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Canadian owes bosses for 'time theft' after work-tracking app sinks tribunal bid

She hoped to score thousands but laptop app had other ideas

A woman in Canada failed in her claim for wrongful dismissal due to evidence from software designed to track her work time activity.

As a well as losing the case — and failing in her efforts to secure C$5,000 ($3,729) compensation — she was ordered to pay her former employer, remote accounting services business Reach CPA, C$2,603.07 for part of the advance she received before starting work, and for the wages equal to the commensurate time lost.

Karlee Besse, an accountant, began working remotely for Reach in October 2021. In February 2022, she met her manager to help her better manage her files, according to court documents, "because she felt unproductive and that she was not performing as well as she should have been."

Later that month, the company installed a time-tracking program called TimeCamp on her work laptop. TimeCamp can track employees' use of time, but it is also used to help professionals such as lawyers bill for their hours.

In March, they met again to create a performance improvement plan since some files were overbudget and behind schedule. Analysis of the TimeCamp data showed she had made a timesheet entry for a file she had not worked on, and between February 22 and March 25 some 50.76 hours were unaccounted for.

In a meeting near the end of the month, her principal explained the discrepancies in hours and timesheet entries and offered her time to consider the information and get back to him. Having declined that opportunity, she later found her employment was terminated.

In bringing her case of wrongful dismissal, 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."

However, Megan Stewart, tribunal member, said that "this does not matter," appearing to believe that TimeCamp could automatically distinguish between personal and profession use.

Besse also said she had worked on paper copies of client documents not captured by TimeCamp. She said she didn't inform her employer at the time because she "knew they wouldn't want to hear that" and she was afraid.

However, Reach provided TimeCamp data describing her printing activity which showed she could not have printed the large volume of documents she would have needed to work in hard copy. Even if she had been working on files in hard copy, she would have still had to enter information into the software at some point, which the TimeCamp data did not indicate occurred, the tribunal documents said.

Stewart dismissed Besse's claim and found in favor of Reach's counterclaim.

Although the employee may not have done herself any favors in this case, the broader question of workplace monitoring – now that technology allows such microscopic examination of digital behavior – is still very much up for debate.

Last year, the European Commission's Joint Research Councils warned that excessive monitoring could have negative psycho-social consequences including increased labor resistance, stress, and turnover propensity, along with decreased job satisfaction and organizational commitment.

The report's author, St Andrews University School of Management professor Kirstie Ball, said there was a danger that managers may not fully appreciate the biases and limitations of workplace-monitoring technology.

"And there is the fact that they might think that because it's AI, it's got to be right. In the past, employee surveillance debates were relegated to certain industries... but now it's affecting everyone's perspective, every type of work that's out there," she said. ®

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