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Right now I have a really uncomfortable situation and not sure what's the best way to handle it.

I am working as a software developer for an outsourcing company based in Eastern Europe. Most of its clients are located in the United States. We develop new and interesting products for company's customers, so mostly I am quite satisfied with tasks I am working on.

What I am not satisfied with, is how the employer treats his customers and how it is doing business in general. Let me explain this in more detail.

As an outsourcing company that doesn't have their own products and charges customers for developers' hours spent, their primary way to increase profits is to sell as many man-hours as possible. Basically, company management believes that the only difference between senior- and middle-level developers is that a senior developer can be as twice as efficient as a mid-level one in terms of delivering features and bug-fixes (that's exactly what PM told me when I asked him what he thought about this business model). So, from my point of view, they don't care much about the quality — it's only the speed and pace that matters for them. Consequently, senior developers in that company typically work on more than one project — usually two (there are also some guys working on three and even more projects). This is where company starts cheating.

As a senior developer, I work on two projects. I have a standard 8-hour day, working 4 hours for each project. However, the customers I work for are not aware of this. The company charges them as if I worked 8 hours for each of them. My goal, as a developer, is to keep both customers satisfied with my productivity. Delivering quality software is not the highest priority — the main goal is, well, doing business. For reporting, I have to tell each of the customers that I work full-time exclusively on their project. So, essentially, every day I have to participate in this ugly trickery.

Almost every developer in the company works this way. It allows the developers to gain more money, and the company to save at the same time — one developer pretending to work 16 hours while actually working only 8 is cheaper than two developers who really work 16 hours a day. Don't forget to charge the real money for that imaginary extra 8 hours, and you'll get the pure profit.

The company has become really good in this business. Recently, when I joined the second project, they had a meeting for developers, teaching all of us how not to disclose the fact that we are working this way. Some of the developers don't even use their real names, because a lot of customers are located in the same US state and know each other well. The company is working really hard to prevent the situation where customers would realize that developers don't actually work full-time, because the following would be a complete failure for the company:

Customer A: Hey, developer X from company Y implemented a really cool feature for my app!

Customer B: How is that possible? He is working for my project full-time!

When I was interviewing for this company, they did not tell me they work this way. It came as a complete surprise to me. Now I'm very embarrassed and feel really bad that I have to participate in this stuff.

Do I have an ethical responsibility to quit? To notify the company's customers? What are my options in this situation?

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welcome to the "fantastic" world of outsourced software development – dynamic Feb 27 at 20:41
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You should mention which country you're in. IANAL but I'm 99% sure that in the UK it's fraud and that you (personally) would have some responsibility for that. – Basic Feb 27 at 21:40
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This is how 99/100 IT outsourcing companies work. You should leave any and all of your moral or ethical concerns before swiping in. – BiscuitBoy Feb 28 at 15:19
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@BiscuitBoy No, this is not how even most (let alone 99% of) IT outsourcing shops operate. As alluded to in one of the answers, claiming exclusivity of their consultants is what makes this unethical and illegal. Stupid, too, since it's common practice (not to mention the whole foundation of the software industry) to get paid as many times as possible for the same piece of work. Smart IT consultancy shops will make no claims about exclusivity, but sell the same code/design/product/service to multiple clients. – HopelessN00b Feb 28 at 21:43
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Just a short comment on the the ethics involved. Because they pretend to have programmers working full-time on these projects, they don't actually have to hire more programmers. As a consequence a) it is harder to get a job as a programmer and b) it is easier to drive down pay for programmers (because there is less demand for their work). So your company is not only explointing its clients, but also its employees (who are made to participate in the exploitation!). And the ones who really profit are the owners and possibly management. It's the essence of the pathologies of capitalism. – tomasz Feb 29 at 14:40

10 Answers 10

From what you describe, it is very possible that this is legally fraud. As such you need to do two things. First and most critical, consult a lawyer. People who knowingly commit fraud can end up in jail. I know this because I saw several people go to jail when I worked for an auditing agency. You, first and foremost, need to protect yourself.

Next, fraud has a way of eventually being found out. When it does the reputation of this company will be in the toilet. That means your reputation will be in the toilet for having worked there. Ask the 1000s of people who worked at Enron how it affected their careers, even the ones who did not commit the fraud. (You really, really need to read about the Enron debacle, there are some very extensive books written about what happened there.) The longer you work at such a place, the worse the taint will be when they get caught. If you still work there when they get caught, the taint will be really bad. And clearly this type of corporate culture doesn't suit you and it will stress you daily to do this. My advice to you is to get out.

