What Is a Biometric Time Clock?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A biometric time clock uses unique physical data from employees to clock people in and out. Fingerprints are the most common choice, but the system may use hand geometry or iris scans as well. The primary advantage to such systems is that they uniquely and accurately identify individual employees, with a slim margin for error. They may integrate with a larger biometric system used to control employee access to sensitive areas and maintain a secure workplace.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

When employees arrive, they clock in at the biometric time clock by presenting their hands or eyes to the device. They use the same method to clock out when they leave. The biometric time clock stores the data for the benefit of accountants and human resources personnel who need to access employee hour information. In addition to being used for paychecks, this information may also be kept for employment statistics and calculations like determining when an employee is eligible for sick leave.

It can also be useful if a company needs to know who was at work on a given day or time. Some systems allow personnel like supervisors to access a list of employees who are currently clocked in. This can be useful when a supervisor wants to contact someone or transfer a call, and needs to know if the employee is present. If the system interacts with biometric security, it might also provide information about the employee's precise onsite location.

One benefit of the biometric time clock is the elimination of buddy punching, a practice where one employee clocks in for another. Employees may not necessarily engage in this activity with fraud in mind, but it can potentially generate payroll losses. For example, if one employee clocks in for a friend every morning because they arrive at the same time and the friend starts showing up late, the company loses money paying the friend for time not actually spent at work. In other cases, buddy punching is more deliberately fraudulent, and people clock in for workers who are not at work and are not planning to come in.

With the use of unique biometric identifiers, buddy punching cannot occur. The employee must be physically present at the biometric time clock for this data to be collected. In addition to being important for financial reasons, this can also be valuable from a safety perspective. If a fire or other emergency occurs, for example, the company needs to know who is physically present in the building so it can conduct an orderly evacuation. If an employee who is clocked in doesn't report to a meeting point, emergency services personnel might waste valuable time searching.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I didn't know the biometric time clock devices were really as popular as they have become. I have only seen these types of devices on TV, and usually in some high-tech science fiction film or secret-agent movie. I think it would be kind of cool to sign in to work every morning by having my eye scanned. Not to mention, that this would be a good way to cut down on the long lines at the time clock because it would be much quicker.


A biometric time clock would make my life a whole lot easier. I have all of my employees punch a time clock, and on numerous occasions, I have checked the time cards during the day and found that an employee or a few employees were punched in on the card when they were actually on lunch break or off doing something not related to the work they are paid to do.

Some time-card mistakes are innocent enough, and there are times when punching the clock for someone else or having someone punch your time card would really make sense because of the convenience. The only problem is that once you allow this to happen once, the practice grows until you have people away from work for a couple of hours and still on the clock being paid.

My policy is simple. If you are caught punching someone else's card then you can expect to be fired on the spot. This will remain my policy until I can afford to buy a biometric clock.


When I worked in a factory one summer, we would do the "buddy punching," as was described in the article, all of the time. I want to say this was an accepted practice, however, maybe it was only the employees and not management who found the practice acceptable.

Now that I think about what we were doing, I can see how the practice may have cost the company some money, but mostly we were just trying to save one another a few steps to the time clock in most cases. I don't think anyone was actually trying to get paid without working.

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