The Time Thief

In the hectic pace that we sometimes live our lives, many of us have been known to want more time. Some of us have wished for time to stop, so we can catch up with all that we need to do. Or for time to speed up so some exciting event will come sooner. The thought of stealing time was not an option I had ever considered possible, until recently.

One of my coworkers, l’ll call him Jeremy, put in a request to take two weeks of vacation in June. Our business is such that Jeremy’s work cannot be put on pause, so we must hire a temp to fill in when he is out for more than a couple of days. It falls on my shoulders to hire that temp, and so I got the word a couple of weeks ago to do just that.

But the math of Jeremy’s accrued time didn’t add up in my head. Jeremy started working for our company two years ago. And, for now, he and I accrue PTO/sick time at the same rate, so I know exactly how much time he receives, which is about one day each month. Last summer Jeremy took two weeks of vacation that I had to cover with a temp. Over the course of the rest of the year, he had missed a handful of days with car trouble and sick Mondays that ate up the rest of his time, or so I believed. When Christmas and New Year’s came, he took another two weeks off. At that time, I was surprised. I knew he couldn’t have accrued that much time off already, so I figured he was taking the time off without pay. He could do that, if he wanted, but not too many people are financially able to do that. And he doesn’t seem to be that financially blessed, so it seemed odd to me and stuck in my brain.

Last year, I carefully planned out all of my vacation to make sure that I could combine my time off with paid holidays for longer weekends and still have time left to take over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. I love not being stressed with work over those holidays and I love the flexibility of having time to meet up with friends and family who have come into town. And so it went that at the end of last year, all of my vacation time was used up. This year I’ve been watching my time accrue, figuring out when I’ll have a week’s worth of PTO time to take again.

So when word came that Jeremy is taking two weeks off in June, I was more than a little surprised. How much is he making that he can afford to take all this time without pay? I wondered. And I found myself a bit envious of him, wishing I had the accrued time to take a week off in June, let alone two! In passing, Jeremy mentioned something about the trip he is planning and I made some comment about using up all your PTO time so early in the year. “I’ve got lots of time built up,” he said to me. I didn’t say anything, but his words slid into my brain and parked next to the thoughts I had from last Christmas.

A couple of days passed and those thoughts started to fester. Something about the whole thing seemed fishy to me, but I kept my mouth shut. And I tried to forget about it. I knew I needed to just let it go.

Part of my role as a project manager requires me to track hours people spend on specific projects and provide monthly reports of such. We use a software system for tracking time, and sometimes people log their time but they forget to expense that time to a specific project. So the software lumps it all into “no project.” As the end of the month approaches, I have to follow up on that “no project” work and see how much of it can actually be tracked to a project. As I was “cleaning up” that no project time last week, I saw that Jeremy had a PTO day at the beginning of the month. It got me to thinking, and I looked back at the other three reports I’ve done so far this year and discovered that he’s already taken five days this year. How is that possible, while at the same time Jeremy can have enough time accrued to take two weeks in June? I was certain he had to have had an empty balance of accrued time when he started this year, just like me. It bothered me enough that I checked my account to see how much time I have accrued so far this year. I have just shy of four days accrued. That thought slid alongside the other two festering thoughts in my brain and they really heated up.

Just knowing what I know to be fact about Jeremy’s time off last year—hiring temps to cover his two week vacation, days off for car trouble and long weekends, and the two weeks he took off over the holidays—I figured out what smells so fishy.

Our department tracks time spent on projects, but that system is not connected to the HR system for tracking PTO/sick time. So when I take a day off, I have to go into a different program to record those PTO hours for HR. I realized that Jeremy has not been submitting his time into the HR program. He “stole” ten days last year that should have been deducted from his PTO/sick time. So far this year, he’s taken five sick days, but I’m betting none of those days were deducted either. If he’s never deducted any time, the HR program likely shows he has close to thirty days accrued. Mine shows not quite four.

The bottom line is, Jeremy took ten extra days last year and he’s already taken five this year. And that was something I couldn’t let go. Believe me, I tried. I tried to tell myself it was none of my business and I just to need to look the other way. But running my monthly reports on project hours clearly shows all of his PTO/sick days, so it’s information I’m privy to. And do I have an inherent obligation because I’m the one running the reports and I’m the one who will see this red flag? That’s where my thoughts went, so the next thing for me to figure out was who I would go to. I didn’t want to go to Jeremy directly. He doesn’t understand the work I do and I didn’t think he’d see it my way. It may be so easy as no one ever told him that he needed to log his time off in two places. Although, it’s difficult for me to believe he doesn’t have a suspicion that something’s wrong since he takes two weeks off for a vacation but his PTO accruals never get deducted.

I could go to HR, but that person isn’t very approachable (go figure) and she already thinks I’m trouble because I complained about our filtered water system. (It makes me sick.) And she doesn’t understand the work I do. I thought she might misinterpret my motive. And that thought had me soul searching exactly what my motive was. Why couldn’t I let this go? And why did I feel so obligated to make someone else aware of it? Because Jeremy needed to be told to start logging his time off correctly.

I went to my manager, who is also Jeremy’s manager. I explained to Steve what I found and how I found it. I told Steve how much time I had accrued so far this year. Steve said, “Let me look into it.” About a half hour later, Steve sent an email asking for the dates Jeremy has taken off so far this year. And then I didn’t hear anything more. A few days passed, and then Steve sent an email saying the requisition for Jeremy’s temp had been approved and I should begin the hiring process. Jeremy’s getting his two weeks off.

My guess is that Steve realized that what I said was true, that Jeremy hasn’t been deducting his time correctly. But I’m also guessing that Steve didn’t want to let HR know that this has gone on because ultimately, Steve is Jeremy’s manager and he should have been paying attention to this. So by telling Steve about Jeremy’s “time theft,” I also made Steve aware that he had not managed correctly.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll have my annual review, with Steve. What wonderful timing!

This whole thing still bothers me. It’s not fair that Jeremy was allowed ten extra PTO days last year, and appears on track to get at least that many more extra this year. And I am disappointed by my manager’s actions, or lack of action. I thought he had more integrity than that. The phrase “Life’s not fair” keeps running through my mind. And at this point, I need to let it go.