GlossaryHR

The Essential List of Human Resource Definitions You Need to Know

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Employee Time Clocks

What are employee time clocks?

An employee time clock is a device to record and track employee work time and administer time and attendance policies. A time clock can be a physical device, cloud-based software, on-premise software, mobile application or landline telephone-based system. An employee time clock tracks shift start and end times as employees punch in and out for work shifts. The term “punch in” reflects the fact that early employee time clocks required an employee to put a “time card” into a device that “punched” the card with a time stamp. At the end of the pay period, the employee would add up work hours based on the shift “punch ins” and “punch outs” (shift start and end times). After tallying work hours, employees submitted time cards to their manager. The manager would approve time card hours calculations for the employees under their supervision. The company’s payroll department used the time card data to issue paychecks.

Mobile employee timekeeping systems can track work time with GPS-enabled devices (like smartphones and tablets) that track employee location. Instead of paper timesheets, most software-based systems automatically track hours and create “digital” time cards. Then, the hours data is imported directly into the payroll system.

What are the different types of employee time clocks?

  1. Biometric
  2. PIN (Key Code) Entry
  3. Proximity Card
  4. Magnetic Swipe Card
  5. Mobile or Web-based
  6. Traditional Punch Card
  7. Landline Telephone

Biometric Employee Time Clocks

A biometric time clock uses a unique physical attribute to confirm an employee’s identity when they clock in and out for work shifts. Common biometrics include fingerprints, palm-prints, iris scans, facial recognition, and voice recognition. Biometric time clocks prevent employee hours theft including buddy punching. Buddy punching is when an employee clocks in for another employee who is not at work.

PIN Entry Time Clocks

A PIN or key code time clock is a hardware device for tracking work time. Key code time clocks use a PIN for access. PIN or Personal Identification Number is a four or six-digit numerical code. Employees enter the PIN to log into the system. Buttons indicate clock in or clock out. PIN clocks are affordable and convenient to use.

Proximity Card (or Fob) Time Clocks

A proximity-based time clock is a hardware clock that uses a card or fob. The timer activates when the employee places their fob or card near the device. Employers assign a specific card or fob to each employee. These objects are sometimes called a “prox card.” Employees keep these identifiers on their person and use them to activate the time clock and clock in and out for work shifts. Proximity card time clocks can prevent bottlenecks at busy shift changes because the employee doesn’t need to touch the device or enter a PIN code.

Magnetic Card Swipe Time Clock

Card swipe clocks are hardware terminals that use magnetic cards to register access. Employees use a magnetic swipe card, like a credit card, to clock in or clock out. Employers assign a unique card to each employee. Employees use the cards to access the clock. Most devices have buttons to indicate clock in or clock out.

Mobile or Web-Based Time Clock

Mobile time clocks are software timekeeping applications that run on internet-connect mobile devices. Mobile smartphone clocks often integrate with GPS for location-specific tracking. Employees can use their own smartphones to access the system. Similarly, employers can access time and attendance reports on their own mobile devices. Mobile time clock systems help employers accurately track hours for remote and mobile employees.

Landline Telephone Employee Time Clock Systems

Before mobile phones, landline telephones provided an alternative to punch clocks. Employees called a phone number and followed recorded prompts to register work hours. Businesses with a telephone system stretched their infrastructure budget. Some companies–especially those without internet access–still use these systems.

Traditional Punch Card Time Clocks

The first employee punch clock was invented in 1888 by Willard Bundy, a jeweler from Auburn, New York. He created the Bundy Manufacturing Company to mass-produce and sell the innovative timekeeping device. Many employers still use a time clock based on Bundy’s original design.

Why is it important to use an employee time clock?

An effective employee time tracking method is essential for accurate payroll and efficient labor management. The most accurate timekeeping system is a biometric clock because it verifies identity as well as work time. Employers who use a biometric time clock synced with modern timekeeping software can prevent hours theft, ensure accurate payroll, enforce work schedules, track workforce analytics, and more easily comply with wage and hour laws.

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