Employee wrestles with coworkers apparent falsification of timesheet

Dear Joan:

I work as an administrative support in a small office of four people for a county government of 1700 employees. My supervisor is unaware that our department’s timekeeper (one of her smaller duties) is less than honest about recording the hours she takes off. Many times when our supervisor is out of town, this employee either leaves work early or does not come to work at all, and frequently does not record her absences.


Both she and I are hourly employees, paid for the hours we work. My supervisor trusts all of us to do the right thing, but I believe his trust in her is misplaced. Do I have an obligation to tell him that what she records on her timesheet is not always right? He has no other way of knowing what’s what, since he’s under the false impression that we’re all doing things by the book.



Nobody likes to poke a skunk. But in this case, the taxpayers in your county would be glad if you did.


Your supervisor is giving everyone the benefit of the doubt and trusting that his group is responsible and professional. If you have proof (and I wouldn’t sharpen your stick unless you’re sure), then he would want to know if someone were taking advantage of him.


If your coworker had been coming in a little late and leaving a little early, you might let it go, but not coming in to work at all—and getting paid for it—is over the line. Because your office is so small, I suspect you are not the only one who knows about this. So, if it continues, it’s sure to cause morale problems and other conflicts.


Before you approach your supervisor, it is wise to reflect on how he is likely to react. For example, if his typical response to something like this is to march right up to the employee and start questioning her, your approach will be different than if he is more thoughtful and will do his own self-discovery and leave you out of it.


If you feel confident that he will protect your identity and observe her more closely, in order to get a first-hand observation he can use, approach him directly and without emotion or vindictiveness. Say, “I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not I was going to share this with you but I feel I have to. As a government office, I know we are all under the taxpayers’ scrutiny… I thought you would want to know that some of the timekeeping is not matching the hours worked. If it were a few minutes here and there I wouldn’t say anything but I know for certain sometimes an employee isn’t coming in to work at all and recording that she is. I don’t want to become involved in this and I hope you will do your own private observation/investigation and leave me out of it, since I have to work with this person.”


You will be questioned and you will need to have evidence to back up your allegation. If your boss is smart, he will double back and do some quiet checking. If there is no way to verify your claim, he may have to start checking on her by calling when he is out of the office.


If your boss is explosive and impulsive you may not want to tell him directly. If he challenges her and it comes out that you reported her behavior, it will probably get nasty. And once the skunk has been cornered, you’re likely to get sprayed. Even if he says, “Someone in the office” or “it came to my attention,” she is likely to put up a stink with the whole office. If she interrogates people and a few timid ones cringe and say, “Oh, it certainly wasn’t me!” you will be found out.


If this is what you fear, an anonymous note may be the way to go (or say nothing at all). Although as a general rule I detest anonymous notes, if you suspect your boss will drag you into an altercation with your coworker, it’s a way to stay out of it and still bring it to his attention. Then if he doesn’t act on it, let it go.


Include actual data in your note, such as: “Check the timesheets against actual days worked. They don’t match. The timekeeper recorded three days of work but she never came in to the office. Those days were July 7, 19 and August 3. In addition, she has come in late (sometimes more than an hour) and left early (thirty minutes to two hours) at least 15 times but recorded full days of work. Taxpayers wouldn’t be happy. Also, it’s not fair to her coworkers. Thought you’d want to know.”


But before you poke this skunk, be sure that you have the facts. If this employee was attending a meeting out of the office or doing some work at home, at the request of your supervisor, you will be embarrassed. The tone of your communication should be a factual accounting not a tattling session.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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