facial recognition software then analyzes the unique features of each employee’s face, such as the distance between their eyes or the length of their forehead.
From there, the system scans its database to identify the employee and allows them to clock in for their shift. Some of these systems are able to work using just parts of the face—ideal if your team wears masks, like in the healthcare or veterinary industry. However, some of these systems do require the full face. Make sure you know what your needs would be when looking into this option.
4. Biometric iris time clocks
Iris time clocks operate much like biometric facial recognition systems. To clock in, employees’ eyes are scanned using infrared technology. This illuminates the eye and identifies unique patterns on the iris.
To get an accurate reading, employees need to stand relatively close to the scanner and remove their glasses to avoid reflections. It’s also worth noting that long eyelashes, contact lenses, and even unusual eye colors can prevent these machines from working properly.
Are biometric time clocks legal?
The short answer is, it depends. While employers have always required personal information, such as social security numbers to pay their employees, biometric data is a bit more controversial. As a result, many states are passing laws to restrict the use of biometric time clocks and protect employee privacy.
According to the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), New York has already banned employers from requiring fingerprint scans. And Oregon has banned facial recognition scans entirely.
Since these laws vary from state to state, you’ll need to check your state and local labor laws to determine the legalities of biometric time clocks in your area. Even if your state doesn’t currently have biometric-specific laws in place, they might in the future. You can check pending laws via the BIPA tracker to ensure your plans to implement biometric time clocks won’t be affected in the future.
Complying with legal requirements
Once you’ve established whether you can legally use a biometric time clock, you’ll need to establish a comprehensive compliance policy. This should include details such as:
- The type of biometric data you’ll be collecting from your employees
- How you plan to collect the data
- How long you’ll store the data
- The reason for collecting the data
- How you plan to keep the data you collect secure
To safeguard your business from potential fines and lawsuits, you’ll need to provide the details of this compliance policy to your staff and get everyone’s written consent. Once your paperwork is in place, you can legally implement a biometric time clock system. But you’ll need to continually protect and monitor your employees’ biometric data to stay compliant with biometric workplace laws. This includes encrypting and restricting access to your server and destroying data as employees resign.
The bottom line? Do your research before moving forward with a biometric time clock. If you’re worried about breaking any rules, consider opting for a cloud-based time clock like Homebase instead.
Note: This isn’t legal advice. If you plan to implement a biometric time clock, consult a lawyer.
Is a biometric time clock right for my small business?
Assuming your state allows it, deciding whether a biometric time clock is a personal decision that warrants careful consideration. So, let’s dive into the pros and cons to help you determine whether it’s the right choice for your employees and business.
1. Pro: Eliminate buddy punching
Buddy punching is without a doubt one of the biggest reasons small businesses implement biometric time clocks. For those who haven’t heard the term before, buddy punching is when one team member clocks in for another before they’ve actually arrived for their shift. This is particularly easy to do using traditional time punch cards, physical key cards, or even personal codes. It’s a form of time theft that can easily cost your business money. Since biometric time clocks use data that’s unique to each employee, they need to physically be there to check in, which eliminates the possibility of buddy punching.
While this practice may seem relatively harmless, buddy punching for a single employee that’s consistently late can wind up costing you over a thousand dollars a year. And that’s just for one employee. If your team has a habit of buddy punching it can cost you much more. Biometric time clocks prevent this from happening, meaning you’re not paying for labor that wasn’t performed.
Now, if biometric time clocks are prohibited in your area, you can still avoid buddy punching with the right software. With Homebase’s time clock app, your employees check in with the app, which uses geo-fencing to confirm their location. The app also prevents early clock-ins, tracks breaks, and automatically alerts you to late arrivals to reduce labor leakage.
2. Pro: Streamline clocking in and out
With biometric time clocks, your employees don’t need to remember a key card or fob to clock in for their shift. Since their biometric data is part of their physical bodies, they always have the information needed to clock in. This eliminates those frantic pre-shift searches for missing employee cards and allows managers to focus on tasks beyond assisting their team with clocking in and out, or reissuing punch cards.
However, since the modern employee is rarely without their mobile phone, cloud-based time clocks are an equally viable option. Homebase’s time clock app allows your team to clock in directly in the app, eliminating the need for timecards, fingerprints, or any additional training.
3. Pro: Improve security
When biometric time clocks are used to control access to your business, they can also improve security. Unlike key cards or fobs, biometric metrics can’t be stolen or lost. This eliminates the risk of someone using a lost or stolen key card to access, damage, or even rob your business.
However, it’s important to note that not all biometric time clocks provide this feature. Even those that do can’t protect your business from human errors like leaving doors unlocked. So, whether you utilize a biometric time clock or not, you should always have additional security measures in place to safeguard against human error.
4. Con: Privacy and legality concerns
Understandably, privacy concerns are the biggest drawback of using biometric clocks. Whether you’re using fingerprints, palms, faces, or irises to identify your employees, you’re storing extremely personal information. Unlike passwords that can be changed, this kind of data can’t be altered. So, if this information is leaked or stolen, the damage is permanent and can’t be undone.
