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I currently work as a software engineer at a company in Europe. One detail that's going to be important below is that everybody here has a contract for 40h/week. If you work more, you can use the extra worked hours as a buffer, or even use them to get more free days. If you drop below a certain level (something like 40h below the expected number), management will start to ask questions.

One of the perks of working here is that a handful of us employees can attend foreign language courses 2-4hrs/week at the company's premise at no cost. The only downside is that although these courses usually take place in the middle of the day, the time spent there does not count towards the weekly working hours.

So, when I joined this course, I got an email from HR with the schedule, and they also informed me about this rule. So far so good, everybody was checking out of the company premises and then back in after the course.

At some point, we got a new colleague that also joined this course and the only difference between him and us is that he did not get this email from HR. Simply speaking: HR either forgot or because the course was already running, they did not bother with the details.

Because he was not directly informed by HR, this guy told us (the other guys attending the course) that he is not going to obey this rule and since then he simply counted the hours spent at the course towards his working hours. Of course, he had no plans to check with HR to clarify this issue.

The catch is that it's quite difficult to recover these lost working hours and then almost impossible to gather some extra on top of them.

So, at my annual review, I've asked my manager if it's possible that I count these hours as "worked" hours and because he was happy with my performance, he was OK with that. However, HR was not. So, I was back to square one.

This was quite some time ago. Me (and the others besides that guy) had to recover a lot of hours (in the hundreds range) and of course, that led to frustration, when you see that, let's quote Orwell: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

Only a couple of us know about what this guy is (not) doing, the manager and HR have no idea.

I'm slowly getting more and more frustrated. Staying at work to recover those hours while he is long gone counts to that. Also seeing him how carefully he tries to keep this advantage as low key as possible by even suggesting to the others not involved in this course that he does obey the rule like the others.

Is there anything more intelligent that I can do besides what I did till now, i.e., ignoring this issue and minding my own business?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Jul 3 at 12:41
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    How is that quote related to your situation? – Koray Tugay Jul 3 at 17:13
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    From this part of your post This was quite some time ago. Me (and the others besides that guy) had to recover a lot of hours (in the hundreds range) it sounds like your manager said one thing and HR another. This is what you should be dealing with. If you got in "debt` hours wise you should be taking this up with manager and hr – Drifter104 Jul 5 at 15:09

11 Answers 11

192

Your problem is that you're not separating two completely different things:

  • The difficulty making up the 2-4 hours that you're spending on learning a foreign language.
  • Your coworker operating under a different set of rules than you.

Those two have nothing to do with one another. If you forced your coworker to follow the rules, you're still going to be in the same boat.

The problem is, you're letting envy of your coworker's situation cloud your focus. Forget about the coworker. The question you need to ask yourself is, would you rather:

  • Spend a few extra hours in the office each week (not working extra hours; the extra time is actually learning a foreign language)
  • Leave at a regular time but not learn a foreign language.

Your coworker literally has nothing to do with your choice. The dynamic between him and the company doesn't play into that choice, and isn't really any of your business. If it makes you feel better, he's making a terrible choice: at the gain of a few extra hours each week, he's likely going to permanently sour his relationship at the company - HR will find out at some point, and the longer it takes, the less likely he'll get away with "But nobody told me!" as an excuse.

59

Your colleague is wilfully committing fraud. Or whatever the non-monetary equivalent to fraud is. The behaviour is dishonest and therefore fair game to deal with as your wish.

Feel free to report his behaviour to HR. Don't bother with your manager as he (rightly or wrongly) clearly doesn't care for the rule and has no particular incentive to enforce it.

If you do this then: a) remind HR that he is a colleague and that you would like to remain anonymous. b) remember that HR might be stupid enough to give away your identity even after you ask them not to.

You could try to do something more subtle to try and draw attention to the discrepancy but I wouldn't bother if I were you. Either ignore the issue (it isn't your problem per se so this is a fine approach) or deal with it directly and rat him out. The middle ground is not a friendly space. e.g. addressing your colleague directly carries a higher risk of friction along with a much lower chance of the problem going away.

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The other answers are perfectly fine and acceptable, but I believe they all fail to take into account OP's feelings of being cheated. It doesn't matter that the other guy is cheating the company, it doesn't matter that OP has to stay 2-4 hours extra to make up the time.

