Time is Money; and When Misused, It’s Theft – In Business and At Work
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Gandalf, as written by J.R.R. Tolkien
Once again, the news media provides even more colorful examples of workplace timesheet fraud than even I can pull from my 20+ years in the Human Resources biz:
- A court complaint charges former SUNY Research Foundation head John O’Connor and Susan Bruno, daughter of ex-Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, falsified documents to have Bruno paid roughly $165,000 in taxpayer money for time where she did not show up for her purported job. She skipped work in one instance to be at her father’s home as the phones were tested “for bugs and so forth.” (Source: Albany Times Union.)
- UTICA — A former director of the New York prison system’s food operations who admitted defrauding the state out of $100,000 by skipping work shifts and collecting pay for the time off has avoided jail time. (Source: Albany Times Union.)
- An Albany resident has pleaded guilty to a felony charge of filing false timesheets to a home health care provider for hours she never worked, collecting more than $3,000 in Medicaid funds. (Source: Albany Times Union.)
- ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — The former administrator of an upstate New York anesthesiology department has admitted steering millions of dollars in illicit payments to herself and two doctors. (There) were several scams, including one that paid $1.4 million shared between the unnamed doctors and a company Bulter started. Another involved bogus contracts to divert more than $1.9 million to the doctors and almost $1.2 million to her company. A third involved $500,000 stolen through false payroll records. (Source: Albany Times Union.)
At this point, you’re likely shaking your head in disbelief. How can this happen? Who’s asleep at the switch while these folks are abusing the time, attendance and payroll systems?
Because it starts small and in large measure, these small transgressions are ignored, or even worse, dismissed – so frankly, that’s how it can happen, and we all have the potential to enable such behavior unless we take a stand and set clear boundaries with employees who commit timesheet transgressions a.k.a. fraud, large and small. When we don’t set boundaries for the smaller timesheet fraud transgressions, the timesheet thieves get bolder and go for bigger prizes. Timesheet fraud needs to be stopped in its tracks when the transgressions are small. Some examples of small transgressions are:
- An employee logging their scheduled hours instead of their actual arrival and departure times. For example, if the scheduled arrival time is 8 AM, the employee logs 8 AM instead of their actual arrival time of 8:20 AM;
- Off-shift employees (however, it can happen on any shift) hiding and taking a nap when they’re actually clocked in and should be working;
- A variation on the first example: an employee logging one hour for lunch on their timesheet when they’ve actually taken an hour and 30 minutes for lunch.
How can you stop timesheet fraud when the transgressions are small? In the scheduled vs. actual worked hours example, here’s a sample solution for either the immediate supervisor or the supervisor in partnership with the HR Rep to implement:
- First transgression: Don’t sign off on the timesheet. (Don’t delay the employee’s pay – ensure that the employee is paid for the time they say they worked. If you can meet with the employee and pay them on time, that’s optimum – but don’t delay pay, stay in compliance). Instead, set up a meeting with the employee, and ask them why their recorded time is different from their actual time worked. (I actually had to explain to an adult employee that the actual work arrival time was the time they arrived at their desk, and not when they parked their car in the parking lot. Once we cleared up that little misunderstanding, they started recording their time accurately. The next challenge was getting the employee to arrive on time for work, but that story is for another time.) Whatever the answer, instruct the employee to record their actual, not their scheduled time, accurately – and clearly inform them that to not record their time worked accurately can amount to theft of company time. Document the conversation with a follow-up email summarizing the conversation. Be factual, professional, and respectful, even if the employee in question reacts otherwise.
- Second transgression: Don’t sign off on the timesheet. (Don’t delay the employee’s pay – ensure that the employee is paid for the time they say they worked. If you can meet with the employee and pay them on time, that’s optimum – but don’t delay pay, stay in compliance). Depending on your company’s policy, you have options: a written warning; a final written warning; or termination. Partner with your HR Rep on this one to ensure consistency and compliance. Frankly, the employee was duly informed when you had the conversation at the first transgression. Really, there’s no excuse for them to steal company time.
- Third transgression: Don’t sign off on the timesheet. (Don’t delay the employee’s pay – ensure that the employee is paid for the time they say they worked. If you can meet with the employee and pay them on time, that’s optimum – but don’t delay pay, stay in compliance.) Depending on your company’s policy (and if you even let them stay employed past the second transgression, which is extremely generous), it’s probably time to part company.
A lot of work, right? Aggravating, eh? When compared to the aggravation of potentially appearing in the press as the supervisor who signed off on the felon’s timesheet fraud, it’s time well-spent, in business and at work.