Clocking In Machines - A Definitive Guide For Employers

13 May 2022
A Suprema Biometric clocking in machine with fingerprint reader and time display


Using clocking in machines to monitor the attendance of employees is an extremely effective way of processing when staff arrive and when they leave. This can be useful for many different reasons, including the processing of time cards for hourly-paid employees, ensuring that salaried staff are fulfilling their contracted hours or even determining who to account for in an emergency. When you have an efficient way of collecting the data relating to the comings and goings of staff and connect this data to time and attendance, staff planning or roll call apps, you can realise significant benefits in cost-savings, increased productivity and risk mitigation.

What is a Clocking Machine?

A clocking machine is essentially any device that can ‘clock’ an employee in or out of work. Although there are a number of sophisticated devices on the market today, such as fingerprint scanners, facial recognition terminals and even non-contact iris recognition devices, clocking machines actually date back more than a century. Willard and Harlow Bundy were recognised back in 1888 as inventing the first clocking machine, The Bundy Clock. This was a card punching device that employees used to record their time at work. An employee was issued a card that they would insert into the Bundy Clock when they arrived and left work. The card was stamped according to the day and time of the time card punch. The card would then be passed to a manager or payroll team who would be able to calculate the amount of time an employee spent at work and pay them appropriately.

Technological advances have turned this very manual process, which was not without risk of fraud or human error, into a highly accurate, efficient and secure process. The term ‘clocking machine’ is still used by many people to refer to any device used in the process of ‘clocking’ employees in and out, so this could include more frequently used electronic devices such as card readers and biometric time and attendance devices, as well as older traditional time card punching machines that are still used today.

How Does a Clocking Machine Work?

A clocking machine works by capturing on an employee's timecard the time at which they arrive or leave their place of work. Traditionally this used a physical punch-card. However, modern clocking machines create an electronic representation of that timecard punch, and store the data as a digital timesheet; in many cases, this can be stored and accessed online via the cloud. This process must always start with the identification of an employee. The date and time stamp is irrelevant unless it can be associated with the individual and it is the method of identification that determines the type of device or clocking machine. We will look at the various different types of clocking machines below, but they all follow the same process:

  1. Identification of the employee
  2. Identification of the ‘direction of travel’ of the employee (i.e. are they arriving or leaving?)
  3. Accurate recording of the date and time of the event
  4. Association of all three steps above and creation of an event or digital record
  5. Store the event in a database for future reference, reporting or for third party applications to use, such as time and attendance, staff planning or mustering

What are the Different Types of Clocking Machines?

Over the years, time recorders have become more and more advanced, although it would be fair to say that each has been “cutting edge” for that particular point in history. By way of a quick summary, we can split the most common systems into:

  • Traditional paper based punch clocks
  • RFID Card / Fob systems
  • Biometric / fingerprint clocks
  • GPS / Location-proximity time tracking systems

RFID Card / Fob Solutions:

Traditional clocking machines have become fairly obsolete and the most commonly installed devices over the past few decades have been RFID (radio frequency identification) card or fob readers.

RFID readers are electronic devices, usually installed on a wall where employees arrive and leave, that use wireless communication technology to read and record a unique number stored either on a RFID card or fob. The advantages of these devices are that they are relatively inexpensive, easy to install and require no training.

However, they are not perfect. The main disadvantage of this type of clocking machine is that a card or fob does not truly identify the individual, it simply assumes that the individual placing the card or fob on the reader is the owner of it. In reality, anyone could present anyone else’s card or fob. This is where the term ‘buddy punching’ comes into play; an individual using another person’s card or fob to clock them in when they are not actually there. In addition, larger workforces will have the additional expense of having to pay for large numbers of cards - cards that can be lost, stolen and borrowed.

The following is an example of a combined RFID and biometric clocking in system; the Suprema BioEntry R2.

A Suprema clocking in RFID machine which has a very simple, narrow design featuring just a fingerprint scanner. It also displays an icon to indicate where on the device RFID cards/fobs can be scanned.

Biometric / Fingerprint solutions:

Innovation in biometric technology, particularly over the past decade, eliminates buddy punching. Essentially, ‘you are your card’. Without getting too technical, every human has unique physical attributes - fingerprints, facial features, palm prints and irises. Biometric readers can uniquely identify employees without the need for a card or fob. You cannot be mistaken for someone else and you have to be physically at the device in order to be identified. A perfect solution? Not quite. There are still some disadvantages. Generally speaking, with biometric devices, you get what you pay for. Cheap biometric clocking machines can be difficult to use and sometimes easy to spoof. Good quality, reliable biometric terminals can be more expensive than RFID terminals.