What matters is the other guy is cheating OP, knowingly and on purpose. Why should he get to leave while OP has to stay back.

Leaving it be will not solve the burning ball in your gut. Talking to him will be even less fruitful. No sane person, let alone an asshat like that one would gladly and willingly forfeit 4 hours of their free time where they didn't have to before.

If I were in your shoes OP I'd definitely report him. Probably escalating to your manager will be enough, or you might need to go and ask HR "Hey how come I have to stay ..." The point is EF that guy!

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    I agree, the "mind your own business" attitude that some users here are displaying is troubling, because all it takes for evil to win is for good men to do nothing. That may sound dramatic, but it's true, even when it comes to little things. This guy is a troublemaker, and is damaging the team's morale, therefore it has to be addressed, and managers are not mind readers. Sometimes they do need a member of the team to stand up, and tell them that X is happening, such that they can react. – AndreiROM Jul 3 at 14:12
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    "No sane person, ...would gladly and willingly forfeit 4 hours of their free time..." So why call him an asshat then? You don't even mind that he's "cheating the company"? You only feel that he should work the extra hours so that the OP doesn't get emotional? – James Jul 3 at 17:58
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    @James He shouldn't be getting those free hours to begin with. And he knows it. He's taking advantege of a technicality that would never fly when finally questioned. It's not fair for OP to either not get those hours free or the asshat not work those hours. I too would get uber angry if faced with such unfairness, especially when the asshat knows he's doing it. – Иво Недев Jul 3 at 19:15
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    @Иво Недев: In Europe, this is not a "technicality". Employee rules must be explicitly communicated. Failure to do so is fully a problem of the company. The fact that other companies might pay for such courses makes it even worse. – MSalters Jul 4 at 8:24
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    The other guy is NOT cheating OP. He is cheating the company. OP is willingly allowing envy to become is perspective. The other guy did not make this choice for OP. I don't see how the other guy's decision should affect OP at all. There was no agreement between the guy and OP that would cause OP to be cheated. You are wrong. – layman Jul 5 at 13:59
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I'm going to go against the majority of answers and say that your co-worker is not committing fraud or even being unethical.

You state that the language classes occur during normal working hours at the job location. I assume that the language(s) being taught are for the purpose of making the employees more productive? Given all these factors, I think it is perfectly reasonable for him to assume that he should be paid for these hours. He might have even taken this benefit into consideration when accepting the job. Until HR tells him otherwise, I think he is justified in continuing to count those hours.

I don't know about European labor laws, but in the USA he would still be risking getting fired if HR discovers what he's doing.

I advise you to mind your own business. He's not doing anything wrong.

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    One person is being paid to do 40 hrs of work, and then spends an extra 4 unpaid hours of training outside of that time. The other is being paid for 40 hours of work, but spending 4 of those in the training that should be unpaid (so only doing 36 hours of the work they are being paid 40 hours for). If it's company policy that this training time should be unpaid and separate from the 40 hours being paid for work, then he is operating outside of company policy. This is workplace inequality however you dress it up. – Smock Jul 3 at 12:48
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    @Smock: I agree it's inequality, but who's fault is that? I say it's HR's fault. – James Jul 3 at 12:50
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    Yes it is HR's fault, but if this person is unofficially aware of the rule, and still ignoring it, they are being an <expletive>. The way to address it is to contact HR to clarify the rule they are making you comply with. Ask them if it applies to everyone without exception (maybe they do have special dispensation). Suggest to them that not everyone may aware of the rule(don't mention specific people), and that they may need to send a company wide reminder of the rule. There's not much more you can do beyond that other than suck it up. – Smock Jul 3 at 12:54
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    @James I don't know whether it's "fraud" or "unethical" as such, but it's clear from the Q that the new colleague is aware of this policy (as it applies to other people in the team) and isn't just "assuming he should be paid for these hours" in the abstract.. Instead he's saying that he's aware of the policy in an unofficial sense, but won't follow it on the (technicality?) basis that he hasn't been personally told that this is the policy. In his position he ought to seek clarification from the manager - if it's above board then no problem! (cont) – seventyeightist Jul 4 at 18:39
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    ... so I disagree with your answer as it doesn't take into account that he's aware that what he's doing is at-odds with what seems to be the norm (from his perspective) in his workplace. If he "assumed he should be paid for those hours" (despite evidence that others aren't) he should have made enquiries -- and I don't think this depends on the jurisdiction actually. I didn't downvote you, though! – seventyeightist Jul 4 at 18:40
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Email to HR (from you, or your manager, depending on how the politics are working in your company) with one of these:

  1. Dear HR person: please can you confirm whether the rule about making up hours spent on language lessons (etc) is still in effect? as I understand from John Smith (new hire in the Q department) that this is no longer being communicated as a requirement so we would appreciate some clarification around this policy. (then go to (2) if they reply that this is still the policy and don't take it up with him.)

