As a business, if you are still relying on spreadsheets and paper timesheets to manage your employees’ time, activities, skills and costs, you could be leaving yourself open to inefficiencies, inaccuracies, non-compliance with working time legislation and in some cases even employee fraud. Inaccurate employee time tracking & timesheet fraud is a common problem in organisations that use manual processes. Some of this is due to conscious intent and some are due to a lack of management controls.
In this article, I will detail some of the most common types of timesheet fraud along with ways that you can increase management controls, ensure legal compliance and protect your business from deliberate fraud.
Types of Timesheet Fraud
Entering and/or approving incorrect data is one of the most common abuses of attendance information. When done accidentally it can expose employee carelessness, flawed processes and a lack of management control, however, when done deliberately, in simple terms it is fraud.
Employees are responsible for entering their correct attendance data and supervisors are responsible for certifying that this information is indeed correct. While we all hope that the majority of employees are both diligent are honest, unfortunately, experience shows that this is not always the case. Set out below are some of the most common ways employees can commit timesheet fraud.
Inflating work hours
With paper-based timesheets, it’s very easy for employees to enter incorrect times of arriving and leaving work and overstate or round their hours up to the nearest hour. Overpayment then occurs as the employee is paid based on falsified hours or rates.
False data entry
If employee attendance data has to be retyped from timesheets or time cards into a payroll system, it is very easy for a dishonest employee to change the numbers. As well as being open to fraud, this type of process is susceptible to typos and mistakes. The less you have to rekey your time and attendance information, the more accurate your data and in turn the more accurate your payroll.
This type of fraud occurs when a manager favours a co-worker, relative or friend by scheduling them for a specific task rather than scheduling a different employee, who is also available to work, and may be a more cost-effective choice. For example, if a job comes in for a service engineer, who also happens to be the scheduler’s buddy and is assigned to this job despite the fact they are already in overtime, your business is at risk of paying unnecessary time and a half rates to get that job done.
Errors due to delays in completing timesheets
Although not technically fraud there are often inaccuracies when employees fill in timesheets weeks or months after they have worked these hours. Supervisors then sign off on these timesheets when realistically it is unlikely anyone can actually 100% guarantee that these hours were worked particularly for supervisors who are responsible for large teams.
How to prevent Payroll Fraud?
While it may not be possible to eradicate payroll and timesheet fraud, there are ways to catch it and catch it early. The key to catching it and minimising the risks is to ensure you have safe processes, policies and systems in place that can’t be easily manipulated.
Use of Electronic Timesheets
One of the easiest and most unobtrusive ways to accurately track employee time and activities is via electronic timesheets. Electronic Timesheets replace the need for paper timesheets and gather information on hours worked by employees.
Electronic timesheets were designed to allow employees to easily enter their daily hours worked or assume their standard contract hours, as well as paid time off via their PC, tablet or phone. They reduce administration and manual tasks, increase payroll accuracy, ensure compliance with working time legislation and protect organisations against payroll fraud.
Once timesheets are completed and approved, the system can then calculate payroll, based on the hours entered thereby avoiding the need for any manual calculations. Supervisors don’t need to sign off on “paper” timesheets which can be open to errors; instead, they approve employees’ electronic timesheets online directly from their email or via their phone App. This ensures that timesheets cannot be changed later as once approved they go directly to payroll rather than back to the employee.
The Electronic Timesheets module also allows employees to view and edit their time, enter absences, submit requests for leave and review their schedules reducing the time spent looking for this information from others.
Entering and approving timesheet information regularly
The most common type of payroll fraud is the padding of timesheets by employees and the best control over this is ensuring that timesheets are completed and signed off regularly and in a timely fashion.
With an automated system like Softworks, there is no need for administration staff to re-enter this information into the system. This allows you to completely eliminate the middle steps which could leave your business open to human error or fraud. The quicker that timesheet information is processed the more exact it will be. By leaving a time lapse between work done and approval you leave your business open to mistakes and deliberate fraud.
