College Employees Facing Timesheet Fraud Charges

College Employment Is Unique

College or university employment is both like and unlike other employment. College and university employees face many of the same issues that employees face in other workplaces. Work always involves questions of hours, pay rates, hourly or salaried terms, and total compensation. You may work for a college or university, or you may work in an entirely different field, but your employment will still involve these common compensation issues. Fair compensation for hours actually worked is a good reason for all employers, including colleges and universities, to expect honesty and integrity from their employees.

Yet, college and university employment are also unique. Colleges and universities are not manufacturing widgets. Colleges and universities are educating presumably impressionable adults. Colleges and universities thus place a higher value on the good character, conduct, honesty, and integrity of their employees. Colleges and universities need all of their employees to reflect the professionalism that they wish to convey to their impressionable students. Schools especially need their teaching faculty members and academic staff members to act honestly and decently, to fulfill their educational and mentoring roles. Cheaters make poor employees but especially poor teachers.

Fraud Matters to College Employers

Colleges and universities thus treat an employee's suspected fraud seriously. Fraud is a wrong that involves dishonesty. Fraud cheats someone. In legal terms, fraud involves a false representation made to induce the victim's reliance, causing the victim's loss or damage. Fraud comes in many forms. For instance, a bank that conceals and misrepresents a loan's true interest rate to cheat the loan customer commits fraud. Colleges and universities can themselves commit fraud. A school that purposely misstates graduate employment figures to entice prospective students into unwise enrollment commits fraud.

College and university employees, though, can also commit fraud. And when they do, their school employer is likely to treat the matter very seriously. For instance, the professor who deliberately overstates research expenses to pocket the ill-gotten gain from a grant funder commits fraud. Colleges and universities must guard their reputations closely to be able to attract students, grant funding, and alumni donors, and corporate partners. As a wrong of deliberate dishonesty, fraud damages a college or university's reputation. When a college or university discovers an employee's fraud, the school is likely to take swift and firm corrective action. And the school is likely to act whether the wrong cheats the school or someone else like a grant funder. Colleges and universities do not like to employ cheaters. They may take aggressive action, sometimes overly aggressive action, to punish employees whom they suspect of cheating. Don't treat allegations of timesheet fraud lightly. If your college or university employer makes that charge against you, then promptly retain national academic defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm.

Timesheet Fraud Matters to College Employers

Colleges and universities also treat timesheet fraud seriously. Timesheet fraud cheats the employer. When a college or university employee commits timesheet fraud, the college or university pays the employee more than the employee has earned according to the employee's employment contract. Timesheet fraud typically affects the employee's compensation. Employers typically require timesheets from hourly employees whose hours determine their compensation. But timesheet fraud can also affect productivity, morale, loyalty, and other management issues. When other employees know that one among them is not putting in the hours that the wrongdoer claims, those other employees may grow frustrated and discouraged. Timesheet fraud can both cheat the employer and reduce workplace productivity.

Concerns over timesheet fraud are just as acute in college and university employment as in other workplaces. Academic offices tend to depend on someone's physical presence on site. Students, administrators, visitors, and vendors may all need to see an employee on-site for various good reasons. Faculty members may be teaching or doing research out of the office, leaving hourly office staff to handle on-site matters. When those hourly workers are not keeping the hours that their timesheets represent, they are both cheating the school employer out of money and reducing the school's reliability and productivity. When a college or university employs a staff member to be available on-site, it reasonably expects them to be available on site for the hours that it pays them. You don't want to treat allegations of timesheet fraud lightly. Instead, promptly retain national academic defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm.

What Is Timesheet Fraud?

Timesheet fraud involves an hourly employee's misrepresentation of the hours the employee worked for the employer. Timesheets may be paper or electronic. Whatever system the employer uses, the employee typically has entries to make of the hours that the employee works. With timesheet fraud, the employee enters more hours, and different hours, than the employee actually worked. The employee may arrive at 9 a.m. but record an 8:30 a.m. arrival. The employee may leave at 4 p.m. but record a 4:30 p.m. departure. Or the employee may deliberately refuse to record lunch breaks or other time off. No matter the method, the employee's deliberate misstatement of hours induces the employer to pay for more hours than the employee worked and the employer received in productivity.

How Do Employers Discourage Timesheet Fraud?

Employers have ways of discouraging timesheet fraud. Some employers use physical time cards and time clocks. The employee must generally be physically present at the time clock's location to clock in and out. The time clock then stamps or otherwise records the employee's time in and out, from which the employer can presumably pay honest hours. Other employers require staff to check in and out with a supervisor who may record the time in and out, again giving the employer a more reliable record. Other employers rely on electronic time-clock systems that require the employee to check in on their desktop computer at their work location. These systems are supposed to discourage timesheet fraud.