  2. Dear HR person: I understand from John Smith that he has not received the information about making up hours spent on language lessons (etc), I have outlined the policy to him but is it possible for you to supply the official information please?

I'm pretty sure that the policy still applies, especially since you said that you queried it with your manager and they were ok with it but HR wasn't. (I won't comment about my opinion on this policy, as that isn't really relevant to the answer..lets just say my opinion isn't positive, assuming the language lessons are of benefit to the company). This way you are re-casting it as an oversight/innocent mistake in the process (while acknowledging the policy may have changed!) rather than blaming it on 'John'.

I'm assuming that 'John' doesn't have any specific agreement with the company (since surely he would have said if he'd negotiated that agreement away, rather than just saying he won't comply since he wasn't told about it) and consequently, that as HR want it to be enforced on you, that they would equally want it to be enforced on John.


Edited to add:

Thinking about this a bit more... I wonder if it's possible that HR expects the manager to communicate this info to their direct report, as part of "on-boarding" a new hire (since you say that the course was already running at that point).

And when your manager checked again (I'm assuming this part) with HR about your query, they (HR) were thinking that it was a general question about the policy at that point and whether it still applies.

It doesn't change the advice above, really, other than I think you (or, really, your manager) need to get it made clear whether it's the line-manager or the HR that should be giving this info to new hires.

At places I've worked it's been about 50/50 whether it's the line-manager, or HR, who would have the responsibility for communicating this kind of thing to the new person.

If it is in fact the case that HR are expecting the manager (rather than HR) to communicate that -- it's likely to become clear from their response to either (1) or (2) above.

In any case, regardless of any of the above I think it's fairly clear that your new colleague seems like the type to seek out technicalities, loopholes, etc so in your position I would be wary of that in his other behaviour at work, although I don't think there's anything you can directly do about that right now.

If I'm right with any of this then you have 2 issues: 1) unclear processes/responsibilities (that should be easy to clear up in any normal organisation) and 2) this co-worker who will use technicalities etc to "rules-lawyer" situations. You need to treat these 2 issues separately.

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EDIT My original wording suggested you should outright report it. Edited view is that you should still at least discuss with him. Since this is probably a finite case, letting it be known that one constantly getting away with something everyone else has to follow isn't cool may be where to leave it.

If this is an ongoing training, then I'd still consider escalating. Eventually more will notice he's leaving earlier and that's going to wear on people.

Tell him you are going to report this if he doesn’t cease this practice. If he doesn’t cease this, then report it. If you want to be a little softer about it, begin with explaining why this is difficult for the rest of the team to watch him get special treatment.

Most likely, he won’t like it and will blame you. So be it. His childish behavior is selfish to say the least and entirely oblivious to his impacts to others or the concepts of fairness. If he’s fine with this, what else is he going to quietly let you take on for his own benefit? He is causing a poor work environment by taking advantage of a technicality—one that may not even be valid—while quite willingly letting all around him work more under different rules. Your manager should be upset with him. It’s hard to keep a team working happily together when one member is receiving preferential treatment.

