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Reporting time on a "flat rate" nightly job? Legality?

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Okay, this is really long, because it includes details to help "suss out" the situation. So if you don't have time, don't bother. It regards a legal/moral issue at work. If someone does read it and knows where it properly goes, feel free to move it, though I am as interested in people's opinion of the morality of my situation, as I am in their thoughts on the legality.

I was hired as a janitor for a building service company. The company has the janitors fill out timesheets. I was told at the beginning by my boss that it was a 4-hour job or "schedule". I was trained by a supervisor who, when showing me how to fill out the timesheet, said to just fill out 4 hours every day, and if I finished earlier, good for me. She also said "don't tell the boss, our secret".

Oddly enough, when the boss said it would take from 6 to 10, she said "eh, 6 to 9", and he just said "oh". He didn't seem to mind that she had just contradicted him on how long the job took.

I called him once to ask a question about going in later, but at first he thought I was asking if I could go home early, because he said "Yeah, if you get done early you can just go home."

Now, I think he has to know that people wouldn't finish in the same amount of time every single day, and that people would get faster over time. So maybe he's fine with people signing the full time on the sheet even if they get done faster.

Or, maybe he's negligent--he didn't even tell me how to get timesheets, in the first place. I had to ask if I was supposed to be reporting time, in order to get a sheet in the first place. There were many other things where I had to doggedly ask about something to get a response, but that came later. Anyway...

I wrote a memo to him, which I turned in along with my first timesheet. In the memo I told him that it was my understanding based on what I could gather, that the nightly rate was a "flat rate" of 4 hours, based on a satisfactory job, regardless of whether it actually took more or less time. I said that I was taking less than 4 hours, but was adding some tasks to fill in time. And I said that if my understanding about the timesheets was incorrect, to tell me, because I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing.

I never heard back about the memo. This could mean three things: 1. He didn't get the memo (perhaps the secretary threw it away). 2. He got the memo and I was correct, it's considered a flat rate. 3. He got the memo, and is letting me THINK that I was correct, either because that's how he runs the system (my paychecks don't reduce his), or because he wants to be able to blackmail me later, if I decide to leave the company (ie "no, you're staying with us, or you're going to jail.") I had noticed that at the bottom of the timesheets it said "I certify or declare under penalty of perjury that the time on this sheet is true and correct."

I optimistically chose to assume number 2. I even told someone at the building I clean at, that I worked for a flat rate.

In January I was given a second building to clean at, due to the good job I was doing at the first building. I had received numerous compliments at my first building. As soon as I started the second, I received compliments there as well.

Around Feb or March, my boss and I were talking about my obtaining supplies, and he decided I'd pick something up when I turned in my timesheet, and he asked at the end of the call, "hey are you using all of your time at your first building?" Now I hadn't comprehended the question right off, and said "What?" and he said "never mind, just come in with your timesheet." I didn't realize what he'd asked till after we were off the phone.

I printed a second memo, re-iterating my understanding about the timesheets, including the fact that I had continued to become more efficient, and did not take the whole time to clean, but had received many compliments on the quality of my work. When I brought it in, I talked to the secretary about the whole situation, and she said she could give it to him, but then I said I'd rather give it to him myself and talk in person to be sure, and she said she could at least mention it, and I said okay. She said as far as she's concerned, I could "take my time" because the math is easier for her if I don't report weird times.

I got a call from the supervisor at my second building, who said that I could talk to her about anything that I would talk to the boss about. I explained the whole situation to her, and she said that as long as I was doing my job and the building users were satisfied, I would not have any problems from her or my boss, with me signing the full time. She said, like the other supervisor, that if I got done early, and I did a good job, good for me. And she didn't say "keep it a secret". Due to this, I felt much better, and never did bring in the second memo. I didn't want to disturb my boss unnecessarily.

A short time later, the wording of the timesheet declaration changed to "I certify or declare that this timesheet is true and correct". Now. Why would they switch the declaration's wording? Perhaps to reflect that the sheet does not necessarily reflect exact times, but rather the work put in? I considered it possible that due to my concern, they changed the wording.

However, I still feel uncomfortable signing for that full time, knowing that all I have to go by is my supervisor's word and the fact that my boss never contacted me regarding my first memo.

Am I right to think that legally, unless I have specific record of these conversations, and proof that my boss got the memo (which I do not), I am legally culpable, and if I wanted to leave the company, he could blackmail me into staying, or just decide to screw me over? (I don't imagine he would want to while I'm still working for them, because I'm doing a great job, so why ruin a good employee.)

Do you know of any situations where timesheets are used where it's a tangible job completion and you can just sign for the full time? If so, really what's the point of the timesheets? Just to keep track of the value of the job that was agreed upon?

Do you need more details? Basically what I really want to know is whether I'm safe in this situation--and if I'm not, how I can become safe. I don't want to have the risk of going to jail, and getting, well, physically violated--for reporting full time even though I was told I could/should do so.

Edited by musenji
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If the time sheets are used to bill your clients, you're defrauding them. If it's your signature on the sheet, you might be responsible.

If this badly affects the way they bill their clients, that sucks, but they'll just have to renegotiate that.

If they are just some internal bureaucracy though, it doesn't matter. Although you still could be considered to be defrauding your boss if you can't verify the verbal OK they gave you.

Sit down with whoever is in charge, explain your discomfort at the situation, and then ask for a written confirmation.

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Basically what I really want to know is whether I'm safe in this situation--and if I'm not, how I can become safe. I don't want to have the risk of going to jail, and getting, well, physically violated--for reporting full time even though I was told I could/should do so.

You've been given a slight nod to clocking in for four-hours that you aren't really working.. and it sounds like you've been concerned about this issue for awhile, and have somewhat of a guilty conscious about it.