The following is an example of biometric clocking in machine by Suprema which features both facial recognition and a fingerprint reader.

A biometric facial recognition device which visually resembles a smart phone in size and shape. It features dual cameras to aid facial recognition & has a fingerprint scanner. The display shows the current time

GPS / Location-proximity Solutions and Apps:

Some of the most cutting-edge time and attendance systems now use GPS data from orbiting satellites to automatically clock users in or out based on their proximity to a predefined geofenced location.

These systems offer a number of benefits; no more forgetting to clock in/out, and there’s no need for employees to go to a specific terminal (which can be a blessing for large sites who use more traditional solutions).

In addition, these systems are often cloud based apps which often include a number of other benefits for employers and employees alike such as integrating with time and attendance and payroll systems, which ultimately provides a complete solution accessible from a single device.

Can Clocking Machines Integrate With Payroll Systems?

The simple answer is yes! Electronic clocking machines store events in a database and most payroll systems such as Sage, Quickbooks, Xero, and so on, allow for third party applications to ‘interrogate’ that database and consume the events.

For example, at a simple level a payroll system could use this data to determine that ‘Person A’ arrived at 09:00 and left at 17:30, meaning that they worked 8.5 hours. For some businesses, this is all they need. However, most businesses have many other factors to consider. What happens when employees have a 30-minute statutory break with a 30 minute discretionary break? This highlights the need for third party applications like RotaOne to process the clocking data and apply it to the rules regarding attendance exceptions and overtime. In effect, these applications act as a ‘middle-man’, processing the clocking events, applying the rules and exporting the information to payroll systems, such as Sage. Once a system is configured to automate this process, it can save organisations significant amounts of both time and money.

How Are Breaks Managed by a Clocking Machine?

Modern clocking devices act as an interface between the employee and the applications. Many have function keys and/or touch screens which can be used by the employee to select what they are doing when they clock in or out. For example, a typical day for an employee might include;

  1. Clock in (start of shift)
  2. Clock out for a break
  3. Clock in from a break
  4. Clock out for lunch
  5. Clock in from lunch
  6. Clock out for break
  7. Clock in from break
  8. Clock out (end of shift).

Further options could also be made available for the employee to select, such as ‘clock out on business’, ‘clock in from business’, ‘clock out for medical appointment’ etc. Each of these events will have a different effect on an employee’s pay. Sophisticated time and attendance applications, like RotaOne, can process all of these types of events and export them directly to payroll systems.

What are the Security and Privacy Implications of Using a Clocking Machine?

Any internal system that processes personal data should be scrutinised for vulnerabilities and security. Any electronic clocking system, by its very nature, will process personal data. Under GDPR, there are six legal bases for processing personal data. Processing personal data for the purpose of managing employee timesheets and pay is lawful under a number of these lawful bases, including performance of a contract, legitimate interest and consent, but arguably the most relevant lawful basis is ‘Legal Requirement’. This allows for the processing of personal data for a legal obligation such as employment law.

Processing time and attendance of employees is as much about the protection of employee rights as it is controlling payroll costs. In fact, in 2019, the European Court of Justice ruled that employers in the European Union must implement a system to track the working hours of employees.

Thinking Software takes security and privacy very seriously. We are Cyber Essentials Plus and ISO 27001 accredited. With this in mind, all of the clocking systems that are integrated with our time and attendance system are implemented to ensure compliance with data and privacy legislation.

Can I Use a Digital App Instead of a Clocking Machine?

Many organisations choose to allow employees to clock in and out using a digital app. The main advantage of this is that clocking events can potentially be created anywhere and they are not dependent on an employee going to a clocking machine. RotaOne has an app that can be installed on smartphones to allow employees to clock in and out and select their context. What’s more, the RotaOne app can be configured to only give the employees this option if they are in an approved location, for example, their home if they are a remote worker or within the vicinity of the business address. This feature is particularly useful in recent times as many businesses and organisations have had to transform to a system of hybrid working to cope with the COVID pandemic.

RotaOne’s digital app also allows employees to view and manage their annual leave and view their working hours and upcoming shifts. Digital clocking apps can be a very useful addition or alternative to conventional clocking machines.

Contact us to discuss your company’s time tracking requirements

If you would like to find out more about RotaOne and the range of options available for employees to clock in and out, then please contact us on +44 (0) 1993 878 671, email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we will be happy to recommend the right solution for you

Alternatively, you book a 1-2-1 consultation and demonstration of RotaOne by clicking the link below

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