An Employment Lawyer Weighs in on Recent Time Theft Cases

Recently, a court in British Columbia ordered a work-from-home employee to repay her employer $1500 in overpaid wages due to time theft (read the full story here). The employee, an accountant, failed to account for 50 hours of inactivity while she was supposed to be "on the clock." This ruling highlights uncertainty with what constitutes time theft in many workplaces and raises new concerns for employees.

This decision has been criticized as it runs counter to many employees' unspoken expectations. The reality is that most employees, particularly white-collar, remote, salaried, and professional employees, may have trouble accounting for every second of every day while they are supposed to be "at work." Most such employees do not envision themselves as “clock punchers”, and believe that if they get their work done, they are entitled to some flexibility. This decision completely dispels those notions

This ruling also creates problematic incentives for employers. For one, it financially rewards employers for the most invasive forms of digital monitoring. It also empowers employers to selectively enforce time theft against employees whom they consider undesirable. Third, time theft of this nature is likely so common that it threatens to vastly increase the complexity of what should be a simple wrongful dismissal case.

To protect themselves, employees should educate themselves about their employer's digital monitoring policy. In Ontario, most employers are required to have a digital monitoring policy. Employees should also make sure they can account for all the hours for which they are being paid, whether they are paid by the hour or their employer sets their working hours.

It remains to be seen whether and how this precedent will be applied in other provinces. For the most part, the issue of time theft in the age of digital monitoring remains a grey area.

If an employee is accused of time theft, it is a serious matter that can lead to termination without notice and liability for overpaid wages. In such cases, it's advisable for employees to seek legal advice to understand their rights and options.

If you are having an employment rights issue such as wrongful dismissal, unfair severance, or workplace harassment, but you’re not ready to talk to our law firm yet, please see the
Employment Law page on our website, created by the experienced employment lawyers at our law firm.

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