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Biometric time clocks

Are they right for you?

  • Biometric time clocks are illegal in several states
  • Using fingerprints and irises could pose an employee privacy issue
  • The free Homebase time clock prevents time theft, keeps you compliant, and makes work easier

What is a biometric time clock?

A biometric time clock is a small business time clock solution that identifies an employee as they clock in by detecting a unique body measurement. 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.

4 types of biometric time clocks and how they work

There’s a wide range of biometric time clocks, including ones that measure body movements and recognize voices. Here are those that are most common and popular for small businesses.

Biometric fingerprint time clocks

Biometric fingerprint time clocks scan each employee’s fingerprints and match them with stored images to determine whether the right person is clocking in. To use fingerprint time clocks, employees put their index finger or thumb on a fingerprint reader.

Biometric palm time clocks

Similarly, biometric palm time clocks can record and recognize the patterns on each employee’s palm and the unique geometry of their hand. These time clocks usually have a template that indicates where employees should place their hands.

Biometric facial recognition time clocks

Facial recognition time clocks can recognize the unique features of each employee’s face, as well as the distance between them. They’re also touchless. Employees have to stand in front of the clock and let it scan their faces to clock in.

Biometric iris time clocks

Iris time clocks illuminate an employee’s eye with infrared technology to identify patterns on the iris. Employees must stand close to the device and look into the scanner to clock in. 

The pros and cons of biometric time clocks

Although biometric time clocks may seem futuristic, businesses have been using them since the 90s. That’s long enough for us to see the impact of this technology and some of the pros and cons of using it.

Pro: Eliminate buddy punching

The biggest pro of biometric time clocks is that they prevent buddy punching. This is when one employee clocks in for another team member if they haven’t arrived for their shift yet. Since biometric markers are unique to each employee, coworkers can’t clock in or out for each other. 

So, if you have an employee struggling to arrive at their shifts on time, biometric time clocks will make you aware of the problem sooner (rather than letting staff members depend on their coworkers to cover their bases). Then, you can help the employee find a solution to whatever’s causing their tardiness.

Pro: Accurately record work hours

Buddy punching can lose your business thousands of dollars. For example, say an employee is ten minutes late every day. That might not seem like much, but if their average hourly rate is  US$32, that’s $5 lost a day, $35 lost a week, and over $1000 lost a year.

Biometric time clocks make sure your employees’ working hours are recorded accurately, so you won’t end up paying for labor that wasn’t performed. Then, you can invest the money you save back into your business instead.

Pro: Streamline clocking in and out

Clocking in with cards can be inconvenient. Employees have to hunt around in their bags for them. Sometimes they probably leave them at home by mistake. This can cause a stressful start to a shift and wastes you and your employees’ time.

With biometric clocks, employees don’t have to spend time looking for their cards or even remember to bring them to their shifts at all. Staff members always have what they need to clock in and out with their unique body biometrics.

Pro: Improve security

Some biometric time clocks control access to your premises, which means nobody can enter your workplace unless you’ve added them to the system. This eliminates the risk of opportunists finding a lost time clock card and damaging or even robbing your business.

But biometric time clocks can’t protect your business from all theft. For example, employees can still accidentally leave doors open — or even rob you themselves.

Con: Privacy concerns and legality

Privacy concerns are by far the biggest con of biometric time clocks. Biometric data like fingerprints and retinal scans are permanent and can’t be changed like a password. If someone’s biometric data gets leaked, it’s irreversible.

This has made biometric time clocks a controversial issue in recent years. Some states like Illinois and Washington have responded by restricting the use of biometric time clocks or banning them outright. Employers in these states face a penalty of US$1000 for accidentally violating the law and US$5000 for doing so deliberately. And that’s per clock in that violates the law. Some large businesses like Kronos and Ceridian have had to pay millions of dollars in fines for violating these laws.

Con: Employee experience

Some employees find biometric time clocks invasive and anxiety-provoking. They may worry about privacy concerns, the safety of body scans, or just find them to be over the top. 

