Is This Time Theft?

by Evil HR Lady on July 4, 2017

I have a question which hopefully you can answer this before I make a mistake and argue my point. I work as a paramedic which I work on an ambulance and with a partner. We just received a memo stating if for any reason our partner didn’t show up to work we would not be paid until we had a partner to work with. They are calling it “Theft of Time” and state it is the same as stealing money from the company. I don’t agree with this because I should not be punished for someone not showing up for their shift. I showed up for work on time and ready to work. Please help me with this situation because there is a few of us who don’t agree with this policy and need some answers.

I’ve been writing about HR for over 10 years, and I honestly don’t believe I’ve had anyone ask about time theft before, so wow, you win a gold star! Your boss, on the other hand, should have to pay for that gold star because she’s a first class weenie. Now, let’s talk legalities (with the general caveats that I’m not a lawyer, don’t even play a lawyer on TV, can’t find reruns of Law & Order anywhere, and state and local laws vary). I’m also assuming that you are 1. non-exempt and 2. cannot work without a partner.

1. Whatever this is, it’s not “theft of time.”

In order for there to be theft, I’m going to argue there needs to be a thief that is actively doing something wrong. You’re not doing anything wrong. You showed up for work. You are ready, willing, and able to work. Your boss saying that you’ve done something wrong by not having a partner is not the same thing as you stealing time.

Time theft, for what it’s worth, is when you’re supposed to be working but are not. This can be either clocking in and then going out for coffee, or having someone “buddy punch” you in, or simply reading a novel at your desk when you should be working (and, importantly, have available work to do). You may not be able to work (since you can’t work alone), but you aren’t the stealer here, IMHO.

2. Your boss may not have to pay you anyway.

This depends on a couple of things. The first is, do you have to sit there and wait for a partner to come in? If you’re required to hang out until someone shows up, then they have to pay you. This is called “waiting time,” and, under federal law, they must pay you for it. But, if you’re free to leave, then they don’t have to pay you for it. How this plays out, I would think would be dependent on what happens in reality. If your partner doesn’t show up, does it take 15 minutes for someone new to take her place, or are you out of work all day? 15 minutes, I’d say would be compensable because leaving and having free time doesn’t make much sense, but if it’s all day, and you can go home, you aren’t entitled to pay, except when you are. Keep reading.

Some states (but not all) have minimum hours laws. This means that if you show up for work, they have to pay you for X number of hours even if you don’t work. Generally, that’s half of what you were scheduled to work, but your state laws may vary. If you are out of work for the whole day because of a lack of partner and your state has a minimum hours law, they have to pay you for those minimum hours.

If you are free to go and there is no minimum hours law, they don’t have to pay you.

3. Your boss is a jerk.

I can see how this is a real problem for your boss. If she can’t send you out alone, it’s a real problem for the business. But, she’s attacking it from the wrong angle. Punishing the person who shows up rather than that person who doesn’t is a completely backward way of managing. What she needs to do is figure out why people aren’t showing up for their shifts and solve that problem. Now, if this is a common occurrence, it’s likely that she needs to hire better, raise wages, and increase benefits. If it’s an uncommon occurrence, then this is just her silly way of wielding power because she can.

4. Thanks for being a paramedic!

So, off topic, but thanks for doing this job! It’s hard, it’s scary, it’s dangerous, and it keeps the rest of us alive and safe. Thank you!

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