Employee Recognition at Kroger Grocery Stores for Clocking in, Security

Grocery chain adds high-tech touch in employee recognition

Mike Draughon pushed his finger down firmly.

A detailed image of his fingerprint's fine lines appeared on the screen -- and it was a match.

But Draughon is no criminal. The clean-cut, 19-year-old was simply clocking in to work as a grocery bagger and cashier at Kroger.

"I kind of like it. It's real high-tech," said Draughon, as he reported for work last week at the supermarket at 65th Street and Keystone Avenue.

In what labor experts say may be a first for the area, Kroger's Indiana stores are rolling out a system of using fingerprint images to clock employees in and out.

At least two other Indianapolis stores -- at 680 Twin Aire Drive and 4202 S. East St. -- already have the system. All 100 Indiana Kroger stores are expected to implement the technology by sometime next year.

The Cincinnati-based grocery chain has overcome workplace privacy concerns and union resistance to implement the system designed to keep track of attendance and prevent employees from inflating each other's timesheets.

"It's almost -- not quite -- but almost error-proof," said Jeff Golc, spokesman for Kroger. In the past "we've had people who've clocked out for each other, sometimes accidentally because you'd pick up the wrong card."

Kroger hired Austin, Texas-based Biometric Access Co. to install its $750 machines, which use a biometric process to scan an employee's index finger.

For an employee, it means walking up to what looks like a credit-card swiping machine and punching in an identification number. When the screen lights up, the worker places an index finger on a pad and the system scans for a match.

"Some employees had questions," said Charisse Thill, technology manager for the 65th Street store. "For the most part, they were open to change."

Biometric imaging is slowly finding its way into workplaces nationwide.

Illiana Financial Credit Union in Calumet City, Ill., has used a fingerprint-recognition system to track its tellers and loan officers since 2001.

Officials in Jefferson County, Ala., recently doled out $460,000 for biometric time clocks in an effort to save on fraudulent overtime claims by non-salaried employees.

But the time-clock change hasn't come without resistance. Workplace rights advocates say such tracking is invasive. Some employees worry their fingerprints, a tool used by police to catch criminals, will be used to run background checks.

"People were kind of skeptical at first," said Faye Martin, a cake decorator at Kroger's 65th Street store. "Because your fingerprint, it tells everything."

Kroger's employees' union initially tried to oppose the system, said Lew Piercey, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 3 in Indianapolis, but Indiana was one of Kroger's last districts to implement the process nationwide and grievance efforts already had been shot down.

"We're certainly concerned," said Piercey. "As with any other technology, we're going to keep an eye on it."

Even Piercey concedes the technology that Kroger uses doesn't open employees up to many privacy concerns.

The biometric process takes a small image of the fingerprint, created by five identification points on the forefinger, to find a match. The prints are of little use to police, who require nine points, Biometrics officials said.

With this type of system, an invasion-of-privacy claim by an employee would be tough to argue, said Ken Yerkes, chair of the labor and employment division at Indianapolis law firm Barnes & Thornburg.

"The legal risks (for an employer) based on the present information are limited," he said. "If it's managed properly, I don't see any legal issues."

Biometric imaging in the workplace is so new that a record of how many employers are using it doesn't exist.

"We did a study on privacy issues, but it didn't include fingerprints," said Jen Jorgensen, a spokeswoman for the Society for Human Resource Management, an industry group.

That study did reveal that employees are much less likely to agree to electronic monitoring of any form than human resource professionals.

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