Law Grad in Pink is a blog written by a law graduate in Adelaide for law graduates everywhere.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Timesheet fraud – is lying about time worked on your timesheet ever ok?

Question: Is lying about time worked on your timesheet ever ok?
Answer: I want to scream at you NO. NO. NO. It is never ok to put incorrect times on your timesheet. Not only is this dishonest (which should be deterrent enough), but there is always the risk your timesheet discrepancies will be sufficient reason to justify immediate termination of your employment. However, instead of lecturing you, I am going to provide examples from case law to highlight how important accurate timesheets are to keeping your job.

The most recent unfair dismissal case on falsified timesheets
Lacase v Neon Group Ltd Ltd [2016] FWC 3058
Mr Lacase worked for Neon Cosmetics, an Australian cosmetics manufacturer, as a Compounding Supervisor. Mr Lacase was dobbed in by a fellow employee who Mr Lacase had told about claiming overtime without actually working the overtime hours. Mr Lacase’s ordinary hours were 7:45am to 3:51am. Mr Lacase had been claiming morning overtime payments of about 1 to 1.5 hours a day, which would put his start time to 6:45 or 6:15am so that in a normal week Mr Lacase would claim 38 normal hours and 6 overtime hours in his time sheets. The company’s Production Planner checked to see whether Mr Lacase was at work at these times by observing whether Mr Lacase’s car was in the staff carpark. It was not. When the allegations were put to Mr Lacase he denied he was lying about time worked on time sheets and that he was not working the overtime he was claiming. His employment was then terminated. Mr Lacase made an unfair dismissal application to the Fair Work Commission within the 21 day limitation period.

Commissioner Wilson decided that the termination was justified and Mr Lacase had not been unfairly dismissed:
·         In deciding on the balance of probabilities whether the alleged misconduct (fabricated timesheets) actually occurred the Commission will take into account whether it is satisfied of the proofs of the conduct and the need for honesty on the part of the applicant during the course of an investigation. Commissioner Wilson found that Mr Lacase had both claimed overtime on timesheets that had not been worked and had not been truthful when allegations were put to him. This is reason for dismissal.
·         Mr Lacase claimed that he worked overtime on various days and then aggregated his claims for overtime payment into a single period. Commissioner Wilson commented that this may be a potential defence where corroborative evidence of the matter is put forward, but Mr Lacase did not put such evidence forward in this situation.

Claiming time where you were actually working on your own business is sufficient reason for summary dismissal
Eghlima and another v Winco Systems Pty Ltd [2012] FWA 10836
Two brothers, David and Hamid, were employed as electricians by Winco Systems. They had worked on a number of projects including at the University of Sydney and the Star City Casino prior to being dismissed. David and Hamid had started their own electricians business without notifying Winco and had been conducting work in direct competition with Winco Systems in the time they had recorded as working for Winco. There were issues with the timesheets David and Hamid had completed in time claimed when the timesheets were compared to objective evidence such as phone, site and toll records and the discrepancies can be explained by time spent working on their own business. Deputy President Sams found the discrepancies “alarming and most disconcerting”. The discrepancies were very large for some projects, with 33 days being claimed for one particular project, but site access records showing David only worked 12 days and Hamid only worked 6 days. Given the evidence, Deputy President Sams found that even if the brothers resignation could be characterised as a dismissal, it would not have been unfair.

What if I am only claiming a little bit extra on my timesheet?
No. No. No. Even small amounts of additional time claimed on a timesheet may form a sufficient reason for dismissal, especially when combined with other conduct, such as if the employee acts deceptively towards an employer when the discrepancy is put to them.

One hour of overtime claimed on timesheet not actually worked – sufficient reason for dismissal
Ferris v Water-It Queensland Pty Ltd T/A Dig It Landscapes Pty Ltd [2013] FWC 7158
Mr Ferris was employed as a leading hand landscape gardener by Water-It. Water-It alleged that Mr Ferris had incorrectly completed his timesheet entry for 13 March 2013, adding an hour of overtime in which he had not worked. The previous day, Mr Ferris has received a reminder that timesheets were to be completed accurately and no overtime was to be performed without prior approval on that particular project and that failure to accurately complete start and finish times could lead to disciplinary action. The timesheet said Mr Ferris finished work at 5:30, but GPS evidence showed he finished work at 4:18 and arrived home at 4:55pm. Mr Ferris did not justify his conduct or seek an opportunity to review the timesheet, diary or other documents in this meeting where the discrepancy was put to him. In the course of the hearing Mr Ferris indicated that he claimed the additional hour in lieu of a call out he attended to later that evening. However, this overtime claim had not received the required prior approval.
 In considering whether there was a valid reason for dismissal relating to Mr Ferris’ conduct, Senior Deputy President Richards noted:

·         Mr Ferris had filled in his timesheet incorrectly despite the previous day being reminded of the importance of accurately completing timesheets and being provided with examples of how to correctly fill out a timesheet;
·         Although Mr Ferris claimed the hour was for a call out he attended later that day, he did not disclose this to his employer when given the opportunity – Mr Ferris did not avail himself of the opportunity to explain his defence. Regardless, the overtime claim had not received prior approval;
·         The 1 hour discrepancy alone was sufficient reason for dismissal when combined with the deceptive manner in which Mr Ferris acted when confronted with the discrepancy and seeking to mislead his employer about the time he arrived home, as the issue of trust and confidence arose when the matter was not openly and honestly explained by Mr Ferris when the employer was making inquiries.

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