  • I think you misread the question. The OP isn't taking on anything because of his coworker. The "extra hours" isn't because of the cheater - it's because he has to make up the 2-4 hours the OP spent in the language class. If you do report this, it literally changes nothing about OP's schedule. – Kevin Jul 2 at 14:57
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    I read it correctly. As you mentioned in your response there are two threads. One of them is not impacted by what I propose. One is. Preferential treatment is a cancer to a team. – John Spiegel Jul 2 at 15:01
  • Heck, that's a good way to describe the situation in a single sentence! – Lucas Jul 2 at 15:04
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    It's tacit, but made pretty clear that the OP believes it's by oversight, not by plan. – John Spiegel Jul 2 at 15:11
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    @Kevin The OP's hours may not be a result of this, but lower team spirit may well be. More pressure on the team may also be a result of one member not pulling its weight. So, no there is no direct implication that both issues are related, just that one guy skimming ours can lead to bad team spirit, higher pressure on the team and reduced team productivity. Which, come to think of it, actually could help OP to get those additional hours... in overtime ... which is the opposite of what you are saying ;) – Frank Hopkins Jul 2 at 16:18
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Maybe the guy is hired for 3/4 of the time?
I would ignore the issue and mind my own business. For a few reasons. One of them (experiencing from attending similar course) is that those rules are usually stated in agreement you get when you sign for that course. So that HR e-mail is just a reminder. Saying that you didn't get the memo so you are excerpted from the rules is a good way to get fired.
Second thing is that if his work is done in less than those 40 hours then maybe there's no need for him to be employed? It should be his manager role to keep track of his people. If he don't do that then employee taking advantage expose this manager lack of managing skills (as I assume you have two different managers, otherwise you would rise the issue with yours).
Third thing would be to ask your HR is the courses could be held before or after typical working hours so the work can be arranged to be more smoothly (as you can imagine it's quite bad to say "we cannot held a call at 1 pm because Lucas learn French then for an hour).

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    Everybody has 40h/week and we have the same manager who was... oblivious to this rule till he found it from me at the annual review – Lucas Jul 2 at 14:58
  • @Lucas Then you can talk about it with your manager. As you noticed, this behaviour have a bad impact on your morale and thus should be dealt by management. I had similar issue: I could start working day at 9.30, clocked in sometimes 5-10 minutes late, was asked by manager to come at 9 because, apart from HR who can monitor times logged in, no one knew I was staying late. – SZCZERZO KŁY Jul 3 at 7:29
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Much as I like the "mind your own business" attitude, I don't think it applies here.

If my colleague was paid more than me for no apparent reason, I'd mind my own business. If my colleague was being knowingly dishonest, it would by of my concern. I have the right to work in an atmosphere of trust which is impossible when such people are around.

You have the right to work in a healthy atmosphere too, and if you care about it, you should report your colleague to HR.

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Is there anything more intelligent that I can do besides what I did till now, i.e., ignoring this issue and minding my own business?

No, there is nothing you should do other than minding your own business. Your colleague cheating the system is his problem, not yours and eventually it will catch up to him. Ratting out your colleague won't solve your problem about recovering hours and it will likely cause more problems as you might be seen as untrustworthy by your coworkers.

As for the hours that you are struggling to recover, if it is such a struggle to recover these hours then my suggestion is to stop attending the course during working hours. While it is nice that the company provides these courses, in your case the benefits do not seem to outweigh all the problems you are having because if it.

You should also consider asking management to hold the courses at a time when it will not affect your working hours if you really want to attend them. The worst that they can say is no.

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    It hasn't caught up to him in apparently the course of at least a year (since an annual review has passed). The way such things catch up to people is by someone who can do something about it finding out. Another person informing them is often one of the ways by which such people find out about these issues. – jpmc26 Jul 3 at 9:51
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Since the jerk who is ignoring the rule has told you personally that he knows about the rule but is ignoring it because of some pseudo-legalistic excuse, the "emotionally intelligent" thing to do is simple: spread that message throughout the workgroup, then stand back and enjoy watching the consequences.

There is always one guy in a group who likes spreading gossip and stirring things up. Just mention it casually to them, and your work is done. The principle that "revenge tastes sweetest when it is served cold" applies here!

You don't need to bring it to management or HR's attention yourself. It will get there soon enough, once it becomes common knowledge.

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    Although this might be emotionally satisfying, it's passive-aggressive, and only helps make the workplace more toxic. – mcknz Jul 3 at 21:23
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Just do what your colleague does

So, at my annual review, I've asked my manager if it's possible that I count these hours as "worked" hours and because he was happy with my performance, he was OK with that.

Your manager gave you a shield for your ass. If your colleague can get away with what he's doing then so can you.

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    "he was OK with that. However, HR was not. So, I was back to square one." -- if the shield doesn't work on HR it's pretty useless. – mcknz Jul 3 at 21:02
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    Sounds like you asked HR after your boss gave you the okay. Not much of a shield. Also, if you don't have it in writing from your boss, but HR does have an email they sent saying the opposite... bad. – J. Chris Compton Jul 3 at 21:14

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