Comeback of the punch clock – regress or progress?

January 26, 2023

It has been official since December 2, 2022: Employees are now all required to record their working hours. Ultimately, the ruling comes as no surprise, as back in May 2019, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) had already ruled that the recording of working time in EU member states had to be done by means of an objective, reliable and accessible system. In September 2022, the German Federal Labor Court (Bundesarbeitsgericht, BAG) issued a landmark decision obliging all employers to record the working hours of their employees. And now the kicker, the publication of the BAG’s reasons for ruling on mandatory timekeeping – a euphemism for the punch clock, which we believed to be a relic of the past. To this day, the punch clock is a term coined with negative connotations, since, following its introduction in the age of industrialization, it symbolized capitalism’s reign of labor-supervision. So much for history, but let’s take a look around: Don’t we still have a time clock in our everyday working lives? We go to the office with digital access cards, log on to the PC, use our cards to pay in the cafeteria, and at the end of the workday, the procedure is repeated in reverse. The difference is that today, time-punching is not a ritual within the work process, but rather it is done in a subtle way.

The ECJ and BAG have long been concerned with the issue of employment periods and the protection of employees. It became apparent that without a measurement of working time, employees often work more than required, and the resulting strain on employees is already showing its alarming effects in companies. This new law now calls the careful use of human labor into the foreground. This is because the recording of working hours ensures greater occupational safety and curbs the escalating working hours, a trend that has been trickling silently but steadily into the working world. In many sectors, time tracking is part of everyday life, but a large number of the approximately 45 million employees in Germany work under the trust-based working time model; an achievement that enables modern, flexible working. With the new law, it is clearly defined that the trust in the work of each individual remains, as well as the flexibility of service provision, supplemented only by the documentation of the actual time worked. But how is this actually implemented? Employers can delegate the recording of working time, but are obliged to make a suitable system available to employees. This can be recorded in paper form or online, and must record start, end and break times. It is important that the chosen solution is audit-proof and practicable for the employees.

For Germany’s European neighbors, time recording does not pose a major change, as it has already been firmly integrated into the work process. On average in Europe, time recording is mandatory in 69% of companies. Germany ranks second to last with 49%, as determined by a 2019 survey. However, the recording of working hours, especially in digital form, has long been established in our company, and has many advantages in addition to its legal requirement. Integrated into a homogeneous corporate landscape, modern software solutions for digital time recording streamline absence management, provide transparency across all employee groups and enable fair and direct payroll management. Complementary functions such as flexible approval procedures, user group-specific templates, configurable company rules for time management or compliance monitoring reduce administrative activities and thus costs. Rethinking and breaking up crusty structures in human capital management presents companies with an opportunity to create new ways of working that are attractive and characterized by due diligence.

Recording working time is a control tool, that is beyond question. However, and this is the serious difference from its use in the past, for the protection of employees. Integrated into holistic solution concepts, a digitized solution ensures greater transparency, security for each individual and profitability for companies – a win-win situation for everyone.

Author: Sabine Rudolf 

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