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Are Your Employees Clocking in Too Early? That’s a Problem.

Updated 10/31/2023 - We're used to employees clocking out late. Maybe they're dishonest. Perhaps they're not aware they're not supposed to do that. Who knows? 

However, there's another problem in your medical practice that might not get as much attention: employees clocking in too early. They show up to work early and clock in, and they may do this regularly. Even worse... maybe most, if not all, of your team members are clocking in too early. That’s a problem for your practice's bottom line. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to fix the issue. 

How Do Employees Steal Time While at Work?

There are plenty of hidden ways employees can steal time at work. It could be that they take extra long rest breaks. Perhaps they talk too much to fellow team members when they should be focused on their work. Maybe they space out for minutes at a time when they should be handling the task at hand. 

However, we're most concerned with employees clocking in too early. This scenario may seem like a strange ploy, since it requires a team member to come early enough to clock in before their shift begins. However, employees know that if they clock in a few minutes early every day, their paycheck will reap the benefits in the long run. 

How can they do this? Is there something about your timekeeping system that would allow it to happen? 

Some employees take advantage of the weaknesses in your timekeeping system, whether it's manual entries or on sticky notes. If you're using pen and paper for timekeeping, you're especially vulnerable to time theft. For example, it's possible for an employee to show up at 9:00 but write down that they showed up at 8:50.

More than that, if your timekeeping method doesn't provide accuracy, you'll be vulnerable to claims and lawsuits from your employees that may want to exploit that weakness.

How Early Can an Employee Clock In?

As a dental, optometry, or other healthcare practice, you have considerable leeway with how early an employee can clock in, but you must clearly note your expectations in your employee handbook’s attendance policy. For example, if you want team members in your optometrist's office to have the freedom to clock in ten minutes early (but no more than ten minutes), you should spell that out in your policy.

Are you concerned about employees clocking in too early without your knowledge? HR for Health can help. Our software can notify you via email if an employee clocks in too early, and you can set the point at which the email triggers. For example, the software can be programmed to send an email if the employee clocks in more than five minutes early. It will also notify you if anyone on your team is tardy or works overtime. More than that, you’ll receive a regular watchdog report to help you get an overall sense of what your employees are doing. 

Recommended Reading: Daily HR Headaches: Timekeeping, Payroll, and Compliance for your Dental Practice

Time Theft Laws: What You Can and Cannot Do as an Employer

What can and can’t you do as an employer when it comes to timekeeping? What are the relevant time theft laws?

First, you cannot withhold any payment for authorized hours. All wages must be paid and on time. For instance, suppose your physical therapist's office has a policy that allows employees to clock in five minutes early. In that case, you're obligated to pay them if they do clock in within that five-minute window. If you're not happy with this process, your solution is to change the policy, not withhold payment. 

Second, you CAN discipline employees for working unapproved hours and/or not following their schedule. If the schedule requires your veterinary practice employees to work from 9:00am to 6:00pm, your clock-in policy allows for clocking in no more than five minutes early, and your technician clocks in at 8:50am, you're well within your rights to discipline that technician. 

What Is an Appropriate Employee Time Theft Punishment?

Time theft laws may permit you to take action as an employer, but does that mean you should? Just because one of your employees violates the clock-in policy doesn't mean you need to act on it. The specific disciplinary measure can depend on how egregious the time theft is. If it's not a big issue and/or is a low dollar amount, you can consider an informal write-up. However, if there are many dollars at stake, you may want to consider a formal warning or termination.

For example, if your dental assistant clocked in seven minutes early for two weeks straight when your policy only allows a five-minute window, you may want to have a conversation with them or formally write them up. On the other hand, if this employee continues to clock in early, you might need to think about further discipline leading up to and including termination.

Recommended Reading: How To Optimize Timesheet Compliance In Your Medical, Dental, And Optometry Practice

Tip 1: Set a Clocking In and Out Policy

Nobody wants things to escalate with an employee, no matter what the time theft laws say. Here are two tips for getting a handle on timekeeping problems in your medical practice to help mitigate that possibility. 

First, set a clocking-in and out policy. As we mentioned before, it means setting maximum windows (five minutes, ten minutes, etc.) for both checking in early and checking out late. 

Fortunately, HR for Health gives you two helpful timekeeping features:

  • By tracking their IP addresses, our software allows you to restrict where employees can clock in from.
  • You can clearly outline your policy with a customized handbook.

Need more assistance? With an HR consultation, you can learn more about our timekeeping software and how it can reduce instances of employees clocking in too early.

Tip 2: Track Employee Overtime

The second tip is to track worked hours accurately and electronically to ensure you know what overtime your employees are owed. Again, HR for Health's timekeeping software also accounts for state-specific laws on overtime. 

Recommended Reading: HR for Health Feature Spotlight: Automated Overtime Tracking

Make Clocking in an Above-the-Board Practice

There's likely no definitive way to eliminate dishonest timekeeping behavior from your employees. However, you'll get rid of most of your problems if you:

  • Make your policies clear.
  • Stick to the policies and enforce them.
  • Encourage everyone to make clocking in a transparent and above-the-board practice.

After all, you want to spend energy on your practice and your patients, not worry about dishonest timekeeping.

Recommended Reading: Timekeeping: Why Accurate Timesheets Are So Important

Here are the top 5 questions we see on employees ruffling feathers by starting too early:

  1. Why is it a problem if my employees clock in too early?
    Clocking in too early can have several implications, from a legal standpoint to financial costs. Overtime obligations and wage laws can have significant penalties if not properly managed. Like a bad apple- just one can raise your labor costs and spoil the entire payroll pie.

  2. Can I simply ignore early clock-ins?
    Trust me, ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away (I've tried). It's crucial to communicate clearly with your employees to avoid misunderstandings. Also, depending on your state's regulations, you might need to pay your employees from the moment they clock in.

  3. Can I adjust the timesheets of employees who clock in early?
    This one is like playing Operation - it's tricky. You may adjust times depending on your state's laws, but make sure your changes are documented and communicated clearly. Nobody likes surprise edits, not even in timesheets.

  4. Is there a good way to prevent employees from clocking in early?
    Absolutely. The best line of defense is a strong offense, or in this case, a clear policy. Make sure your team understands when they're expected to clock in and what happens if they clock in early. It's not rocket science, but it's Important, with a capital I.

  5. How can HR for Health help me manage early clock-ins?
    Glad you asked! Our time and attendance software is like having a friendly, digital hawk watching over your time clock. It can provide managers with real-time alerts when employees clock in early. It's like having an HR superhero in your office –minus the spandex.

Remember, you can handle the early birds just got infinitely easier with HR for Health watching your back. Because navigating intricacies of employee clock-ins shouldn't be harder than convincing your toddler to eat broccoli!

HR for Health Wants to Help You With Your Timekeeping

HR for Health's accurate timekeeping feature is well-respected across healthcare industries. We make it easy to stay compliant, since our system can track all the additional variables you may have. These include:

  • Overtime tracking
  • Tracking different pay rates
  • Attendance tracking
  • Tardiness tracking

Fortunately, HR for Health will be there for you every step of the way to help you through these difficult waters. Set up a consultation today!

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