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Yes. OP should get out. OP's name is on those fraudulent timesheets. OP is potentially criminally liable. OP should run. – CPerkins Feb 26 at 15:36
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@Frisbee I am not a lawyer, and OP is in a foreign country so I may be talking through my hat, but: OP says they're required to "tell" their customer they're working full time, which probably makes them culpable under US practices. I am not a lawyer, but I'd get myself out of a bad situation quick-like-bunny. – CPerkins Feb 26 at 18:22
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If they can prove you knew about the fraud, you can still go to jail at least in this country. The lower level people are more likely to be the ones who end up in jail because they can't afford the high powered lawyers the high level officials can. And the high level officials often set things up deliberately so the evidence points to lower level people. – HLGEM Feb 26 at 18:46
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@Frisbee I think he meant the people at the top have their own high-powered lawyers (defense attorneys) who will be more than happy to throw the low-level people under the bus to get the top-level people off the hook for criminal charges. That is, they'll claim the low-level people were really the source of the fraud, unbeknownst to the high-level people, who were themselves shocked - shocked, I say - to find out that such fraud was going on in their company. Low-level guys go to jail, high-level guys retire in non-extradition country. – reirab Feb 27 at 2:51
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This is naive and alarmist. This kind of behavior may not be ethical but it is extremely widespread and of very little interest to law enforcement, whose attitude will be 'Caveat emptor'. It can not be compared to Enron or to fraud committed at accounting or auditing companies. The main risk is to the reputation of the business and those who work there. – jwg Feb 29 at 9:07

If you're not happy with the business practices of your employer and you don't think there's a reasonable chance to change them, you're almost certainly best of finding another job and then moving on; that much is easy. Unless the situation is really bad, quitting without a job to go to is always a much riskier option from your point of view.

Once you've sorted your life out, you then have to make a decision as to what to do about those business practices. There you have two real options:

  • Do nothing. This is the safe option. While it might be nice to fix every problem we come across, we can't actually do that.
  • Alert somebody, whether that be the customers or the authorities. This is very, very risky. If you do this, you're almost certainly going to end up needing a good lawyer and lots of money to defend yourself against the lawyers that your former employer will send after you. Don't bet on any "whistleblower" laws or anonymous tip-offs to protect you. (I'm not saying this is the way the world should be; it's a realistic view of how the world is).

Nobody here can tell you which of those two options to take; it's a decision you've got to make based on your own personal ethics and what you think the risk might be.

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If you intend to go the whistle blower way, realize the potential danger and do inform yourself ahead of time. Going anonymous might be advisable. If you go for anonymity read up on anonymous whistle blowing, and how you can protect yourself (for example look up TOR routing, or Wikileaks). – fgysin Feb 29 at 12:16
    
Worth noting that depending on your jurisdiction and area of business, not reporting a fraud is in itself a criminal offence. – Paddy Feb 29 at 16:53
    
Hmmm so his two options are to keep committing fraud or to turn himself in? I think he has better options than that. – blankip Feb 29 at 19:20
    
Saying that reporting the company to the authorities is very risky needs a lot more justification (but I would also advise against reporting them to clients - I don't see much to gain by doing that, only risks). While I agree that the legal system has massive flaws, I find it highly unlikely that OP would end up to blame, as long as they weren't in a management position recommending this behaviour (which doesn't seem to be the case). It may actually be more risky to not report it. But all of this greatly depends on the specifics. Basically, I'd say it's best to consult with a lawyer. – Dukeling Mar 1 at 15:41
    
I would say being forced to participate in illegal activities to keep your job could very well classify as a "really bad" situation (but then again, the specifics are important). Also note that there certainly are a few options available if you want to immediately leave your current company but you don't have another job lined up, such as doing a (career-relevant) full-time course or degree or various self-employment options. @blankip Did you perhaps miss the first paragraph? I interpret it as "Do nothing" or "Alert someone" being options after deciding to stay or leaving. – Dukeling Mar 1 at 16:09

It is clear that the OP is on this site because he is either feeling morally guilty or is afraid that there may be consequences to his action or inaction. The fact that the topic has been breached for thousands to read means that the ethical boundaries to the user have already been crossed. We do not know when the OP came to this realization or how long he has thought about the issue. So let's throw out the ethical debate because the OP knows it isn't ethical, hence the question. The best I can do is answer it according to the OP just realized that this practice was defrauding clients.