The controversy surrounding biometric data collection has intensified, as identity thieves and hackers increasingly seek out this type of information to gain access to sensitive information. As a result, states like New York, Oregon, Illinois, and Washington have already established laws restricting or banning biometric time clocks. In these states, employers can face fines of up to $5,000 per employee for deliberately violating these laws.
Currently, White Castle is in a massive lawsuit for allegedly scanning the fingerprints of nearly 10,000 employees without their consent. If the fast-food chain is found guilty of intentionally collecting this information without consent, it could face billions of dollars in fines.
Although biometric data can save you thousands in lost wages, violating these laws (whether intentionally or not) can cost you much more. So, be sure to seek legal guidance and take the necessary steps to protect your employees’ personal data.
5. Con: False matches
Although biometric time clocks are meant to make clocking in and out simpler and more secure, the technology isn’t foolproof. Recent studies have found that fingerprint scanners can produce false matches if an employee’s hands are cold, damp, hot, or dirty. Hand sanitizer can also impede results, which can present issues for restaurant and hospital staff that must maintain high standards of hygiene throughout their shifts.
Facial and iris biometric scanners can also fail to accurately identify employees with long eyelashes, contact lenses, and unusual eye colors. Reflections and poor lighting can aggravate these issues and lead to inaccurate results.
6. Con: Accessibility challenges
As we just mentioned, clocking in with a biometric time clock isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem. Unfortunately, those with disabilities may find it even harder to adopt these technologies as they’re not entirely inclusive. For example, most facial recognition and iris scanners are installed too high for wheelchair users to access.
It can also be difficult for individuals with visual impairments to see where to place their hands or stand for an accurate scan. Implementing new systems without accessibility in mind can affect the perceived inclusivity of your business and cause undue stress for those who struggle to use it.
It’s also worth noting that businesses in the United States are required by law to provide an accessible alternative for employees with disabilities. So, not only does this require an additional investment in a secondary time clock, but you’ll also have the added task of integrating it with your payroll system.
Are there viable alternatives to biometric time clocks?
If you’re intrigued by the benefits of biometric time clocks but find the potential legal implications concerning, an online time clock app might be better suited for your business. These innovative apps offer all the features of biometric time clocks and more, without the need to navigate complex data privacy regulations.
So, what exactly is an online time clock app? An online time clock app is a digital tool that allows employees to easily clock in and out of their shifts from their personal devices, or a tablet, computer, or POS system at work.
Using Homebase for time tracking
With the Homebase app, employees can clock in using their smartphones once they arrive at work. The app uses geo-fencing technology to confirm their location, prevent early clock-ins, and ensure accurate time tracking. It also tracks breaks and even sends alerts about late arrivals, helping you minimize labor leakage and stay on top of attendance.
When your employees use their own devices to clock in, online time clock apps eliminate buddy punching much like biometric time clocks do. However, unlike biometric scanners that are subject to location-dependent privacy laws, Homebase complies with existing (and pending) legislation nationwide. This ensures your business won’t be on the hook for a second system should biometric data collection laws change in your area.
What’s more, the app is free, saving you the expenses associated with traditional biometric solutions, which can cost up to $500. And because Homebase is app-based, any repairs or maintenance are automatically included in routine updates.
While selecting the right time clock solution for your business will ultimately depend on your unique circumstances, an online time clock app like Homebase provides the key benefits of biometric time clocks without the added complexities of ongoing legality concerns.
Get a free time clock that frees up your time. Track hours. Prep for payroll. Control labor costs. All with our free time clock. Try Homebase time clock
Biometric time clock FAQs
What are biometric time clocks?
A biometric time clock is a small business time clock solution that utilizes unique body measurements to identify employees as they clock in and out.
Also known as hand scanner time clocks, fingerprint time clocks, hand-punch time clocks, or biometric hand-punch devices, these types of systems most often use fingerprints or hand geometry to recognize each employee and track and manage their time.
What are the 4 types of biometric time clocks?
The four types of biometric time clocks are fingerprint time clocks, palm time clocks, facial recognition time clocks, and iris time clocks. Fingerprint and palm time clocks scan the fingerprints and palms of your employees to accurately identify and clock them in for each shift. Facial and iris time clocks work in a similar fashion. Using touchless infrared technology, these time clocks identify (and clock in) employees based on their unique facial and iris measurements.
Are biometric time clocks legal in America?
Biometric time clocks are legal in some parts of the United States. Since laws vary by state, you’ll need to check your state and local labor laws to determine the legalities of biometric time clocks in your area.
What are alternatives to biometric time clocks?
There are several alternatives to biometric time clocks, like traditional time punch cards and physical key cards. However, cloud-based time clock apps are the most comparable alternative. Similar to biometric time clocks, Homebase’s time clock app accurately and securely tracks your team’s hours. Unlike biometric clocks, Homebase eliminates the need to keep up with evolving compliance and privacy laws. It’s a cost-effective, reliable long-term option.