Ex-Employee Ordered To Repay Canadian Employer After Tracking Software Reported ‘Time Theft’

In a recent civil case in Canada, a woman has been ordered by a Tribunal to compensate her former employer for ‘time theft’ after tracking software reported that she had been misrepresenting hours worked.

Besse v. Reach CPA Inc

Case background

Karlee Besse, an accountant based in British Columbia, initially claimed she was dismissed from her job with Reach CPA without cause last year and sought compensation of C$5,000 (£3,066) in unpaid wages and severance.

However, in Court, her employer revealed that they had been tracking information on Ms Beese’s working time and that she had logged more than 50 hours that “did not appear to have spent on work-related tasks”. Reach CPA added that it had installed the tracking software, “TimeCamp”, on Ms Besse’s work computer after it came to its attention that her assigned files were over significantly over budget and behind schedule. Something which UK businesses are paying extra attention to due to employees working remotely.

Weeks after the software was installed on Ms Besse’s laptop, which she was made aware of, Reach CPA found that an analysis “identified irregularities between her timesheets and the software usage logs”.

During the tribunal proceedings, Ms Besse informed the Court that she found the software “difficult” to use and had concerns that it didn’t differentiate between work and personal use. However, Reach CPA argued against this, claiming that TimeCamp automatically distinguishes between the two uses, providing separate time logs for each type of activity.

In a video meeting, Reach CPA confronted Ms Besse with the discrepancies to which she responded, “you can’t fight the time”. Adding that she had:

“…plugged time to files that I didn’t touch and that wasn’t right or appropriate in any way or fashion … and so for that I’m really sorry”.

The tribunal Judge dismissed Ms Besse’s wrongful termination claim and instead ordered her to pay compensation of C$2,459.89 (in returned wages and a previous advance she had received) to her former employer.

Remote employee monitoring software

As alluded to above, these tracking systems actively monitor employees’ productivity whilst they are working remotely. It tracks and logs activities such as:

  • How long a document is open and how it is used;
  • Spot checks emails and calls;
  • Monitors active and idle time, keystrokes, and in some cases, uses facial recognition to check on workers via webcams.

A survey released last year by Digital.com revealed that 60% of organisations with remote working staff use tracking software to monitor worker activity and productivity. The same survey also revealed that of the respondents who used the software, almost 90% fired employees as a result.

A different survey published by the market intelligence firm, International Data Corporation, in July 2022 found that around 68% of employers in North America with at least 500 employees use some type of monitoring system.

The tracking software being adopted by companies has led to many employees investing in tools, such as “mouse jigglers”, to keep their statuses active and thus avoid productivity tracking.

Organisations that have implemented this type of software argue that they have done so as it assists them to operate more efficiently. However, most employees and trade unions are likely to perceive the use of this type of software as being nothing more than corporate spying.

Advice to employers concerning remote employee monitoring software

Companies considering monitoring their remote working employees should explore all the options available before deciding whether to do so. For example, are there other ways to reach the same desired outcome, such as extra training or performance reviews to help guide workers during their work days and to ensure they are staying on track.

Organisations should be aware of the negative feedback they could receive by introducing employee monitoring software. It may lead to employees seeking alternative work or could put off prospective workers from joining them.

If a company deems it necessary to implement this type of remote employee monitoring software, it must ensure that it is done so in an open and transparent manner. Employees must be informed:

  • How, when, and why their work is being monitored; and
  • The potential ramifications and disciplinary action of ‘work time theft’.

At the same time as implementing monitoring software, it is advisable for employers to review and update any relevant internal policies – e.g., email/internet, social media, data protection, and disciplinary policies and procedures.

How we can help

If you would like any advice or information in relation to the subject discussed in this article, please contact a member of our expert Employment Law team in Derby, Leicester or Nottingham on 0800 024 1976 or via our online enquiry form.

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