1) No one is forcing you to do this. Your employer is asking you to commit fraud and you have accepted. There was no gun to your head.

2) Your best friend is probably email at this point. Some subtle emails asking why you are doing this or what clients are seeing on their side go a long way. You don't even need anyone to respond. Just them knowing is culpability. Without something digital or on paper (good luck there) the blame could fall to you. Save your pst files!

You do not say which country you are in. So the best I can do is answer as if I were working in the US.

  • What your company is doing is fraud
  • by delivering the fraud across international waters a US company would have several layers of fraud (RICO, IRS, federal jurisdiction, tampering)
  • This is not only a criminal action but a civil action
  • the civil action has substantial leeway and penalties, meaning a win could effectively put a company out of business
  • if there is a trace of you willingly doing this and evidence that you knew about the scheme you could also face criminal penalties.

What I am telling you is that you came on SE with a problem but in many countries if they linked your SE account to you and investigated your company you could face prison time. My advice to you is to talk with a lawyer.

After talking with the lawyer you will be presented these options in some form:

  • Continue being a criminal
  • Work out a non-disclosure. This is basically company paying you off and you get another job. May not be legal at this point.
  • Get another job, be a whistleblower on company.
  • Get another job, forget about it, and hope you aren't involved in a trial 2 years from now.

To answer your ethical question: I for one could not work in your company for one day. I would out them first thing. I would grab a customer list on my way out and personally email each one. That is just me though. It is harder to deal with if you have worked at a place for a while and then you learn about it.

Once you make a decision to leave (if you don't leave you are a criminal and criminals shouldn't worry about ethics) you have the dillemma about working with the law vs. telling coworkers. There are many US cases were the IRS or police send employee back to work for months to gather evidence. If all of this doesn't sound fun, get another job and send the customers an anonymous email (I can help you do that right).

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"No one is forcing you to do this. Your employer is asking you to commit fraud and you have accepted. There was no gun to your head." That's a very idealistic claim. There is no gun but the choice between committing fraud and quitting your job isn't nearly as free as you pretend. People need food and shelter, and they need wages to pay for those things. – David Richerby Feb 26 at 23:01
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@DavidRicherby That's somewhat true in a moral sense, but I sincerely doubt that line plays well in court. Generating income is the main motivator of a ton of different crimes, and "I needed the money" is a really bad excuse. – Peter Feb 27 at 3:17
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@DavidRicherby - If that is the case you might as well rob someone. As long as you don't use a gun it is probably less jail time than fraud. If I have to choose between a soup kitchen and defrauding people I will choose soup kitchen. It is idealistic. I have never faced anything this extreme but I have detoured my career by taking down a corrupt/bad boss. The point being you CAN do whatever you want. Whether you choose to do the wrong thing plus new car is up to how comfortable you are living with yourself after. – blankip Feb 27 at 4:55
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@DavidRicherby : Studies shown he is volunteering obeying and he isn’t forced to do so. It’s a social part of the human brain like Stockholm syndrome similar to social engineering. Once he know that he must get out of it. – user2284570 Feb 28 at 14:45
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This is alarmist nonsense. Practices like this are widespread and widely tolerated. Did you pick up your knowledge of law from television dramas? – jwg Feb 29 at 9:11

You have two approaches to this:

  • the customers are happy paying X dollars a week and getting the software that they are getting. The fiction of dollars an hour and hours per week are wrong, but overall the customer is getting good value and they're happy. In this case, I would not suggest that you do anything different. Billing is not your job. Looking after the customer and writing great software is your job.
  • the customers are not getting value. The software is buggy because you get paid to fix bugs, you write it wrongly rather than ask a few questions to get it right the first time, then get paid to do it over when the mistakes are discovered, and so on. In this case, I wouldn't try to change the firm, but I would try to find a different place to work. No-one is going to cut their revenue in half because a developer suggested it would feel less dishonest. If you can't look after your customer and write great software, you will lose value as a worker and a person the longer you stay there.