Make timesheet approval quick, easy & hassle-free
If tracking time and attendance become too much hassle for employees and supervisors, timesheet accuracy goes down. The easier it is for employees to fill in timesheets and for supervisors to approve them, the more accurate this information will be and the faster errors or attempted fraud will be spotted.
Line managers don’t want to waste time chasing their team for timesheets and HR & Finance departments don’t want to waste time chasing line managers. Good electronic timesheet systems have built-in functionality such as email alerts and SMS messaging reminding employees and managers about timesheet submission and approval. At the end of the day, the process should be quick and easy and provide no disincentive to doing it.
By enabling supervisors to easily and quickly edit, authorise and analyse, time, attendance, holidays, absences and additional time from one screen you will increase timesheet accuracy and alert supervisors quickly to any discrepancies.
A good electronic timesheet system should offer all of this. With Softworks, employees and supervisors receive automatic email notifications when timesheets are due and they can approve or edit timesheets directly from their email or via their phone App.
Keep track of employees centrally
Managing variable working hours, times and days and tracking large numbers of employees and/or contract workers dispersed at multiple locations in real-time can be quite a challenge. With Electronic Timesheets, you can allow employees and/or contractors to check in from off-site locations.
Electronic Timesheets are 100% web-based so both employees and supervisors can log in anytime and anywhere via their PC, Laptop, Tablet or Phone. making it easy to record employees’ working hours, times and days and track large numbers of employees at a central source no matter where office premises or employees/contractors are located.
This in turn makes it easier to track any discrepancies or unusual time and attendance which leads us to management reporting.
In order to keep a close eye on timesheets, managers and supervisors should be able to generate and view reports easily. This will help them to analyse employee costs, overtime usage or time off and to easily and accurately track hours spent on projects or tasks.
Furthermore having a system that generates good reports will prevent employees from booking time for projects that don’t exist or are completed, or favouring employees on projects, without taking into consideration the cost implications.
Most countries today have working time legislation for health and safety reasons. As a business, it is your responsibility to accurately record your employee’s working hours, overtime, annual leave and start and finish times. If you don’t, you could be at risk of prosecution for non-compliance or even face a lawsuit from employees.
There is a growing body of case law involving class action lawsuits for unpaid overtime. Already lawsuits have been filed against many high-profile organisations in the US including; Best Buy, McDonald’s, Urban Outfitters, Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, CVS and Wells Fargo among others, alleging employers misclassified employees as exempt from overtime or failed to pay overtime to employees regardless of their classification.
This is not just an issue in the US, this is a global issue. In Canada, Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice gave the green light to a class-action lawsuit against part of Bank of Montreal’s wealth management group that alleged the bank owed unpaid overtime to hundreds of current and former investment advisers.
The lawsuit alleged BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. did not keep a proper record of the time employees worked and did not appropriately compensate employees when they worked overtime. The case followed other lawsuits over unpaid overtime brought against the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and the Bank of Nova Scotia by bank tellers and other employees who said they were unfairly denied overtime pay. The banks were hit with combined claims of $950 Million.
In the UK, John Lewis had to spend £40m to compensate staff who were accidentally underpaid for working Sundays and Bank Holidays over a seven-year period.
No matter where in the world you are based, if you employ staff, ensuring legislative compliance and managing, recording and tracking working hours has never been more important. A good Time & Attendance Solution can automate this process for you and ensure that your organization is always 100% compliant.
Timesheet fraud is upsetting not just because of the money that companies lose, but also because of the breaches of trust that occur. While it may not be possible to completely eradicate payroll fraud, there are certainly ways you can minimise the abuse. You should have clear policies in place on what the consequences are for such criminal activity. You should also consider Electronic Timesheets as they have been developed and designed to minimise human error and deliberate fraud.
The potential for timesheet fraud is significant and the consequences are far-reaching and an expensive process. As a business, you need to be diligent with your internal controls and management reporting so that issues such as; payroll anomalies, excessive labour costs, extreme hours worked and high-cost projects are discovered at the earliest possible time and dealt with quickly.