Time and Attendance

Preventing employee time theft in restaurants

By Megan Johnson

Mar. 22, 2022


  • Employee time theft is when employees are paid for work they did not do

  • Employee time theft can come in various forms

  • Restaurant managers can prevent time theft with workforce management software

As a manager of a restaurant, when you think of employee theft in the workplace your mind may automatically go to blatant examples, such as staff stealing equipment, cash from the register, or even snacking on supplies. However, there’s a less blatant form of workplace theft: employee time theft.

While employee time theft is not always easy to spot, the impact is. Employee time theft directly impacts labor costs, and sadly, it’s not uncommon. Time theft can be prevented by investing in innovative time tracking software that ensures maximum employee productivity at all times.

What is time theft?

Time theft is when an employee is paid for time they didn’t work. It typically applies to hourly employees rather than exempt employees. Therefore, as a restaurant manager, you are at a high risk of being a victim of employee time theft.

What does the law say about time theft?

Unfortunately for employers, there are no explicit federal time theft laws, which puts businesses in a vulnerable position. While there are ways some businesses may be able to recoup losses through a civil suit, there is no guarantee this will be successful. So, employers need to make sure they’re doing everything they can to prevent time theft in the work environment.

Recognizing time theft in restaurants

There are different forms of time theft. Here are the major ones to look out for:

  • Falsifying timesheets: This is when employees misrepresent work hours. For example, an employee only worked 30 hours in a week, but they doctor their timesheet and say they worked 45 hours. If your restaurant uses temporary staff from staffing agencies, this is something to watch out for. A restaurant in Florida found it had $10,000 added to its payroll costs when a temp agency worker fraudulently misrepresented his work hours.
  • Buddy punching: This is when an employee clocks in and out for a coworker. If an employee is running a few minutes late and doesn’t want this to be recorded, they may ask a coworker (who’s already in the restaurant) to clock in. The reverse can also be true, employees can leave their shift earlier than scheduled, but have their buddy clock out for them.
  • Extended breaks: Employees may take too long on lunch breaks or go for unauthorized breaks like smoke breaks. This is likely to happen where there’s easy access to a back door.
  • Doing personal tasks during the workday: Instead of clearing tables, wait staff are surfing social media on company time or sneaking off to the restroom to take personal calls. A 2020 Digital Distraction & Workplace Safety survey revealed that the average employee spends 2.5 hours each workday looking at digital content that is unrelated to their job.

Uncovering time theft in your restaurant

While time theft can be difficult to prove, here are a few pointers that you may realize at your workplace:

 How to prevent time theft

Prevent time theft by using innovative scheduling and timekeeping software that ensures there’s no lost productivity from employees.

Use accurate scheduling software

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers must pay staff according to what’s recorded on the timesheet. Therefore, it’s important that your scheduling software creates the right shifts in the first place. Moreover, all schedules should properly align with hours reflected on timesheets, as this will prevent paying employees for hours they didn’t work.

Use an automated time clock solution

Eliminate the risk of falsifying time cards with a time clock app. Here’s how it works:

    • Staff clock in and out in an app with their personal IOS and Android devices.
    • Managers can guarantee the right worker is in the right shift, at the right place, at the right time with unique clock in/out passcodes, electronic photo verification, and GPS location data. This will directly eliminate buddy punching.
    • All clock-in data is automatically recorded, and the app generates electronic timesheets — the perfect solution for business owners who are tired of using stacks of binders full of paper timesheets.

Give your managers the ability to manage operations during the day

Provide your managers with a time and attendance system that stays on top of employee productivity. Managers should be able to monitor employees remotely — all from a computer or mobile device. This kind of monitoring should take the form of a live timeclock feed and tardiness notifications.

Managers should also receive notifications when employees clock in and clock out for breaks. With these instant notifications, it’s possible to cross-reference clocking in and out with the shift schedule to make sure there are no discrepancies in break times. Giving managers the ability to manage operations during the day ensures they can easily spot time theft.

Create and enforce firm time and attendance policies

Create attendance policies and communicate them clearly to your staff. Your staff might be unaware of their actions and how they can be perceived as time theft, so it’s important they know what time theft is and how they may be breaking company policy.

Make sure time and attendance policies include clocking in and out procedures, break periods, and cell phone and social media usage when on the clock. It’s crucial that employees know what time theft is and understand that it will not be tolerated. If necessary, make sure policies are enforced with disciplinary actions, as they may act as a deterrent.

Provide an enjoyable work environment

Burnout, low pay, and minimal benefits may make employees more likely to commit time theft. Employers should provide staff with enjoyable working environments where they feel valued, taken care of, and respected – this always helps reduce time theft. Consider implementing something like an employee reward system to create a culture of positivity and motivation. You could also regularly grant time off — or add in an extra shift — for workers who excel in their roles.

Prevention is better than a cure

While you can’t go back in time to stop prior time theft, you can certainly take steps to prevent it from continuing. Use automated workforce management software to empower employees to make the most of the hours they’re scheduled for. Contact us today to learn how you can get started.

Schedule, engage, and pay your staff in one system with Workforce.com.