Billable Hours: The Practice of Time Fantasy

January 16, 2023

I am not sure how I ended up at a nuclear company in Washington, DC in the 1970s. I was stumbling along in a PhD program, fiddling around indexing poems for professors, and writing essays no one other than some PhD teaching the class would ever read. (Hey, come to think about it that’s the position I am in today. I write essays, and no one reads them. Progress? I hope not. I love mediocrity, and I am living in the Golden Age of meh and good enough.)

I recall arriving and learning from the VP of Human Resources that I had to keep track of my time. Hello? I worked on my own schedule, and I never paid attention to time. Wait. I did. I knew when the university’s computer center would be least populated by people struggling with IBM punch cards and green bar paper.

Now I have to record, according to Nancy Apple (I think that was her name): [a] The project number, [b] the task code, and [c] the number of minutes I worked on that project’s task. I pointed out that I would be shuttling around from government office to government office and then back to the Rockville administrative center and laboratory.

She explained that travel time had a code.  I would have a project number, a task code for sitting in traffic on the Beltway, and a watch. Fill in the blanks.

As you might imagine, part of the learning curve for me was keeping track of time. I sort of did this, but as I become more and more engaged in the work about which I cannot speak, I filled in the time sheets every week. Okay, okay. I would fill in the time sheets when someone in Accounting called me and said, “I need your time sheets. We have to bill the client tomorrow. I want the time sheets now.”

As I muddled through my professional career, I understood how people worked and created time fantasy sheets. The idea was to hit the billable hour target without getting an auditor to camp out in my office. I thought of my learnings when I read “A Woman Who Claimed She Was Wrongly Dismissed Was Ordered to Repay Her Former Employer about $2,000 for Misrepresenting Her Working Hours.”

The write up which may or may not be written by a human states:

Besse [the time fantasy enthusiast] met with her former employer on March 29 last year. In a video recording of the meeting shared with the tribunal, she said: “Clearly, I’ve plugged time to files that I didn’t touch and that wasn’t right or appropriate in any way or fashion, and I recognize that and so for that I’m really sorry.” Judge Megan Stewart concluded that TimeCamp [the employee monitoring software watching the time fantasist] “likely accurately recorded” Besse’s work activities. She ordered Besse to compensate her former employer for a 50-hour discrepancy between her timesheets and TimeCamp’s records. In total, Besse was ordered to pay Reach a total of C$2,603 ($1,949) to compensate for wages and other payments, as well as C$153 ($115) in costs.

But the key passage for me was this one:

In her judgment, Stewart wrote: “Given that trust and honesty are essential to an employment relationship, particularly in a remote-work environment where direct supervision is absent, I find Miss Besse’s misconduct led to an irreparable breakdown in her employment relationship with Reach and that dismissal was proportionate in the circumstances.”

Far be it from me to raise questions, but I do have one: “Do lawyers engage in time fantasy billing?”

Of course not, “trust and honesty are essential.”

That’s good to know. Now what about PR and SEO billings? What about consulting firm billings?

If the claw back angle worked for this employer-employee set up, 2023 will be thrilling for lawyers, who obviously will not engage in time fantasy billing. Trust and honesty, right?

Stephen E Arnold, January 16, 2023


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