The Fingerprint Scanner as 21st Century Time Card

Yesterday I was in my local bakery, buying a muffin. The owner was training a new employee, and they were fiddling with something at the touch-screen PC which served as the cash register.

The owner was trying to scan the employee’s fingerprint, using a little USB fingerprint scanner that sat on the counter. They were having some difficulty making the thing work.

They wandered off, enabling me to pay another staff member for my muffin. I asked her what the fingerprint scanner was for.

It’s a biometric time clock (this company makes them). Employees ‘clock in’ at the the start of their shift by scanning their fingerprint at the front counter.

Does anybody else think that’s a bit creepy? Talk about not trusting your employees. The message is “I think you’re going to lie to me, so I’ve devised a foolproof system to foil you.”

It’s been about fifteen years since I worked in customer service, but I never actually had to clock in at any of my jobs. If I was late, the manager just hassled me. I could never be particularly late for those early shifts where a manager wasn’t around (probably common in a bakery), because I had a bunch of stuff to do before a certain time (also, I’d imagine, like a bakery).

In any case, I wouldn’t leave the USB scanner in view of the public. I imagine there are lots of patrons who have the same response that I did.


  1. There would seem to be something fundamentally wrong with your business and leadership if you needed to employ something like this, in a bakery no less.

    $299 might buy them two hours of your time for training, right? 😉 is awesome!

    “Our Time and Attendance solution is the cleanest and most efficient way to track employee’s timecards”


    “Includes 90+ Day Complimentary Tech Support (SMS)!”

    What does SMS mean here? Text messaging support over your mobile phone?

  2. When I was in highschool I worked in a restaurant with a pretty large staff, and the single biggest problem with timesheets was getting them in on time, getting them mixed up, stuff like that. I can see this looking like it will help, but when problems set in the technology gets in the way.

    I guess I’m saying it doesn’t seem totally sinister, but if a person thinks they need to manage staff that way to get around cheating, it’s not worth having staff: they’ll find a way to screw you, and you probably deserve it.

  3. I worked at a job about ten years ago that made you swipe your id card in and out not only for beginning and end of days but also for each and every coffee break and lunch break. We were told that if you were even one second late you would be docked 15 minutes pay.

  4. I don’t think that it’s necessarily creepy or evil.

    As Todd says, it likely simplifies time tracking and almost certainly will save someone from manually tallying hours from a time card. Whether the manager is a jerk about interpreting the data or not has nothing to do with the tech.

    As an added benefit, if you used it as a quick login or screensaver unlock mechanism staff wouldn’t have to manage passwords.

    Properly implemented, the reader would only scan a few reference points so that bad guys couldn’t do anything useful with the data.

    These low security applications are where biometrics have good bang for buck these days.

  5. Was that in Victoria?

    I know someone who used to work at Terra Breads in Vancouver, and they used a scanner at that time (year and a half ago?). Bad morale, low trust, she said.

    Which I always find more distasteful in a business that tries to project an image of goodness (be it whole grain or otherwise).

  6. This a is pretty funny thing to have at a bakery. I am sure it wasn’t working because people didn’t wash their hands before using it, and it has flour or something else all over it, making the thing useless.

    As for the messaging, there might be some issue with trust, but the way I would pitch it (if I was management) is that it would enable you to check in for your shift with a minimum of fuss, and when you’ve cleaned your hands and are ready to go, you can check out quickly as well. Done.

    In some places you can use your fingerprint as a daypass for a given location – ie: Busch Garden’s Rollercoaster Park in Florida. This is becoming more common for identification in a convenience sense so it is possible to spin it positively.

    I am personally less stoked about being finger prints at the border.

  7. My last job had a fingerprint time clock. The boss’ wife was a bit of a cow when it came to ten minutes here or there.

    When we built the new building in Burnaby, the print machine came in. Personally, I think it’s a great way to spread disease and create resentment in your employees.

    No-one has any business with my fingerprints except law enforcement. And foreign law enforcement only if I’m arrested in another country.

  8. I work for a non-profit child welfare agency who is in the process of setting up a scanner timeclock. Isn’t it ironic that an agency that is supposed to be human services distrust their employees so much that they feel the need to go through the time and cost of setting up this system, while insisting that they can’t afford increases in pay. If they used the money to give their employees a raise the moral and loyalty would be a lot better. They must have excess funds if they are spending it on this silly thing.

  9. This issue most likely has nothing to do with the employer not trusting his employees. Assuming the technology is working correctly at the time, using such an exact time-clock method is great for both employer/employee. First, the employer does not have to fuss with manually tracking and entering employee work times and breaks. This saves countless hours of the employer’s time, meaning they are available to do more important things. In a small business setting, such as that of the bakery, this extra time is absolutely critical! Second, the employees are safeguarded by this method due to their not being any debate about whether or not the recorded times each week are correct. If an employee is paid hourly, there will likely arise debate at some point as to whether or not the employee was paid the correct amount for their work (i.e. the employer has a different time recorded than that which the employee believes is correct.) With a fingerprint scanner or other biometric log — even something as simple as a code that must be entered into a machine upon clock-in/out — there is no question as to what time the employee worked. The log shows the exact time of clock-in/out, so the variability in manually recorded times is no longer an issue. Finally, employee theft and misuse of time is one of the leading costs for all companies; this fact is multiplied for a small company when operating budgets are extremely small. One way employees have stolen from their company is by misreporting their hours worked or having another employee clock them in before they are actually working. In these cases, having a fingerprint scanner would eliminate this issue — if the employee did not clock in, he/she is not getting paid. I do not advocate the collection of personal data by corporations/government/etc., but using your fingerprint to make sure you, and your employer, are protected and accurately allocating funds is not a huge issue.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: