Q: Our timekeeping system is online, and we are required to clock out for breaks, lunch and at the end of the day. Sometimes we bend the rules and take a short lunch in order to leave early, or skip our morning break if we get into the office late. These things are technically not allowed, but the managers either don't notice or don't really care.
Recently, one of my colleagues has started asking me to clock out for her at the end of the day. She comes in after me but wants to leave early. On days when I am staying late, she will ask me to sign her out when I leave. I've noticed that this co-worker does not sign out for any breaks or lunch, although she takes long breaks and a two-hour or longer lunch every day.
Do I report her time fraud? I'm afraid of repercussions for myself (since I have signed out for her a handful of times), and I'm also afraid that this could cause all of us to lose control over our own time sheets. This woman's job does not directly affect me, so I guess I don't have a professional reason to be bothered by her cutting corners, but I find it annoying and don't want to get in trouble for doing her dirty work. She's an intense lady whom I'm afraid to say no to and who is senior to me; we work in close quarters, and things would get extremely awkward.
A: What your colleague is asking you to do is commonly called "buddy punching" -- and while the nickname makes it sound like some goofy teen pastime, here are a few professional reasons to be bothered by it:
First, claiming pay one didn't earn is theft. Second, phantom time reporting could skew productivity tracking and hiring decisions, which in turn could affect an employer's budget. Third, if a company is doing contract work for clients, padding time sheets is a serious violation. And finally, as you note, abuse of the honor system is demoralizing to honest co-workers and jeopardizes that privilege for everyone.
So while I sympathize with your awkward position, you have to find a way to tell her no. "I know I clocked you out before as a favor, but I'm just not comfortable doing that anymore. I don't want us both to get in trouble."
If you need backup, your employee handbook may contain stern language about time-sheet fraud that you can cite, or you can point out that your employer may be able to track whose computers time sheets are being filed from.
Should you rat her out? In general, monitoring others' comings and goings makes for a paranoid, retaliatory work environment -- and, as you say, you would be in trouble, too. But if your "buddy" starts making life miserable after you turn her down, you may have to throw yourself on HR's mercy and come clean about the illicit request from a senior colleague that you were "afraid to say no to."
PRO TIP: To prevent buddy punching, employers can turn to biometric technology such as fingerprint, voice or face recognition.
Ask Karla Miller about your work dramas and traumas by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.