The difference between Time and Attendance and Access Control

The Confusion

Judging by the various queries we have received, there is apparently lots of confusion amongst some people regarding these two very different industries. This article is an attempt to clarify the differences and to help people who are confused between the two to determine exactly what they should be looking for.

Access Control

Access control refers specifically to the prevention of entry of undesired individuals into a controlled area. This initially involves fencing off, walling or otherwise securing the controlled area. Then having some form of controlled entry and exit to that area. In it's simplest form this may involve a security guard at the entrance using face control or checking the credentials of potential visitors. In a more sophisticated form it may involve fingerprint readers attached to an electronic turnstile.

Access control does not specifically imply any recording of entry or exit times of individuals but it is a natural addition to any automatic system. Some systems do as a matter of course record entry and exit times of the candidates but this does not necessarily imply that there is any form of calculation of the hours that the candidate was within the secured area. As soon as you start calculating hours from this data, you are entering the realm of a Time and Attendance system. However the data collection methodology of a system specifically designed for time and attendance recording will usually have built in facilities for error correction such as an employee entering twice without exiting. Believe it or not this can be a big problem.

Time and Attendance

Time and attendance relates to the recording of the start and stop times of employees specifically for the purpose of calculating time-sheets showing hours worked and exceptions such as late arrivals. It is normally used for the purpose of calculating the wages of hourly paid employees. Sometimes companies want to keep track of salary earning employees to ensure that they are getting their fair share of their employees time and to reprimand tardiness and be made aware of any other exceptions. Time and attendance may be as simple as a book where employees write their arrival and departure times in, right up to a fingerprint time and attendance terminal linked directly to a payroll system.

Time and attendance does not imply any form of control regarding who is allowed to enter the premises but of course some Time and Attendance systems do offer an Access Control option which means that the Clocking terminal can be connected to an electronic lock and open the door simultaneously when an employee clocks in or out. These can be very effective if your access control requirement is a simple single entry point or two entry point system.

Complexity and Expense

Access control systems are usually far more expensive than time and attendance systems because they usually involve large heavy hardware such as turnstiles or booms and are commonly used in environments where there are multiple entry points and multiple areas of control with differing levels of security. They also have far more complex installation parameters and require extensive prior planning. They also require in depth training of supervisory staff and most likely traversing through a rather large learning curve.

Relative ease of Installation

Time and attendance systems on the other hand are usually installed at a central point close to the employees work area and mostly involve the installation of a single clocking terminal, some wiring to a nearby computer and an hour of training with the responsible staff member.

Combining Time and Attendance and Access Control

When thinking of combining Time and Attendance and Access Control together which admittedly does seem a natural option, it is prudent to also realise that a company specialising in access control usually does not provide an exceptionally good time and attendance system and vice versa. They are two very different concepts after all.


If your requirements for access control involve multiple entry points and areas of differing security levels then you are most likely going to require a specialised access control system but you should also probably install a dedicated, separate time and attendance system as well.

If your access control requirements are as simple as a single entry point turnstile for all your wage earning employees then you will be able to make good use of the access control functionality built into a good time and attendance system.

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