'Time Fraud': Are Your Employees Stealing Your Time?
Are your employees time frauds?
COVID-19 has changed the way we live and function, but it has also opened opportunities for workplaces to adapt and change. Certain jobs always have required their employees to drive or travel, but presently office roles are adapting to the COVID-19 climate and allowing workers the freedom to work from home. This evolving climate can lead to employees taking advantage of these freedoms and not fulfilling the duties and tasks that are required of them. As employers, there is a fine line between trusting your staff to independently meet deadlines and ensuring they are actually working.
Patrolling or Procrastinating?
In October 2020, the Fair Work Commission upheld a decision regarding the dismissal of the Applicant, a council worker accused of ‘time fraud’. The Applicant was employed as an Animal Management Officer for the Southern Midlands Council for 3 years. The job description included using a Council vehicle and patrolling around the local area. The vehicle was only to be used for work duties and commuter use in accordance with the Council’s Motor Vehicle Policy.
Around August 2019, the Applicant’s neighbour made a complaint that a Southern Midlands vehicle had been hooning in the early morning. As a result, the Council investigated the GPS records of the Applicant but found no evidence of hooning. However, they did find that the Applicant had been using the vehicle for private use. Over 12 months, the GPS records indicated that the Applicant had visited her partner's residence ninety times during her work hours. The records also showed that she would often start working 2 hours later than her start time. The Council found that the Applicant had engaged in ‘time fraud’ and breached the Motor Vehicle Policy, as such, she was terminated for serious misconduct.
The Applicant claimed the dismissal was unfair on the basis that her role did not require specific working hours and that it included ‘patrolling’ the area which meant at times she was near her partner’s residence. The Fair Work Commission (FWC) considered the Applicant’s terms of employment, role, and duties, contracted hours of work, and the Council’s internal policies. The FWC held that the Applicant had engaged in ‘time fraud’ for two main reasons:
The Applicant spent significant amounts of time not working or travelling to her partner’s home when she claimed to be working; and
The Applicant drove her work supplied vehicle extensively for private use which was in breach of the Motor Vehicle Policy which states she could only use the vehicle for commuter use.
The FWC concluded that the Applicant had misrepresented her activities for a long period and deceived her employer – as a result, her actions were found to be deliberate and willful.
Working from Home
Are your employees being honest with how they are spending their time?
As an employer ‘time fraud’ has never been more relevant with the growing number of workplaces catering to working from home arrangements. Employers are entrusting their staff to be working during the hours they are contracted to work but it can be difficult at times to keep an eye on employees without encroaching on their autonomy and privacy. As the FWC case above showed, the Council was lucky to receive a complaint from the Applicant’s neighbour which allowed them to investigate GPS records. If it was not for the complaint, the Council might not have identified the Applicant’s ‘time fraud’.
Here are some ways employers can deal with employees committing ‘time fraud’:
Utilising Project Management Tools such as ‘Trello’ and ‘Monday.com’ which allow you to delegate tasks to various employees while ensuring tasks are being completed;
Ensuring each employee understands their terms of employment, specific role and duties, and importantly their contracted work hours;
Employers providing clear workplace policies to employees regarding working from home or the use of work vehicles; and
Consistently and promptly applying workplace policy especially in situations where employees’ conduct breaches policies.
If you have any questions regarding workplace policies and Employment Law, please contact our team at Voice Lawyers.
At Voice Lawyers we provide Employment Law advice and representation, so please feel free to contact us:
Phone: (02) 9261 1954
or you can book an initial consultation online https://portal.voicelawyers.com/
Please see our related Employment Law article on Personal & Carer's Leave here.