Time and Attendance Abuse in the Electronic Age
The agency (USPTO) is monitoring time and attendance and is conducting ongoing investigations into time and attendance abuse. POPA sees a continual stream of allegations concerning this conduct. Some allegations are very serious, involving numerous hours over a period of months, but just as frequently, allegations involve a small number of hours on several days and may be spread out over a period of months.
A variety of things can trigger an investigation into time and attendance abuse. It can be performance at the unacceptable level, even for just a few pay periods, an anonymous tip to a manager or the IG, or a supervisor who tries unsuccessfully to reach an employee for several days.
When management decides to check for misconduct of this type, it uses various tools, including gate records at the Office, and what it considers to be the "electronic equivalent" for those off-site, i.e. VPN records. Cameras and other tools may also be used. Discrepancies between time claimed and time accounted for are recorded by Employee Relations. Discrepancies as small as fifteen minutes are recorded.
POPA finds it disconcerting that the agency is relying on records that are unreliable for reaching conclusions about conduct. Teleworkers have long complained about being dropped from the VPN without even being aware of it. The VPN is a means of connectivity to Office applications and was never intended to be an accurate means to measure hours worked. It can disconnect without the employee’s knowledge, even while the employee is working on the laptop. As long as the employee doesn’t attempt to utilize their network connection to save a document or open a different program than the one being used, he or she may be disconnected without knowing. POPA has discussed with management that there will be false findings of time and attendance abuse if the VPN is relied upon for making determinations.
When you lose connectivity there are ways for you to recognize the disconnection. Some applications may not be available, e-mail inboxes may not refresh and attempts at sending emails or instant messages might be unsuccessful. If you notice your VPN has disconnected, in order to protect yourself from false accusations, you should call the service desk for a ticket number indicating that you have been dropped from the VPN. This creates a record of the issue. Once reconnected, you should also send your supervisor a short e-mail letting him or her know. Retain your ticket number and e-mail to the SPE. These records will help to protect you from allegations that you were not working on a day or portion of a day, well in the past, when you weren’t connected to the VPN.
Pamela R. Schwartz