Facing an increasing amount of wage and hour liability these days, employers are considering every feasible method to track employee time accurately. Believe it or not, that includes biometric systems.  Indeed, as a replacement for traditional time card machines, biometric systems offer employers numerous benefits. Of course, they present accompanying risks and pitfalls, too. 350-804776-847__1

Biometric systems utilize automated methods to recognize an individual based upon a physiological or behavioral characteristic. Some examples of biometric recognition include fingerprints, facial recognition, voice analysis, and iris assessment. These methods of tracking employees increase the efficiency of employer payroll systems, since clerical errors associated with manual time entries are reduced or eliminated.  Biometric clocking systems also give employers stronger documentation to defend against claims by employees of nonpayment for hours worked.

Biometric systems also help eliminate some employee tricks to milk employers out of phantom hours worked. For instance, these systems reduce or eliminate the ability of your employees to use “buddy punching.” “Buddy punching” occurs when an employee clocks in or out using the credentials of another employee. Biometrics often reduce the ability of one employee to clock in for someone else.

Because the technology remains new and foreign to most workplaces, many employers question whether biometric clocking systems are legal. The answer to that question may depend on where you do business, since states often have unique laws concerning the implementation of these systems. For example, New York forbids the use of fingerprints as a means of tracking time.

Aside from state laws, employers must beware of other potential legal implications associated with biometric systems. For example, some employees object to the use of these systems because doing so would violate their good-faith religious beliefs.  In addition to potential claims of religious discrimination, biometric time keeping technology also could lead to claims of disability discrimination, since some are advanced enough to potentially reveal existing medical conditions.

Another consideration for employers in using these systems is the ever-present danger of data theft. It is true that many biometric systems store information in a format with a series of encryptions — for example, some hand scanning technologies record a scan as a binary data stream (not an actual image) which would be useless without the accompanying software.  Even then, a comprehensive security policy that protects the data stored is something an employer should probably think about.

If you plan on implementing a biometric system with your workforce, consider the following:

  • Review state laws to see if your system is permitted
  • Consider potential medical disclosures which your proposed biometric system may require
  • Inform your workforce about your system and the information collected to promote understanding and trust
  • Create a comprehensive security policy to protect employee information

Sometimes employers are well-advised to take their time when it comes to implementing a new technology in the workforce, so as to get a better feel for how useful — or problematic — it may truly be. In other instances, employers can get ahead of the game and their competitors by adopting progressive technologies. No matter which camp you decide to settle into, questions related to the adoption of biometric technology are best discussed with competent legal counsel.


Andrew Barber focuses his practice in the area of labor and employment law and general litigation, representing a diverse group of clients from small business owners to larger commercial businesses. Mr. Barber's experience includes the interpretation of collective bargaining agreements, employment discrimination, unemployment compensation disputes, breach of contract actions and defamation.
» See more articles by Andrew J. Barber
» Read the full biography of Andrew J. Barber at Steptoe & Johnson