None of these systems, though, is foolproof. Depending on the system's design, employees may be able to have others check in or out for them. Employees may also honestly or dishonestly report that they forgot to check in or out, with the potential for distorting the true hours. These systems can also add significant labor and administrative costs. They may encourage or require hourly employees to follow time-wasteful practices, like going straight to one's desk to check in without picking up mail or accomplishing other work tasks on the way. These systems tend also to require constant administrative monitoring and correction, as employees make frequent requests for correction of erroneous time records. No system is perfect. Timesheet fraud of some kind remains a concern with most systems.

What Are the Penalties for Timesheet Fraud?

Timesheet fraud can mean much more than simply having to pay back the ill-gotten gain of unearned compensation in breach of contract or civil fraud liability. Employment policies and handbooks tend to define any form of fraud or theft as a fireable offense. You can lose your job for timesheet fraud, even if your job offers the security of discharge for good cause only. Many college and university jobs, especially hourly jobs, do not offer any such job security. At-will employers could lawfully fire on the suspicion of timesheet fraud without necessarily having to prove it. Lost employment due to alleged fraud can mean not only lost wages and benefits but also loss of the ability to find other employment.

Criminal charges over timesheet fraud are less likely but still possible. Employers may consider timesheet fraud to be a form of theft. They may accuse an employee of stealing from the employer, when the employee instead sees the issue as a genuine dispute over time worked. Prosecutors may have statutory authority under state laws to charge timesheet fraud as a theft or embezzlement crime. But prosecutors are in the usual case more likely to see an employer's allegations of timesheet fraud as a civil matter, especially when the employee credibly disputes the allegations. Timesheet fraud related to federal, state, or other publicly funded grants, though, is much more likely to attract a prosecutor's attention, especially if the funding agency is the one making the claim. Treat allegations of timesheet fraud with the seriousness they deserve. Retain national academic defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm.

College Employment Is Valuable

Because timesheet fraud places one's employment at risk, the employee accused of timesheet fraud must consider the employment's value. College and university jobs are a valuable form of employment. The value can certainly be in the wages and benefits. Earning a living takes work. College and university employment, often in idyllic settings, is a generally conducive way to earn a living. Try laying asphalt or digging ditches instead. But the value of higher education employment can also be in its security. College and university employers can be remarkably loyal employers. Academia can put up with employee flexibility and eccentricity that other trades and professions wouldn't. Depending on the job, college and university employment can also suit workers who lack the strength, endurance, agility, or other physical skills that many other jobs require. Academic employment is often purely or primarily intellectual employment. It suits some workers peculiarly. An academic job is a job to keep, not one to lose over timesheet fraud allegations.

Employer Investigations of Timesheet Fraud

A college or university employer will generally follow its personnel policies when investigating and addressing suspicions of timesheet fraud. Investigation may at first be surreptitious. The employer may not immediately confront the employee suspected of cheating on timesheets. Instead, the employer may designate supervisory staff to monitor the employee's coming and going. Supervisors may enlist security guards, receptionists, or other on-site employees to document the hours that the employee actually keeps, to compare to the employee's timesheets. By the time the employee first hears of the employer's suspicions, the employer may have already completed its investigation, with documentation, witnesses, and even surveillance video.

How to Defend Timesheet Fraud Charges

The fact that employers tend to investigate timesheet fraud secretly, without the employee's knowledge, affects how employees can and should respond. The outcome of timesheet fraud charges often depends on the employee giving missing context to the employer's secret observations. For example, the employer's records and witnesses may be correct that the employee was away from the employee's workstation for a period that the employee's timesheet showed the employee to be working. The employer may presume that the employee was not working and thus had committed timesheet fraud. But the employee may be able to show that the employee was running an employer errand or working at another location. Timesheets are simply a record. Context is everything as to that record.

College and university employees can also have privacy and due process rights in their employment. Judges, jurors, arbitrators, and other decision-makers and evaluators in employment disputes may not respect the employer who spies on employees. Basic justice requires an employer to allow a hard-working employee to explain apparent anomalies in timesheets. Depending on the terms of employment, public colleges and universities may also owe the employee constitutional due process to hear the employee's side before taking adverse job action. Even at private institutions, the employee may have rights drawn from a labor agreement, employment contract, or employment policy. An employer who spies on an employee having reasonable expectations of privacy may be committing an invasion of privacy. And an employer who falsely and publicly accuses an employee of timesheet fraud may be defaming the employee.

Expert Representation Can Save Your College or University Job

College and university employees falsely accused of timesheet fraud often have substantial legal rights and claims to enforce. College and university employees have ways of defending false and exaggerated charges of timesheet fraud. They also have every reason to devote time, attention, and resources to their defense of those charges. If your college or university job is on the line because of timesheet fraud charges, then promptly retain national college and university defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm for your defense. Don't throw your job away just because your college or university employer has misconstrued your timesheets. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or use the online service.

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