This distinction is probably more important than how you feel about lying about your name and the time you're spending on the work. It is important to have a good relationship with your customer, I completely agree. If you can do that and let someone else worry about billing them, then the situation might be tolerable. But if you are consistently delivering something you know is not your best work, if nobody has your customer's interests at heart, and you can't be proud of how you spend your days - well, I would look for another way to spend my days.

Somewhere in your country is an outsourcing firm whose business model is to do a great job, do things right the first time, and care about the customer. They'll charge more per hour, but the customers will gladly pay it. If your own employer is actually this firm, charging (in effect) twice as much per hour, perhaps you should stay. If your employer is not, you should perhaps start to look for such a firm.

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This is the most reasonable approach. If the customers are happy with what they are getting compared to what they are paying they forget about it. The itemization of the weekly bill is far less important to them than the average ongoing costs relative to the average ongoing progress. – fredsbend Feb 27 at 0:12
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From the Asker's description, part of the job appears to be reporting utilisation to the customer. Is this 1st hand? Who knows. – Gusdor Feb 27 at 13:17
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I think this answer skips over a major part - they are lying to their customers. The customer probably thinks: I know this dev, he is really good - and if he really needed 20 hours to fix this problem, it was probably very hard to fix and another company couldn't have done this cheaper. - If you hire a plumber who just fixes a little leak, but tells you he had to work 10 hours, because it was really complicated and he needed that time, while he was just slacking off, you would also be angry! – Falco Feb 29 at 12:03
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Another example buying stuff on an organic fair trade market. If someone sells regular meat there, but labels it "organic, natural farming" - and his customers are happy because it tastes ok - it is still morally wrong and defrauding them. They were happy to pay extra, because they were led to believe they were to get extra value (organic, natural farming) which they did not get. - Here they would expect better code quality if they pay more hours! – Falco Feb 29 at 12:08
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Bad advice. Customers may be happy to pay for the fiction now, but they may grow unhappy some time later. Then that happens, they will have a perfectly valid reason to sue. The OP is putting himself in a very dangerous position. – Dmitry Grigoryev Feb 29 at 13:47

For reporting, I have to tell each of the customers that I work full-time exclusively on their project.

If you are knowingly making fraudulent reports that are used for billing, then you are committing fraud, and that sounds very much what you're being made to do. Needless to say, you should stop personally engaging in criminal behavior, even if your bosses are directing you to do it.

The issue of what all your ethical responsibilities are is kind of subjective here, but I think we can all agree that at a minimum, you have an ethical and legal obligation to not directly participate in defrauding your employer's clients.

As to your options, it sounds a lot like you may have no choice other than continue to engage in billing fraud or finding a new employer. You can, of course, talk to and express your concerns to your boss/bosses/HR, but it doesn't seem very likely to me that they'll care, and much more likely that they'd retaliate against you for bringing it up.

I've had employers try to put me in similar positions before, and my preferred approach is to take the position that I'm not being paid enough to lie and/or commit crimes on their behalf. This lets me refuse to participate in the activity, but implies that there's some negotiation room, which mitigates some of the risk of being fired on the spot. Ultimately, it's a stalling tactic - you're making them think you may be willing to commit fraud for them if you can come to terms, but I'd advise you to use this time to find a new employer, rather than actually trying to negotiate your price for participating in billing fraud. (I've yet to have one of these shady employers come back and offer me "enough" money to lie or commit crimes for them, of course. If they were willing to pay enough, they probably wouldn't be committing crime in the first place.)

Regardless of what you decide, you should heavily document this deceptive and probably illegal activity your employer is undertaking, and how they are ordering you/forcing you to participate in these questionable practices. Having that kind of documentation protects you to some degree, both from your employers, who are less likely to fire someone who has documented details of their criminal behavior, and also from the legal system in your country. If this ends up in criminal court, such documentation can be the difference between being a cooperating witness, and being an indicted co-conspirator.

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Except that if he don’t use that documentation to blow the whistle, he will be considered accomplice of the system at a stronger level than the peoples like him who didn’t documented anything (at least in my country). – user2284570 Feb 28 at 12:51
    
It’s France. The reason would be he document while still not telling anything. Basically, I think whatever he do to get out of this situation is the wrong way. The right thing is to ask the less worst one to an attorney. – user2284570 Feb 28 at 14:22
    
@user2284570 Well, with all due deference to your knowledge of your country's legal system, that's not accurate. Having documented details as I suggested creating would be a massive boon to any case against the company involved in this fraud, and it would be S.O.P. for a French prosecutor to obtain those documents (and the cooperating testimony of the OP as a witness) by offering immunity against the charges being alleged. In this sense, France's legal system is no different British-common-law-based systems, or most any reasonably-functioning legal system anywhere in the world. – HopelessN00b Feb 28 at 14:36

I join the chorus of people saying that this is dishonest. However, I'd like to clearly (explicitly) point out that this is all because of one word:

For reporting, I have to tell each of the customers that I work full-time exclusively on their project.

