Photographing A Coworker’s Timecard

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about
photographing time cards

We are an Ohio business and our volume of business rises and falls weekly due to the nature of our business. With that said, there are times when one or two employees are told to stay home for the day; this is all done evenly across the board so no one employee is singled out. A certain employee feels he is being treated unfairly and was seen taking pictures of other employees time cards. The time cards contain only the employees name and week ending date, no social security numbers. Are there any laws regarding this employee taking pictures of other employees’ time cards?

Signed–Is There a Law?

Dear Is There a Law?

Thank you for asking a question voicing your concern that undoubtedly irritates and possibly angers others in your workplace. You are right to seek an answer. I’ve called the Ohio Department of Labor to learn it is not the place to provide an answer; nor is Ohio Civil Rights Department. Possibly you can get advice from Ohio Legal Aid (614 224 8374) or one from an on line site that answers legal questions. Our site responds to communication-related questions that arise in workplace, not legal matters. However, your question suggests workplace issues that underlie the question concerning is it legal for one employee to photograph other employees’ time cards?

Apparently, such action was prompted by a feeling that something is unfair connected with what was submitted on a coworker’s time card. Confidence is how working hours are reported can be eroded by rumors and observation of cheating. Large companies have turned to surveillance cameras or biometric time clocks. Scanning an employee’s hand prevents anyone from punching in for another and an employee’s time is sent straight to the bookkeeper.

Overall a time clock problem is a sign of a bigger problem somewhere else. The real issue is trust. Employees are trusted to keep accurate account of their own time. Time clocks are designed to help that. Requiring time cards implies that employers believe employees don’t feel like what they do determines the success of their workplace.

Employees who understand what it costs to manage a workplace are less likely to cheat on time and they will prevent coworkers who do so. Therefore, time is wisely invested in opening the books and informing employees about: capital costs, overhead costs, supplies cost, labor costs, advertising and distribution product/services costs.

Also employees, when give a stake in profit and loss, will be motivated to accurate and efficient recording of time worked. Your particular workplace probably isn’t open to full open-book disclosure of information and your workforce might not be able to absorb big swatches of financial data. But information of costs of services and products can be made clear and that should generate commitment and trust—enough that time systems would be respected if needed at all.

Those who own a small workplace don’t cheat on time. If they cheat, they cheat themselves. Employees in small shops sense that what they do matters. I have read the way one employee in a small shop describes how the manager informed and involved employees to understand the costs of a workplace. When a job didn’t go well, they discuss cost of that and would look at hours it took to do a job and discuss how it could be organized better. All played a part in how successful the shop was; therefore, there was no cheating.

Jon Hyman, a partner at Kohrman, Jackson & Krantz and an the author of the nationally recognized Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, explains why time records are important to management of a workplace:

Time clocks are not required. In those cases where time clocks are used, employees who voluntarily come in before their regular starting time or remain after their closing time do not have to be paid for such periods provided, of course, that they do not engage in any work. Their early or late clock punching may be disregarded. Minor differences between the clock records and actual hours worked cannot ordinarily be avoided, but major discrepancies should be discouraged since they raise a doubt as to the accuracy of the records of the hours actually worked. . . Because employers have to keep accurate records of the hours their employees work, routinely failing to pay employees for inaccurately recorded time might cause the Department of Labor to distrust the validity of your record keeping, which, in turn, could lead to a costly record keeping violation of the statute. Refusing to pay employees per your recording system also opens your business to a potential Department of Labor investigation or class action lawsuit for unpaid wages. The Hobson’s Choice employers face in this area—as a result of the web woven by the FLSA’s anachronistic rules and regulations—is either to grind your businesses to a halt through strict compliance, or to roll the compliance dice and hope that the Department of Labor or a plaintiffs’ class action lawyer will not come knocking on your doors.

And he advocates discipline up to firing for employees found to cheat on time records.

Time is money. From top to bottom, how it’s kept accurately deserves attention. Although I have not answered your question of law, might some of these thought help? Please let us know what you learn and do. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

Follow Up:  this is to add that I know my reply to your question was incomplete and probably left you uncertain about what action to take. What you do depends, not only if you find it is illegal, but on what policies, such as graduated stages of discipline, you have established and informed your employees about. Employees’ common sense should tell them that photographing a coworker’s time card is none of their business and is out of bounds. So management once it learns of that has several options: 1. Counsel the employee that such acts are wrong. 2. Levey some form of discipline such as a suspension. Or 3. Fire the employee. I submitted your question to a Manager of Human Resources in another state who responded with a hard line answer: “I would terminate him/her immediately. A) invading the privacy of employees and B) that employee is not entitled to examine the time records of employees since that is the property of the company. If it’s an at will state I’d fire him and not give him a reason. Just lay him off and not call him back.”

I hesitate to recommend such a severe response not knowing your situation and how responsible is this particular employee. My approach would be more on of establish clear policies and involving employees in appreciation and respect for accurate time keeping.

Finally, I should add that I also called legal aid, the number I provided, but didn’t get anyone there to talk to about your question.