My coworker is working off the clock

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(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,

I have a coworker who's considerably senior to me. He has a habit of coming in well before he's scheduled to start and starting to work, but not punching in until his actual time. I know this is definitely illegal, and could open our business to some really expensive lawsuits, but I also know that my immediate supervisor definitely is aware of what he does. I'm not sure that whether our general manager does (he's pretty new). We're a pretty small hotel, so the GM is someone I see 3-5 days a week.

Should I bring this up to my general manager or should I consider it 'not my business'? If I should bring it up, do you have any suggestions for how to bring it up in a way that doesn't make it seem like I'm tale-bearing?

As a general rule, I'm a fan of recognizing that it's your supervisor's job to supervise, not yours, and to let problems with coworkers go, unless they affect your work.

This situation is different. Why? Because, as you stated, working off the clock for a non-exempt employee (which is what I assume your coworker is) is illegal. And because your supervisor is aware of it and is not attempting to solve it, your company is open to fines and being required to pay for all that time he has worked.

The fact that the general manager doesn't know won't protect the company in a lawsuit. The supervisor is aware, the employee is not being punished and the paychecks are wrong.

This is what we call a "big problem." And big problems need to be brought up. Now, you run the risk of finding out that the general manager is aware and doesn't care and now you look like a tattle tale. You also run the risk of the general manager coming down hard on your supervisor, who, in turn, will come down hard on you and make your life miserable. Plus, if your coworker gets in trouble, then he may make your life miserable for busting him.

Unfortunately, doing what is right is not always risk free.

But, as to help prevent you from being tormented at work, start with your direct supervisor. Say something like this: "Karen, I know that Bob works several hours off the clock each week. Is the general manager aware of this, because if we're ever audited, or Bob ever decides he wants to be paid for this and reports it to the Department of Labor, the company could be heavily fined. I think the GM should know so he can decide if he wants to continue to allow it."

Some managers are under the impression that as long as they aren't requiring people to work off the clock then off the clock work is okay. It's not. Even if your boss has expressly forbidden you from working off the clock and you do it anyway, your boss is legally required to pay you for your work, including overtime (if applicable.) And, furthermore, while a supervisor may think it's no big deal because, of course, this star employee who cares so much about the business will never, ever, not in a million years complain about not being paid for all hours worked, he may change his tune when something different happens.

Your supervisor may not take to your statement well. She may accuse you of trying to nose in where you shouldn't. Be polite and back off, but state again, "It's putting the company at risk and I think he should know." Then wait and see if the off the clock work stops. If it doesn't, when you see the GM, you can say, "I thought you might want to know that one of the hourly employees frequently works off the clock. I know this is a violation of labor law. I don't want anyone to get in trouble, but I thought you might want to know."

And then your part is done. It doesn't have to be mentioned again, by you. You've notified everyone who needs to be notified and from now on it falls squarely into the "not my problem," camp. Don't bring it up again, not with the coworker, supervisor, GM or other people who work there.

Might there be retaliation against you? Of course. People aren't necessarily made managers because they are fine, upstanding people who want to protect and grow the company. Sometimes, they are made managers precisely because they are people who don't care about violating the law if it saves a few dollars or increasing their power and influence.

Document your discussions with both your supervisor and the GM. Write down what you said, what they said, the date and the time. Keep this document somewhere other than work. If possible, email the documentation to yourself, so that there is a time and date stamp as to when you said it.

I hate that I have to tell you to be prepared for the worst outcome when you are doing something to protect the business that you work for. However, years of experience tell me that bad reactions are possible. So, be prepared for that, but do the right thing and let the general manager know what is going on.

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.

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