Can You Monitor Your Employees' Time Without Insulting Them?

As an employer, it is well within your rights to monitor employees to make sure they're earning the money you're paying them, but should you? Here are a few things you need to keep in mind before you put measures in place to track the hours your employees actually work in a given week.
01/15/2016 12:48 pm ET Updated Jan 15, 2017

When you're paying someone a salary to provide work for your business, it's only natural for you to want them to show up on time and put in eight solid hours of work. After all, when an employee has a timely arrival and is ready to get started, you can relax and focus on the work that you need to do to grow your business.

But what about those employees who can't seem to make it by the designated start time? They always have excuses for their tardiness, whether it's traffic or a sick child. Unfortunately, after a series of late arrivals, you will have no idea whether those excuses are actually real or made up. Even employees who are on time each day may not be productive. You can find them standing around the water cooler or taking extended lunch breaks without asking for permission.

As an employer, it is well within your rights to monitor employees to make sure they're earning the money you're paying them, but should you? Here are a few things you need to keep in mind before you put measures in place to track the hours your employees actually work in a given week.

Focus on Results First
If you're losing sleep over that employee who you feel is "cheating the system" by showing up five minutes late every day, look at the big picture. Sadly, it is very possible that the employee who puts in only seven hours of work each day would far surpass an eight-hour employee in the same role.

When you refocus your attention on work output rather than the number of hours an employee occupies a desk, you may discover time isn't as important as you think. Either way, if you choose to discipline the employee, focus on their work output before mentioning any tardiness issues. If possible, tie their attendance problem into any other work-related issues you bring up.

Do It Legally
Before you start monitoring your employees, you need to be aware of the privacy laws that may apply to your efforts. There is technology that allows you to monitor each employee's computer usage. You can also use time clock-type apps to monitor their arrival and departure times each day. However, you may find yourself wondering whether or not these options are not only moral but also legal.

The truth is that when employees are using your devices and being paid to work a set schedule each day, you do have the legal and moral right to monitor their activities. However, taking it to the next level by posting surveillance cameras around your office spaces without letting anyone know could put you in legal murky water. In fact, some states have laws against this practice, and making audio recordings without a disclosure may even be a violation of federal law. Instead of taking on this legal risk, it is better to use tracking where it absolutely applies and trust employees when it doesn't.

When Tracking Applies
For some businesses, employee monitoring is a natural part of business processes. Hourly workplaces have long had time clocks to track when employees show up and leave each day. As wall-mounted time clocks have been replaced by smartphone apps, businesses have been able to even more easily track hourly workers.

However, salaried employees tend to resent being asked to clock in and out each day. There are instances where tracking makes sense, though. If it's sold as a way to track billing for employees such as attorneys, who log billable hours each day, a business can often justify time tracking through an app.

Promoting It the Right Way
If you do decide to bring time tracking into the workplace, it's important to take the right approach to avoid upsetting your employees. Keep in mind that time tracking software makes the entire timesheet preparation process easier, and this is something everyone needs to know.

Employees are likely to much more receptive when you let them know that the purpose of the new tracking method is to enable them to easily collect daily information about their work hours, thereby making it possible for them to avoid having to scramble to get their payroll data in on time. A business can even divide work hours by project and explain that the new software is being used to make sure the team doesn't exceed its allotted work time on a given task.

Additionally, time-tracking software can offer several other useful tools that will appeal to employees. Many applications also provide tracking for quotes, lead management, invoices and job management. Therefore, if you select a comprehensive time-tracker, you can get your employees on-board by showcasing how much time and energy they will save by utilizing the program.

When a business monitors its employees' time, it runs the risk of offending their most valued workers. By first asking yourself whether or not monitoring is actually necessary, you can make a more informed decision and put yourself in a much better position to unveil a new policy. Ultimately, the best way to move forward with time-tracking software is by finding a way to turn it into a positive boost for your employees. In other words, showing people that the software will help them save time on payroll reporting and other important processes will make it possible to introduce time tracking without negatively impacting morale.