B.C. employer wins time-theft case against remote worker after installing tracking software

A worker stealing time. Image: HR Law Canada

A remote worker in British Columbia, fired for cause, has been ordered to pay her employer more than $2,600 for time theft after software proved she claimed to be working when she wasn’t.

Hired as accountant

Karlee Besse was hired by an accountant by Reach CPA on Oct. 12, 2021. Her employment was terminated, for cause, on March 29, 2022.

Besse filed a wrongful dismissal claim seeking $1,371.60 for unpaid wages and $4,166.67 for one month’s severance in lieu of notice for a total of $5,538.27. She filed her claim at the British Columbia Civil Resolution Tribunal, which has a maximum of $5,000, so she reduced it to that amount.

The company, though, countered that she was terminated for cause on the basis of time theft. Therefore, she was not entitled to severance pay. In addition, it counterclaimed $1,506.34 for the paid wages it says amounted to time theft.

On top of that, Reach CPA said she owed $2,903 at the time of termination as the unforgiven part of an advance it made to her when she started working from them. After deducting $1,806.27 from her final paycheque, it said she still owed $1,096.73 for the advance. It sought total damages from her of $2,603.07.

Time-tracking software

In February 2022, Besse began having weekly meetings with her manager to help her better manage files. She said she asked for those meetings because she felt unproductive and that she was not performing as well as she should have been.

On Feb. 21, 2022, Reach installed a time-tracking program called TimeCamp on her work laptop.

The two sides met again on March 16, 2022, to discuss some of her files that the company said were over budget and behind schedule. After the meeting, Reach became concerned about a timesheet entry Besse had made for a file she had not worked on.

It then analyzed the data from TimeCamp between Feb. 22, 2022, and March 25, 2022. It found 50.76 unaccounted hours that Besse had reported on timesheets but did not appear to have spent on work-related tasks.

On March 29, 2022, the employer walked Besse through the analysis of her timekeeping and the concern about the unaccounted hours. The company, acknowledging Besse might have felt on the spot, offered her time to consider the information it uncovered — but she declined. She was terminated later that day.

The worker’s response

Besse said she found TimeCamp difficult to use and she could not get the program to differentiate between time spent working and time spent on the laptop for personal use. (She was allowed to use the computer for personal use after hours.)

A video, played by Reach during the hearing, showed how the software worked.

“The videos show TimeCamp captured the detail of each of Miss Besse’s activities which Reach could then use to distinguish between work and non-work activities,” the tribunal said.

“For example, if Miss Besse had a streaming service like Disney Plus open, TimeCamp recorded its electronic pathway and how long the service was accessed. As this was not activity associated with client work, Reach would classify it as personal. Similarly, if she accessed a client file, used software associated with client work, or printed client documents, TimeCamp recorded those electronic pathways and the time spent on each task, and Reach classified this as work activity.”

In short, the worker didn’t need to do anything to differentiate between activities once she logged into the software.

TimeCamp showed she did not work on files she recorded time for in her time sheet, the tribunal said, accepting the 50.76 unaccounted hours the company claimed.

Working with hard copies

Besse said she did a significant amount of work on paper hard copies that would not have been captured by the tracking software. She didn’t tell the company that because she “knew they wouldn’t want to hear that,” she said.

Reach, though, pointed to the software which also recorded her printing activity.

“It says the time Miss Besse spent printing shows she could not have printed the large volume of documents she would have needed to work on in hard copy,” the tribunal said.

“Even if I accept Miss Besse was working in hard copy most of the time, there is no evidence she uploaded her work onto Reach’s electronic system, or otherwise demonstrated to Reach that she spent any significant amount of time performing work-related tasks in connection with the 50.76 unaccounted hours.”

The ruling

The tribunal ruled Reach CPA had just cause to fire Besse for time theft and that it was entitled to compensation for the 50.76 unaccounted hours.

It awarded $1,506.34 for the time theft, based on an annual salary of $55,000.

It also said the company was entitled to $1,096.73 — the amount still outstanding from her advance after it withheld her final paycheque.

Total damages payable from Besse to reach were $2,603.07 plus $28.82 in pre-judgement interest.

For more information, see Besse v. Reach CPA Inc., 2023 BCCRT 27