Oh, that word "exclusively" is the pain-giver.

I have worked in a company before, filled with management that worked honestly and expected their staff to do the same. And they had no problem with occasional double-billing. In fact, they loved double-billing, or even triple-billing. It was quite hard to do, but skilled people could do it sometimes, and: the more, the merrier.

The work I'm describing was maintaining computers, and very often we would need to interact a little bit with computers, but to allow a lengthy automated process to run, and to regularly check on the progress. Meanwhile, we could do something else for another customer, especially if it was more work of a very similar nature. And as a very honest (religious) person, I see nothing wrong with it. They are being efficient.

Did we go out of our way to let people know that we were double-billing? No. And if they thought we were working exclusively on their stuff, then that is their misperception. I could do this with a straight face and not feel guilty.

The only problem with what you said is the word "exclusively". That single word makes all the difference, making your scenario a dishonest one. My morals say that you should refuse to do this, no matter what pressure the employer places on you. If you decide to be dishonest (to customers), even if the only reason is just so that you don't get fired, then the end result is that you are being a professional liar (literally). Don't do this. Don't lie.

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TL;DR:

  1. Start looking for a new job immediately and aggressively. If you can't get a better salary or the same salary, take a pay cut if you have to (and can) to leave as soon as humanly possible.
  2. Contact a lawyer as soon as possible, possibly together with coworkers you trust. Work with that lawyer on what to do, which is likely to involve (amongst other things) keeping an ongoing diary of what you've been told to do, when, and by whom for as long as you're still with the company.
  3. There's a big gap between unethical and illegal. You (and we) are not qualified to make that determination. See #2. :-)

While I'd start looking immediately, I'd also contact a lawyer immediately and talk with them before actually leaving the job.


In summary:

  • You believe your company is defrauding its clients by billing them for time that wasn't worked on their projects.
  • You believe your company requires you to participate in that fraud both by commission (saying you're working exclusively on a project when you aren't, falsifying timesheets) and by omission (avoiding disclosing information that would let those customers figure out they're being lied to).
  • You believe that if you do not participate in the fraud, your job is at risk.

So the first question is whether your belief is correct. There's a big gap between unethical and illegal. If what the company is doing is illegal, you may have participated in that (don't freak out, keep reading); so you want to know. But it may well "just" be unethical.

What do you do?

  1. Start looking for another job immediately and aggressively. You clearly feel the behavior is at least wildly unethical, so get out ASAP.
  2. Consult a lawyer.

The lawyer would advise you on what to do next. In the U.S., UK, and EU (the legal systems I'm vaguely familiar with; I am not a lawyer), I'd expect them to suggest things like this:

  • Writing a document with your recollections of events to date.
  • Creating an ongoing diary for as long as you're still at the company in which you record what you've been told to do, by whom, and when. A diary written at the time has more weight than recollections of previous events.
  • If and when you and your lawyer agree it's appropriate: Writing a letter to your manager asking in the most neutral terms possible what they expect of you when working on multiple projects at the same time in regard to timesheets and customer interaction. Do not accuse the company of anything; ask what's required of you. If you're in the EU, firing you for asking the question is almost certainly illegal (if you're not in the EU, I have no idea). That doesn't mean they won't do it, and so it doesn't mean you wouldn't have a sudden gap in your income, which is why you don't do this until/unless you're ready for that to happen. It just means that you'd have a legal case to get compensated for that at some point (possibly far) in the future.

But again, your lawyer will work with you on appropriate next steps where you are. If you've involved other people you trust, they'd do the same things.

You do those things to protect yourself. If there's a fraud being committed, and if you've participated in it, these actions make it clear that it's something you didn't want to do and may have fallen into incrementally and under duress. That matters. If the company ends up being prosecuted for fraud, your actions now may well make the difference in whether action is taken against you and if so, to what degree.

