62

(or a harsher title: "Company pushing me to sign a fake report about my working hours")

There is a project which is partially funded by an outside source (government subsidy), and I'm a developer involved in this project.

Therefore the financial department has to create records every month about each of us, how many hours we spent on this project, because the company gets paid based on the manhours worked on the project.

So I got a printed table about last month, where a lot of days were filled that I worked so and so many hours on the project. The problem is, that (probably to save time and effort) they just filled in days randomly. I was never asked to fill out paperwork about each day, so they just took the total hours which were planned for me for this project, and distributed them seemingly randomly across the month.

They asked me to sign that document.

The problem is, that several days where they put hours in for me, I was on vacation. They probably didn't take the time to look up my records (we sign in and out every day, so they could have looked up which days I was working and which days I wasn't).

I notified them about this mistake and asked them to put those hours to the days when I was actually working, but they insist that I shouldn't waste their time redoing the report, and I should just sign it because "nobody will really check it." Management is also leaning towards just letting it happen, because they don't want to "waste time" with "such trivialities."

I'm not worried about ethical concerns because signing it wouldn't report non-existent hours. I was really doing work on that project, just not on those days. Despite this, could I get into legal trouble? Could I get a criminal record for fraud if an investigation checks it? For example, the subsidizer agency will get suspicious about whether we are overbilling so they will start an investigation to carefully check the records? Maybe they will even find some fraudulent billing (which I'm unaware of so I can't say whether it might have happened). After that, all they need to do is pull out my signin/signout records or vacation records to see that hours were billed where I wasn't even working.

Is this a real danger?

There was a related question but in that case there was an obvious and malicious fraud to paint the company in a better light. In this case we aren't defrauding anyone, at least not with my hours, because I did do the work, just not on the indicated days. Could I just sign it and if an investigation (which everyone says is unlikely, but I wouldn't count on it) occurs, I can say that when signing it I just checked if the total hours were more or less right, without carefully checking each and every day?

Edit:

My intention is not about what legal actions should I take, but about how such situations can be solved in a friendly and not overreacting manner, and whether such things are likely to cause trouble or would be so insignificant as to not warrant any attention. Would any audit check each day which was filed on the project with the employees whether they were there or not? Of course the financial department says they won't, but I have the feeling that such a thing is the easiest thing to check so it will be amongst the first things to be checked.

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    @EdHeal Keep in mind that whistle-blowing is a career killer regardless of any legal protection that might apply. Administrative laziness is also not a hill I would choose to die on. – Lilienthal Sep 10 '15 at 20:30
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    @EdHeal : Would you dial the police emergency numbers if you saw someone pick up a penny from the ground in a park and you suspected they will not file it as income on their tax report? This is such a minor issue, not an intention to get fraudulent money but just so spare some time on bureaucracy. I could refuse to sign, and insist, and escalate it, but this will just paint me as an overreacting paranoiac. – user41894 Sep 10 '15 at 20:31
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    What your management calls a "triviality" is something that a lawyer might call "Urkundenfälschung". – gnasher729 Sep 10 '15 at 22:18
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    they don't want to "waste time" with "such trivialities" -- and you don't want to "get the company in trouble" over something "trivial to fix". You should be able to make your case easily on that basis. – Matthew Read Sep 11 '15 at 1:37
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    Question back to you; are you willing to commit fraud and risk being arrested, imprisoned and having a criminal record, just to save your desk jockey 10 minutes of work? Of course you are not. Maybe they are not aware that this is illegal? Tell them firmly, no, I can't sign this because I don't want to go to prison. You can make it a joke if you like, but be firm, or they'll do it again. – RedSonja Sep 11 '15 at 8:25
68

Do not sign any document that is false (good idea in general) that is intended to go to a government accounting office. Major governments (including Germany) that support this kind of work tend to have similar practices regarding this kind of thing.

In the US the government has the General Accountability Office which conducts the audits of government contracts, documents, and financials when it comes to this sort of thing. What you're describing seems minor on the surface but it is, in fact, a crime. And the person who goes to jail is the one who signed the document affirming the hours worked and amount to be charged. Penalties for this kind of thing can be incredibly stiff, and it's not uncommon when an audit like this happens for the worker at the bottom to suffer the consequences so the company can retain the contract.

Regardless of that the amounts end up being the same, an audit will turn up fraudulent documents. It doesn't matter what fiscal consequences occurred. Fraudulent documents are fraudulent documents. The reason it becomes a bigger problem is that the veracity of ALL related documents on the contract must then be audited. If you worked on Monday and not on Tuesday, then your documents should indicate exactly that. So while your "amount charged" doesn't change because it evens out, if the document is caught to be questionable it will trigger the larger audit (and a significant cost to the government), and the penalties levied will be at the document signatory. That's you.