Because of this, biometric time clocks can damage your relationships with your employees. They may feel you don’t trust them and are using biometric time clocks as a punishment. Some employees may fear you’ll only focus on their latenesses and not notice their greater contributions to the business. Over time, these negative feelings may culminate and even result in an employee’s decision to quit.

Con: Unreliable matches

Recent studies have shown that fingerprint biometric scanners aren’t as reliable as we thought. For instance, when employees had wet or dirty fingers, the scanners often produced false matches. 

There are similar issues with iris biometric scanners. Tech.co interviewed some businesses and found that long eyelashes, lenses, unusual eye colors, and even just reflections could prevent the machines from working properly.

Con: Limited access for people with disabilities

Biometric time clocks can send a poor message about the inclusivity of your business because they’re hard for staff with disabilities to use. For instance, facial recognition and iris scanners are often the wrong height for wheelchair users, and people with visual impairments might not know where to stand or place their hands. 

Businesses are required to provide an alternative for staff with disabilities, but that means buying two timekeeping systems instead of having one all-inclusive setup.

Are biometric time clocks legal?

Storing your employee’s biometric data can be seen as intrusive. That’s why many states are introducing laws that restrict the use of biometric time clocks and protect employee privacy rights. 

So, if you’re looking into implementing a biometric time clock system, be sure to check your state and local labor laws to make sure you can do so legally. If you’re worried about breaking any rules, consider opting for a cloud-based time clock like Homebase instead.

Familiarize yourself with your state’s laws

As laws vary between states, your first step is to research local regulations before introducing biometric clocks to your workplace. According to the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), New York has banned employers from requiring fingerprint scans, and Oregon has prohibited facial recognition scans outright.

In addition, many states are in the process of changing their laws regarding biometric time clocks. Check both existing and pending laws via the BIPA tracker to see what may affect your business in the future.

Determine ‘biometric information’ collection methods

Next, you need to decide what type of biometric data you want to use and how you’ll collect it from your employees. Biometric data is any information about a person’s body measurements or features, but most small businesses use fingerprint time clock systems because they’re fast and less intrusive than other alternatives.

Whatever type of biometric time clock you use, you have to make it accessible to everyone. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that you must make reasonable accommodations for staff with disabilities. If not, you’ll need to provide an alternative or find a different clock-in system.

Develop a compliance policy and get employee consent

Before you set up a new time clock in your workplace, you’ll need to create a compliance policy. This should include details like:

  • What biometric data you’re collecting
  • How you’ll collect the data
  • How long you’ll store the data
  • The purpose behind your data collection
  • How you’ll keep the data you collect secure

Once you have a compliance policy in place, you’ll have to make it available to your staff and get each employee’s written consent. This is crucial because you’ll open yourself up to fines and lawsuits if you don’t obtain informed written consent.

Stay compliant with biometric workplace laws

When you have your employees’ informed written consent, you may introduce a biometric time clock to your workplace. But wait — you can’t relax just yet.

When you have access to your employees’ biometric data, you can’t trade, sell, share, or profit from it in any way. The same goes for any third parties that have access to the same data. You must also protect your employees’ private information by using encryption and restricting access to the server. And as employees resign, make sure you destroy their biometric data. 

Don’t forget to stay up to date with federal and state laws as well. Biometric time clocks are controversial after some recent successful lawsuits against Kronos, Pret a Manger, and Walmart, so many states are in the process of changing their legislation. It’s more important than ever to stay current.

Note: This isn’t legal advice. If you plan to implement a biometric time clock and wish to be sure about the legalities, consult a lawyer.

Should I use a biometric time clock?

While there are plenty of great biometric time clock options for business owners to choose from, ask yourself a couple of questions before making the leap. 

  • Is it legal to manage employees with a biometric clock in my state?
  • Are those laws likely to change in the near future?
  • Are employees okay with this type of data collection?
  • Can all my employees access the biometric scanner?
  • Does the biometric clock let me check on clock-ins, clock-outs, and breaks remotely?
  • Does my biometric time clock integrate with my payroll provider and other operations?

