How to Prove a Coworker is Lying About Overtime?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about overtime abuse:

Question:
How to prove your colleague is wrongly getting overtime? I’m inquiring because my coworker has been putting unnecessary O/T for a while now. He is conducting normal business hours duties on overtime after not working for majority of the business days. There is a lot more to the story, but I would like to start with proving his overtime abuse. PS My manager told me my coworker works after hours but does not get paid for it and I really feel strongly that is false.

Response:
I can certainly understand your frustration and irritation, when someone who is not working during regular hours is making more money than you, through overtime pay. Sadly, it’s a rather common way of getting paid more than the regular salary, without doing more work. The other action of your coworker—claiming to work at home without asking for overtime pay—is another common workplace trick, designed to impress the boss and justify the overtime pay already claimed.

An attentive manager wouldn’t let that kind of false overtime claim happen and would sanction or fire the employee who did it repeatedly. Unfortunately in your case, your manager doesn’t seem to be aware of it or doesn’t want to acknowledge it. In either case, it makes your situation delicate, because you could end up looking much worse than the problem coworker, for several reasons.

*One potential is that your manager will feel you are implying he doesn’t know how to do his job or that he hasn’t done it well. That may be true, from your viewpoint, but he would resent your actions.

*If you manager reports that you uncovered the truth and brought the information to him, he will have to admit that he approved overtime wrongfully and it took an employee to investigate it.

*No manager likes the idea that an employee is gathering information on coworkers, with the goal of getting the coworkers in trouble. Even if it is justified, it creates conflict in the office.

*There could be the perception that you are only complaining because you don’t like the other coworker and resent him making more money, even though he is justified in claiming it.

*You also open yourself up to very close scrutiny of every aspect of your own behavior and performance. Fair or not, there tends to be a feeling of distaste about someone who keeps track of the work of coworkers, unless it directly affects their own work. Even then, the view is that it is the role of the manager to supervise, not the role of peers.

You mentioned that your manager told you that the coworker works from home and doesn’t ask for extra pay. That indicates to me that you have talked to the manager about this situation, at least to some extent. If you have and your manager hasn’t investigated it or reduced the amount of overtime allowed, I would bet that nothing you could say or do will change his mind. Sometimes these things come down to the level of influence the employee has with the boss—or the friendship or other value.

However, if you haven’t talked to your manager in a direct way about it or haven’t specifically asked him to look into the situation, consider if you could do so, given your office culture and your relationship with your manager. In some offices, relationships with managers are casual and friendly enough that you could just say what is bothering you. For example, “I’m frustrated and getting angry about the overtime pay situation in the office right now and I’d like to talk to you about it. I work right next to Dan and I can tell you, without a doubt, that if he did his work through the day, like the rest of us do, he wouldn’t have a reason to work overtime. I think he purposely stalls on work, so he’ll have a reason to stay later. I wish you would think about that before you automatically approve him for overtime pay. It’s not fair to everyone else.”

Some evidence you could present might be a comparison of the work the two of you do, to show that you do the same amount or more, but don’t request overtime. Or, you could point out that the two of you should have the same level of skill, but it takes him much longer to do work than it does you, thus causing him to work overtime. Or, you could keep track of the length of time the employee is gone from the office for breaks or lunch and show that it is excessive and cuts into his work time.

In one office, several employees started claiming overtime themselves, until finally the manager had to stop all overtime. It was only way they could think of to stop the coworker from getting the extra pay for not doing extra work.

Those suggestions are based on being in an office where you can have that kind of conversation. I know of many offices where making those statements or asking for an investigation, would be considered insubordinate and the manager would let you know it was none of your business. Think about your relationship with your manager. Does he seem to strongly value your work? Have you brought things to his attention in the past, so you have credibility with him? Do you have enough time in the job that you are considered to have status to talk about the way things are being done? Those are all things that could have an affect on how whether or not the manager listens to you about this.

A final thing to consider is this: Other than being a very irritating situation, does it harm you for the coworker to make the overtime pay? Could you get overtime pay too, if you claimed it? Is it worth quitting your job over? Is it a violation of an employment contract you signed or is it an employee union issue? If the main problem is that it is unfair, you may have to find a way to deal with it and move forward with your own work.

I wish there was an easy way to make these workplace problems improve quickly, but there isn’t. In an office with which I’m familiar, one of the graphic designers was always late, did poor quality work, and treated coworkers disrespectfully. Nevertheless, he claimed overtime almost every day and talked about how he worked all night at home but was donating his time to the company because he was such a good employee. His manager approved every overtime request for months and wouldn’t listen to any complaints by coworkers—attributing them to jealousy. It took three years, but one day the manager moved to another assignment and the new manager fired the employee within two months. However, he also tightened up work for everyone else, so no one was happy!

The bottom line is that I think you should talk directly to your manager about your concerns, rather than trying to find proof of wrongdoing on the part of the employee. If you can’t talk to your manager comfortably, I suggest you focus on your own work and on gaining the kind of influence that will allow you to more easily bring these matters to your manager’s attention and get some action.

If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what you decide to do and what are the results. You may be able to help others who have similar problems at work.

Best wishes to you!

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors