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Tracking Employee Time: A Long-Term Problem

December 1, 2006
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New trends in time reporting by Judith Katz
BY JUDITH KATZ Tracking employee time: A long-term problem
Biometrics technology makes employee time management easier and more efficient When it comes to managing staff time and attendance, the long-term care industry is not alone in its struggles to achieve an accurate account of employee hours. Regardless of wages, benefits, and other perks, employees often believe they are entitled to be paid for their scheduled hours rather than those they actually work. Even the most dedicated employees admit they occasionally "squeeze out a little longer lunch break," or perhaps "roll in a bit late" or exit "just shy of 5 p.m." And while a few minutes here and there may seem like no big deal, reports from the American Payroll Association (APA) show otherwise. In recent surveys, employees reported stealing an average of 4.5 hours each week through tardy arrivals, early departures, and extended lunches or breaks. This is the equivalent of a six-week paid vacation.

While traditional time-tracking methods such as electronic time clocks and manually compiled time sheets provide a record of employee hours, they do so without the checks and balances that ensure accuracy. Concerns about employees rounding up hours or failing to report sick, vacation, or personal days are not unfounded. And there is no mechanism to protect against unscrupulous employees punching in for tardy or absent coworkers, an act commonly referred to as "buddy punching."

Timely High-Tech Trends
With recent advancements, automated time-tracking has entered the marketplace, bringing more efficient, more reliable options, such as card-based software systems, which function much like credit cards. Here, users clock in either by entering a card and PIN (personal identification number) or by swiping a bar-coded or magnetic-striped card through a terminal.

Proximity cards, which are also popular as tokens that may be designed to fit on key fobs, offer another alternative. These contain a radio frequency (RF) chip that emits a signal read by an RF reader. The primary advantage of this technology is that it requires no physical contact between the card/token and the reader. As long as the individual is within range of the reader, it is a hands-free process that provides a quick read rate. While considerably more costly than other card-based technologies, readers may be a good choice for large enterprises seeking to expedite the employee log-in process, as they allow employees to clock in by waving their tokens as they pass a sensor rather than having to stop and enter a card or code into a terminal.

All of these methods streamline payroll preprocessing and ensure accuracy of reported hours. However, because they identify an accessory rather than a user, they can be shared-which allows buddy punching and its consequence of compromised data integrity. Another concern with accessory-driven systems is their high probability of loss or theft.

Among the most sophisticated applications for employee time and attendance are those incorporated with a biometric interface, which combines speed and accuracy along with the convenience of never having to worry about loss, theft, or sharing, because the item identified is the actual user. The term "biometric"-derived from the Greek words "bios," for life, and "metron," for measure-applies to any unique, measurable physiological or behavioral characteristic that can be used to automatically recognize or verify an individual's identity. While the technology has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years, it has been around for decades. In particular, law enforcement agencies used fingerprint biometrics long before the advent of computers and IT biometrics came on the scene. And as progressive digital technologies continue to adapt biometrics, a whole new generation of processes, applications, and functions are being born. In fact, biometrics has grown from the sole method of fingerprinting to more than 10 additional methods, including hand geometry, iris, retina, and voice recognition. And like fingerprints, these biometric characteristics are now analyzed through new data-collection readers such as sensors and scanning devices.

Uses of Biometrics
Today, biometrics technology is common in all types of government and business applications, which apply it in two distinct ways: for identification and for verification. With identification, the task is to determine who a person is by finding a match from a database. In cases where the database contains hundreds or even thousands of records, the search can take substantial time and processing power. The second approach, verification, involves taking new input and comparing it with that individual's original sample-which, when achieved, authenticates that the person is who he says he is.