It’s important for businesses with hourly workers to use a time clock and stay compliant with federal and state labor laws. Any type of time clock, including biometric time clocks, is essential for tracking employee hours and attendance. However, biometric time clocks are riddled with risks related to compliance, legal issues, employee experience, and reliability. 

It’s better to choose a modern time clock app that has all the accuracy of a biometric clock as well as integrates with your schedule and tracks labor costs, like Homebase. 

Why Homebase is the best alternative to a biometric time clock

Homebase offers you everything that biometric time clocks do and more. Plus, our time clock app avoids many of the pitfalls of time clocks that use biometric data.

Accurate time tracking software

Homebase’s time clock lets your employees clock in and out smoothly without the risk of buddy punching, so you don’t have to pay for any unworked hours. Employees clock in via the Homebase app when they reach their workplace, and with geo-fencing, the app confirms their location and starts to record their hours.

The Homebase time clock app also prevents early clock-ins, tracks breaks, and alerts you about late arrivals to reduce labor leakage even further.

Compliance with state and federal laws

Unlike biometric time clocks, Homebase is compliant with all present and pending legislation. Homebase’s time clock doesn’t require any biometric data, so it doesn’t come along with the associated privacy concerns. That means you can use it without fear of penalties or changes in the law that could result in you having to switch time clocks. 

Free-to-use time clock system

Standard biometric scanners range from US$50 to as much as US$500. But more reliable models with extra features like door sensors and extra capacity tend to be on the expensive side.

Homebase’s time clock is free to use for unlimited employees. That includes all its time tracking features, like the use of the mobile app and individualized employee PINs. And because the time clock tool is app-based, you won’t have to worry about the cost of upkeep or repairs either.

Unlimited access

With Homebase, you won’t have to worry about excluding members of your team. The time clock app lets employees clock in and out from any device, which means they can choose a device that suits their needs and comfort levels. 

The geofencing feature also only allows employees to clock in from within a set perimeter. That way, you’ll avoid issues where employees can’t easily access a clock-in device.

Other alternatives to biometric time clocks

Of course, there are alternative time-keeping methods to biometric time clocks and Homebase’s cloud-based attendance solution.

Time punch cards

Time punch cards are one of the oldest methods of tracking employee hours. Employees insert a card into a punch clock that either cuts out a hole or stamps the time into a box. But with this method, there’s nothing to prevent buddy punching, as employees can simply stamp each other’s cards. And because punch cards are manual, you’ll be on your own when it comes to your payroll process.

Physical time cards

There’s also the option to use physical time cards, punch cards, proximity cards, or swipe cards. Physical time cards require employees to insert their cards into a device, which often also allows them access to the building. Unfortunately, these cards offer no protection against buddy punching either and often need replacing when employees lose or break them.

How Homebase solves time theft but keeps you compliant

Although biometric time clocks impress employers due to their efficiency and convenience, they come along with rising concerns surrounding privacy. One small mistake and your business could face thousands of dollars in fines. And that’s nothing compared to what your employees might go through if their biometric details get leaked or compromised.

Homebase is a better route because our time clock provides you with all the accuracy and security of a biometric time clock without having to worry about compliance and a changing legal landscape.

Biometric time clock FAQs

Who uses biometric time clocks?

All kinds of businesses and organizations use biometric time clocks. Businesses with hourly workers use them to accurately record working hours. On the other hand, organizations with salaried employees put them in place to verify that their employees are working their contracted hours.

What are the disadvantages of biometric time clock systems?

Biometric time clocks come along with a lot of disadvantages, and here are some of the most significant: 

  • Can be expensive to buy and maintain
  • Retinal and fingerprint scans are unreliable
  • People with disabilities have trouble accessing some biometric systems
  • Employees may feel anxious or like their employers don’t trust them
  • Biometric systems are illegal or restricted in a growing number of states
  • There are privacy concerns around biometric data

Are biometric time clocks safe?

Yes, biometric time clocks are physically safe. No scientific studies support the idea that retinal scans damage the eye, for example. Also, using a touch-based time clock isn’t always hygienic and all employees should wash their hands afterwards. 

But biometric data may not be technologically safe. There’s always a risk that your employees’ data will be leaked or compromised.