Some workers are doing it at Dunkin' Donuts, at Hilton hotels, even at Marine Corps bases.
Employees at a growing number of businesses are starting and ending their days by pressing a hand or finger to a scanner that logs the precise time of their arrival and departure, information automatically reflected in payroll records.
Manufacturers say these biometric devices improve efficiency and streamline payroll operations. Employers big and small buy them with the dual goals of keeping workers honest and automating outdated record-keeping systems that rely on paper time sheets.
The new systems have raised complaints, however, from some workers who see the systems as excessive or creepy.
"They don't even have to hire someone to harass you anymore. The machine can do it for them," said Ed Ott, executive director of the New York City Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO. "The palm print thing really grabs people as a step too far."
The International Biometric Group, a consulting firm, estimated that $635-million worth of these high-tech devices were sold last year, and projects that the industry will be worth more than $1-billion by 2011.
Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, a leading manufacturer of hand scanners, said it has sold at least 150,000 of the devices to Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's franchises, Hilton hotels and to Marine Corps bases, who use them to track civilian hours.
Protests over using palm scanners to log employee time have been especially loud in New York City, where officials are spending $410-million to install an automated attendance-tracking system that may eventually be used by 160,000 city workers.
The scanners have rankled draftsmen, planners and architects in the city's Parks Department, which began using them last year.
"Psychologically, I think it has had a huge impact on the work force here because it is demeaning and because it's a system based on mistrust," said Ricardo Hinkle, a landscape architect who designs city parks.
He called the timekeeping system a bureaucratic intrusion on professionals who never used to think twice about putting in extra time on a project they cared about, and could rely on human managers to exercise a little flexibility on matters regarding work hours.
"The creative process isn't one that punches in and punches out," he said.
The city expects to save $60-million per year by modernizing a complicated record-keeping system that now requires one full-time timekeeper for every 100 to 250 employees. The new system, dubbed CityTime, would free up thousands of city employees to do less paper-pushing.
Another benefit of the system is curtailing fraud. Several times each year, New York City's Department of Investigation charges city employees with taking unauthorized time off and falsifying timecards to make it look as though they worked.
Jon Mooney, Ingersoll Rand's general manger of biometrics, said the privacy concerns are unfounded. The hand scanners don't keep large databases of people's fingerprints, only a record of their hand shape, he said.