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Comparison Guide: The 3 Most Common Employee Badges

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For most people, employee badges are tools they don't have to think about - unless (or until) they lose theirs. They slide it through or hold it up to whatever nondescript box "talks" to it, and the badge does its thing. 

Magic! Right?

Not really.

At ATS, we often get asked about employee badges when configuring time clocks for our customers. What company badges work with our employee time clocks? How does the system read an employee badge?

To introduce you to the basics of work badges, here is our a comparison of three of the most common types of badges used in the workplace: 

  1. Proximity 
  2. Barcode
  3. Magstripe 

There are different badge options within each of these types. Some of these differences are due to manufacturer specifications or industry standards followed. 

The first step is to understand these three badge types, how they store information and how time clocks read them. 

1. Proximity employee badges

Judging by appearances, proximity badges are bland, blank, credit-card sized pieces of plastic. At first glance, they seem not to have any information on them at all.

How they store data: There’s nothing on the badge because data is stored on material within the badge, usually a super thin metallic coil. Data is stored electronically as bits. The bit formats can vary among different types of proximity badges. 

Each has a Card Serial Number (CSN) that is unique to that badge. An employer can also set up an alphanumeric physical access control system (PACS), which provides more data, such as a site code.

How they work: When a proximity badge comes within the “read range” of the time clock reader, an electronic impulse is stimulated making it possible for the card and reader to exchange information. 

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2. Barcode employee badges

Anyone who's ever bought anything knows what a barcode looks like, at least the most common type. 

How they store data: Here's a little known fact: The white bars matter too. When we look at barcodes, we see black bars on a white background. Each sequence of seven bars (both black and white) constitute a single digit, zero through nine. The overall pattern of white and black bars produces a series of digits. The placement of the bars indicates what information is being shared. For example, the first four digits (not bars, digits) may be location code and the last eight digits may be an employee number. 

How they work: The barcode reader reads patterns created by both the black and white spaces to determine each digit in sequence. The contrast between the black and white is necessary for the light-based scanner read the data embedded in the barcode. The barcode is placed close to the scanner for reading.

The challenge of the bar code sticker is that it can be hard to read if not appropriately placed on the card. Fading or smudged ink, which can occur over time, will also degrade the bar code's readability. However, this can be easily remedied by printing out a new sticker.

3. Magstripe employee badges

Magstripes are almost old school. Short for "magnetic strip," magstripes used to be the revolutionary technology that made credit cards possible. Now, most credit cards have a chip with a magstripe or just a chip. But you can still get a time clock employee badge with one!

How they store data: A magnetic strip is made up of tiny - really, super tiny - iron particles that can get pulled in different directions when magnetized. You know, magnets. Like bits, the pattern of directions across the particles holds the relevant information. 

How they work: Magstripes can be read by different types of readers. Some readers require the magstripe card to get swiped. Other readers are “insertion readers” where the magstripe card gets inserted and read before being removed. In either case, the magnetic reader detects the directional pull (either north or south) of each particle, and that pattern transmits the data.

Now that you have the basics

You should now have a clear understanding of how each of the three main time clock badges work. Selecting which employee badge type is best for your organization is another question. You can learn more about the practical differences between them here.

A major consideration is whether your employee time clock can read the badge. This is where the detailed types and manufacturers of badges and badge readers become critical. For example, ATS time clocks work with a range of different readers. Not sure if your company's badges are compatible with an ATS time clock? Give us a call, and we can help you find out.

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"While ATS is passionate about time and attendance and excited to support organizations navigate workforce dynamics around timekeeping, we recommend you reach out to your country, regional and/or local HR chapter for more information on common workplace advice and procedures." 

Biometric Usage: Growing concerns over the privacy and security of biometrics are driving government regulations surrounding the definition of personal data and how to protect it. These regulations vary from country to country, state-to-state, and in some cases city by city. Most often the governing regulations are dictated based on the location where the information is being collected. It is important to understand the local regulations in the geographic areas in which you operate. If you are uncertain regarding your regulatory obligations, we encourage you to consult with your legal counsel.