Do not under any circumstance sign a document that generates a payment from the government that is not entirely accurate.

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    When I worked for an audit agency in the US, we sent people to jail for timecard fraud. I imagine the German government similarly frowns on it. They want you to sign it because they know it is fraud and they don't want to sign it. – HLGEM Sep 10 '15 at 21:24
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    And I can affirm that a good auditor will check timesheets against vacation records. Of course not all auditors are good auditors, but it is taking a very large risk. – HLGEM Sep 10 '15 at 21:28
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    Good answer about the consequences. The auditor has no way to know that you did the work on some other day, he just sees that you didn't work at the denoted days. – Chris Sep 11 '15 at 10:32
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    A good auditor will check against anything with a date on it, whether it's a professional conference you attended or a file on the server. – MSalters Sep 11 '15 at 10:58
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    I hope that someone goes to jail for such acts. I run a business myself and often myself confronted with such ethical questions. Sometimes it is grey and you need to think twice to choose the less worst based upon what is the best for the community. But this is a clear case of fraud. I would recommend never sign such a document from which you now know that it is fraud; when you didn't know it in advance it would be stupid but not fraud. And await reactions from your employer. If you want to leave the company, try to get fired. – Guido Leenders Sep 14 '15 at 11:14
134

You amend the printed document in your own handwriting. You initial the parts you amended. You sign the amended copy. You keep a copy for your own records.

Next: If you're really worried, you should get your own copy dated and notarized privately (your company doesn't need to know about that part).

There was no need to tell your manager about any of this. Amending the mistakes in a document you're about to sign is just standard practice. The ball is then in the accountant's court.

If the accountant is then willing to make that document disappear, or even forge your signature (and hide that fact from you), then that's on him/her. Or if he/she wants to bother the higher ups, instead of sending an addendum to the government agency in question and calling them to make sure they received it, then again, that's on him/her.

My point is just to put the ball in his/her court, and see what happens. You shouldn't be going around asking for permission to fill out your time card correctly. If your accountant wants to take shortcuts and do something illegal as a result, then he/she should be the one asking for permission.

Whatever happens, next time around he/she'll know to consult you before filling out this information without your input.

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    This seems like the best of all worlds. You amend the timesheet, sign the amended version, and don't bother management with something they consider "trivial". – Lindsey D Sep 11 '15 at 5:08
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    This doesn't work if the timesheet is digital, as is often the case in this day and age – Chase Sandmann Sep 11 '15 at 19:07
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    @ChaseSandmann, I agree, but in this case he is talking about being asked to sign a printed copy. See "So I got a printed table about last month [...]. They ask me to sign that document." – Stephan Branczyk Sep 11 '15 at 19:52
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    Make sure the amendments are in ink, not pencil, and cannot be erased without it being obvious the document has been altered. – Patricia Shanahan Sep 12 '15 at 6:06
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    I strongly disagree with, "There was no need to tell your manager about any of this." It is absolutely a problem for the company if false records are being kept. You should absolutely start asking questions when asked to sign a false document. In this case, the OP requested that the document be corrected, and was met with resistance. If a hand written addendum was all that was necessary, then they would have said so. Instead, it sounds like redoing it is going to be a lot of work, which means a hand amended copy probably wouldn't have been sufficient anyway. – jpmc26 Sep 12 '15 at 23:53
8

Prepare a document that states something to the effect of:

For the time period of {START DATE} to {END DATE} the time sheet being filed is reporting the correct number of hours though the actual time worked may not be accurate. I understand this and I assume any liablity for the inaccuracy of the time-sheet and agree that {user41894} will not be held responsible in any way for these inaccuracies.

Signed and Dated by {User41894's Boss}

If your boss is unwilling to sign a document like that then you should be able to get them to correct the report. I do not claim that the document will provide you any protection in court or even in disciplinary procedures, but I can not see it hurting. And it might be useful should you find yourself needing to defend against charges that you intended to defraud the company or the client.

And if your boss is unwilling to sign this then it should at least get them to revise your time-sheet to reflect the hours you actually worked. If your boss refuses to sign this, and refuses to alter your time-sheet then I would seek out legal council before making any further decisions.

For the record: If I was in your boss's position I would never sign that document, but I would definitely revisit my position on whether or not it was appropriate for me to ask you to sign the time-sheet that was inaccurate.

