A recent tribunal hearing in Canada is a cautionary tale for employees working remotely.
Karlee Besse has been ordered to pay damages to her former employer for “time theft”, after she was caught claiming for over 50 unworked hours by time-tracking software installed onto her work laptop.
Ms Besse, a home-based company accountant, made a claim for wrongful dismissal under Canadian law, and sought compensation for unpaid wages and severance from her employer, Reach CPA Inc.
The employer said that its analysis of Ms Besse’s timesheets and time-recording data identified irregularities, and that it had just cause for termination of employment, based on Ms Besse “engag[ing] in time-theft”. They counterclaimed for the wages paid for the misrepresented hours, as well as the outstanding amount paid to Ms Besse when she began working.
Ms Besse argued that she found the software, TimeCamp, difficult to use and that she didn’t think that it was able to differentiate between time spent on work documents and time spent on the laptop for personal use.
She also claimed that most of her time was spent on paper documents, rather than online versions. Reach said that the software automatically picked up any time spent printing and, on the basis that this was a minimal amount of time, it didn’t feel it was possible for Ms Besse to have been working on large quantities of paper documents.
There was also no evidence that any work done on paper had ever been uploaded to the employer’s systems, so they did not accept that this was the reason for the lack of evidence of her work.
The tribunal found that the employer had proved Ms Besse had engaged in time theft, which it described as “a very serious form of misconduct”. The tribunal concluded by ruling that the employment relationship between employer and employee had been irreparably broken, causing Reach to end the employment contract.
The wrongful dismissal claim was thrown out, with the tribunal stating that “Given that trust and honesty are essential to an employment relationship, particularly in a remote-work environment where direct supervision is absent, I find Miss Besse’s misconduct led to an irreparable breakdown in her employment relationship with Reach and that dismissal was proportionate in the circumstances.”
Advice for employers
Based on this case, there are a number of actions employers can put into practice in the UK in their day-to-day workings with employees:
- Flexible working – a flexible working policy is a good start. This should set out exactly what is expected of employees who are working from home. This would assist with setting boundaries and, if these rules are not followed, would allow the employer to raise it with the employee in a more formal way
- Trust and confidence – this is a key aspect of the relationship between employers and employees. Employers should aim to raise any issues with employees in an informal way in the first instance, in the form of a meeting or appraisal. If the matter is more serious or cannot be resolved through an informal process, follow your company’s internal formal disciplinary procedure if necessary
- Termination of employment – dismissal of employees should be a final resort in a situation such as the one detailed in this case and should not be taken lightly. Issues should normally be averted by active management and potential misconduct identified early on. Only when the employer is sure that the breach of contract has been so serious that the employment relationship has broken down should they consider dismissing an employee, after a fair disciplinary process.