In the best case, you end up figuring out with your lawyer that while what's going on is unethical, it's not illegal. Whew! Get out and move on. Again, there's a large gap between unethical and illegal.

If it ends up being something illegal according to your lawyer, at some stage, probably once you and the people you trust are out of the company, you'd discuss with your lawyer whether to report what's happening to the authorities and what the impacts of doing so or not doing so are.

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I would personally take an attorney first (before leaving). There’s several way on how to leave the job and he should get advice on what is the less worst way. – user2284570 Feb 28 at 13:14
    
@user2284570: Yes. I said start looking and contact a lawyer. Usually takes a while to find a job. I would also probably talk to the lawyer before actually leaving. I'll clarify. – T.J. Crowder Feb 28 at 13:16
    
No read again about what you wrote afterWhat do you do?. the first point you include contains get out asap. – user2284570 Feb 28 at 13:18
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@user2284570: It's perfectly clear what it means. Start looking now. Contact lawyer now. Get out ASAP (which won't be now). – T.J. Crowder Feb 28 at 13:24

You have two good answers and this is just a different slant

  • Do I have an ethical responsibility to quit?
    No I don't think you have an ethical responsibility to quit. Right now based on instructions from your company you are delivering a skewed definition of full time. Your company is over billing and that is wrong but that wrong is on the company not you. You are clearly in an uncomfortable position but not to the level of unethical. Now if your company asked you to sign a false time card (e.g. 16 hours when you worked 8) then that action (signature) would rise to unethical in my opinion.

  • To notify the company's customers?
    No I do not think you have an obligation to notify customers. Billing is between the company and the customer. If you were a cook and the menu said 14 oz steak and you weighed it and it was 12 oz would you have an obligation to notify customers?

  • What are my options in this situation?

    • Report this fraud but I don't see this as being a good outcome for you.
      I am not a lawyer but this is a civil not a criminal matter. I doubt you are going to find whistle blower protection.

    • Continue to work.

    • Find another job.
      In your industry in your country you may find other companies are no more ethical.

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Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Feb 29 at 12:30
    
Wrong, the company is committing fraud, a criminal AND civil offense, which in itself is sufficient grounds for a judicial body to place liability on the individuals responsible rather than solely upon the company. – WorBlux Jun 6 at 3:37
    
@WorBlux What ever. I am not a lawyer as I said and we don't even know where this person is. – Paparazzi Jun 6 at 13:29
    
Doing business in the U.S means the minimal contacts threshold for jurisdiction has been established for U.S. law. Even if his current territorial government won't extradite, an indictment for fraud in the U.S would severely limit OP's ability to travel internationally. – WorBlux Jun 6 at 16:51
    
@WorBlux What ever. I am not a lawyer and I said so. – Paparazzi Jun 6 at 16:53

Additional reasons to quit soon and to consult a lawyer: 1. There is enough info in the text of your question for them to figure out who posted it. Then you're out anyway. 2. If a liar gets caught, he looks for a scapegoat. The next lie will be, "He told us he worked that many hours and we believed him." By complying with their instructions to lie to the customer, you gave them evidence they won't hesitate to use in that case. And they may produce a document with your signature (real or forged) promising to always be ethical.

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If you're really concerned, you need to ask the tough questions or refuse to be a part of it.

  1. Is this an acceptable practice in your area and industry?
  2. Can I enter my hours on my sheet to reflect what I am actually doing?

They can lie to customers and change your billing sheets and submit to the client whatever they want. Clients may assume the hours are inflated.

When working with clients, you're going to have to refrain from discussing billing. You tell them you just submit your time and that's it. It's not their business if you work with other clients and I'm not familiar with the "exclusive" arrangement. Billing two clients for 8 hours and working 16 hour days is none of either of their business. Granted, that's not what you're doing.

You may want to consider yourself lucky that you only work 40 hrs a week as a programmer.

Many companies pad their estimates in the software industry. They can argue they truly did work during those hours, but can they argue they would have finished things faster knowing the additional hours are available? If only everything was open and honest, but personally, I don't want my salary being transparent.

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I had a client where we developed a hardware interface. They couldn't justify paying us for the development, but agreed to pay $400 for 10$ worth of wire and connectors.We could have itemized it and included a line $390 to know which pins to solder the wires, but that would have been silly. – JeffO Feb 27 at 15:40

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