Like tito said, one way to deal with this is to get your 'verbal agreement' in writing. (But I'm not sure how well that would stand up if your boss decided to renege on it.) The honest thing to do is clock in when you get there, and clock out when you leave. If you're only working for 3 hours, that's really all you should be getting paid for. As a rule of thumb, we're all accountable for time we get paid for. You might let your supervisor know that you've started clocking in accurately, your work only takes about three hours to complete, and since you've been doing an excellent job, you'd like a raise.

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So, I should not take the word of my supervisor who assured me I won't have any problems as long as I'm getting the job done? And if I were to get in trouble later, I couldn't quote that?

My fear is that this is simply how the system works, this is how my boss wants to run things, and if I try to bring it up, the hammer will fall down on me even though it's what everyone else does as well. My boss tends to only communicate the bare minimum, or even less, than is necessary. I don't see him being willing to take the time to write out a verbal statement, and there's the risk that if this isn't how he is supposed to be running things, I'll get the hammer so that he doesn't look culpable.

Another fact that might be relevant is that my boss has to initial my timesheet before I can be paid. I don't know if that makes a legal difference.

Morally speaking (and to clear up how I feel about it conscience-wise), so...I did take close to 4 hours to finish the job when I started working there, because I didn't push myself as hard, and I was less organized and efficient. Why should I be paid less for becoming more efficient, if I'm still doing a good job (and even adding tasks to the job)? On a side note, I have a very strong feeling that my boss would not give me a raise that is proportional to how much less time I'm spending. On another side note, I have asked the boss of the company we clean for, if there was anything I could improve upon, and he said no, I'm doing a --great-- job.

[edit] Another factor is that I sometimes do tasks outside of the time that I'm spending to clean the buildings. For example, one of the buildings requires a special cleaning solution, and I go drive and get that myself, because I know if I leave it to my boss, I won't get it in time. From my experience and the word of my supervisors, when you count on him to get something, it will take a while. (The company does pay for the solution via account, just so you know I'm not spending my money on that...but I am spending gas and time.)

I also purchase my own cleaning gloves. And instead of asking for more rags, I clean the rag I use, at home, to save them money on that. On several occasions I have done fix-it solutions outside of work for work-related things.

All of this would have to be reported individually and would make the payment process much more complicated than just treating it as a flat rate, and I have been told by the secretary that she likes to keep it as simple as possible, and it's clear my boss does as well.

You guys are right that the only way I'll feel truly better about this is to get it in writing, but I just don't see that happening. I get the impression my boss wants to communicate as little as possible.

I apologize if it looks like I'm posting with confirmation bias, I just wanted to fill in the rest of my thoughts on, and facts regarding, the situation.

Edited by musenji
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It is hard for an outsider to judge, so take this with a pinch of salt. Most of the time, when a manager tells you to put down a fixed amount of time, he means exactly that. Someone not doing so is probably causing him some type of grief. Some time-systems are in place for mostly bureaucratic reasons. If two supervisors and one manager (or his secretary) have all told you to book 4 hours, I strongly suspect that this is the course of action that best fits their purposes. Writing memos and escalating things will force them into the letter of some procedure which they do not wish to follow.

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My guess is that this has something to do with you being a nonexempt employee under the FLSA. I used to have a job that I thought was salaried, but which required me to fill out timesheets every week. I was scheduled to work 40 hr/wk and reported that, but sometimes I would leave early on Fridays, and there were times I stayed very late for troubleshooting. It turns out I didn't make enough to be nonexempt.

See here: http://www.flsa.com/coverage.html

It could be that the company would prefer to pay you a salary, but if you don't meet the requirements listed in that link, they have to track your hours to ensure compliance with labor laws. It protects them. I'm with SN on this one: let it be. Think of it as gov't intervention preventing you and your employer from having the business relation you both would prefer.

On another note, some jobs, such as auto mechanic, are paid by the job in rated hours. So, if a transmission replacement is rated at 4 hours, the mechanic gets paid 4 hours of labor, regardless of how long he takes to complete it.

Edited by Jake
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I think there is nothing to worry about.

They want you to be paid for what you do not how long it takes to do it. This benefits you and them in many ways as if you are efficient you get more free time and you aren't incentivized to be inneficient by wokring 6 hours instead of 4 every day.

The relationship between your employers and their customers is not your responsibility. If they are charging their customers based on how often you work, and they don't know how often you work, that is their problem.

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  • 2 months later...

I honestly don't know much about labor laws, but I would ask the boss to be paid on work done, not on time taken.

Plus, if you get confirmation from the receptionist that she will pass a memo along, then the blame would be on her if the boss didn't get it.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Do you need more details? Basically what I really want to know is whether I'm safe in this situation--and if I'm not, how I can become safe. I don't want to have the risk of going to jail, and getting, well, physically violated--for reporting full time even though I was told I could/should do so.

You can't go to jail over this kind of thing in the U.S.. In the very worst case scenario, you *might* get fired, and even this is highly unlikely. Even if you were to get fired it would make absolutely no difference whatsoever because companies of this type never pass along information about your performance to other companies because this exposes their company to legal liability. Irregularities of this sort are absolutely endemic in business. So, ultimately, this is how you deal with it:

1. Do what your boss told you to do.

2. Take your money.

3. Look for a better job when/as you can.

The only reason why those time sheets say what they do and why they even care about how many hours you work is because of regulations about full vs. part time and providing benefits and so forth. They are worried that YOU might sue THEM, and if you should do so the statement that you "certify the hours on the sheet to be true" will cover their ass should you claim in court that you worked a different number of hours. Really and truly you have no reason to worry about THEM hassling YOU. If your boss ever gets around to asking you a direct question, just ask confused and go along with whatever the new instructions are.

Welcome to the working world. Yes, it really is this dumb.

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