I would also note that it is possible that your company does just bill for hours worked and doesnt really care about your actual time worked as long as the hours are correct. In that case I might be willing to sign that document if adjusting a timecard that does not matter to anyone, was too burdensome. In that case though I would take the time to explain that in writing on that piece of paper before i signed it.

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    I'm not sure that I would do this, but it would certainly get the point across. – ThatGuy Sep 11 '15 at 4:41
8

Please check the Wikipedia article at https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urkundenfälschung and the website of the Federal Ministry for Justice and Consumer Protection at http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/stgb/__267.html which will tell you about penalties of up to five years in jail, or up to ten years in extreme cases.

You may also show these two websites to your boss.

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    This is a link-only answer; would it not be good to include at least the relevant points of those pages (and in English)? – Andrew Leach Sep 14 '15 at 10:32
6

Do not sign the document. If there is an investigation it is you who will bear the consequences, not your bosses or the finance department people. They will not confess that they insisted you sign the inaccurate time sheet. They will say that they had no idea it was inaccurate and you failed to inform them it was inaccurate.

Never sign a document that you know contains false information just to avoid inconveniencing your bosses or your company. No manager, no company in the world deserves that level of flexibility or risk taking.

So, send an email to your bosses and the finance department explaining the inaccuracy in the time sheet they have prepared. Even if you have already done it, do it again and this time remember to BCC your personal email address or otherwise save a copy of the email for yourself that you can access from outside the workplace even when you do not have access to the work email in person or over the internet. This email records the fact that you have made your bosses and your financial department aware of the issue.

Wait until the deadline for the financial department to submit the time sheet to the outside source approaches. Then your words should carry more weight. As they will need the time sheet from you quickly, they will be more agreeable to correcting it. Send another email at that time.

3

Let's start with the legal part:

§ 263 Betrug / Fraud
requires an illicit shift of fortune. If you have worked for one hour and bill one hour, the shift of fortune is not illicit.

§ 267 Urkundenfälschung / Forgery of documents
The forgery of documents in criminal law does not protect the correctness of the contents of the documents, but the authenticity of the document creator. It is legal to create and use a document which states "2+2=5". It is illegal to create and use a document which states "2+2=4, signed Joe", when the document was created by Bob. So, if your superior signs the document with your name, it is forgery of documents. If you sign it with your name, you have created a properly signed document and documented that you documented a lie. This is, as strange as it sounds, not forgery of documents.

There is one problem though.

How would anyone know whether the shift of fortune is illicit or not, if the only available data is your signed document, which can be proven wrong? It's a bit like standing next to a corpse with a bloody knife in the hand; and the mere fact that you didn't do anything wrong and that you know that, is rarely comforting, if nobody else believes you.

The correct reply is:
"Sorry, but I don't feel comfortable signing a document which is wrong."
If you like, you can add some witticism:
"If nobody is checking these documents, then it doesn't matter if I don't sign it anyway."

But in the end it comes down to politely refuse it.

EDIT:
I would like to add some specific issue about Germany, as the most popular answer is "amending the document".

The problem with this approach is that the employer is required to track the working hours per day correctly, according to §16 ArbZG. This law exists, so it is verifiable, whether other working hour regulations were honored or not. If you document that you worked 12 hours in three days, it might be sufficient to write a bill for the client, but it is not sufficient to prove that you didn't work 11 hours on a single day, which is forbidden. So, the employer can be fined for 15k EUR, a fine he might be able to partially hand down to the employee, because the employee handed in an insufficient time sheet.

1

This is definitely not a minor problem that can be ignored and swept under the rug. You stated a preference to handle the problem in a low key way; but when your immediate supervisor refused to do so that avenue was closed off and you need to escalate it.

As has been pointed out by others, what you're being asked to do is illegal; and could result in catastrophic consequences for you personally and your company as a whole WHEN NOT IF it's found out. Because of the threat to the company, you need to escalate it up to the top. If you're at a larger company there should be someone with a job title like Chief Auditor, (regulatory/financial) Compliance Officer, or Ethics Officer; in a smaller company without any of those as distinct roles go to the Chief Financial Officer or the owner. If available, the ethics officer would be my first choice because that's a role where inquiries from junior staff is more expected; and explaining why something you feel uncomfortable about is or is not acceptable is part of their job description.

There're two possible outcomes from doing so. If the problem is limited to your immediate supervisor and other junior management; the person you bring the issue up should horrified by what you tell them and immediately fix it. In that case, you should get a correct time sheet to sign in very short order and see hammers brought down on the people involved in the fraud.

If the people you bring it up to try and blow you off; you've got bigger problems. They're in on the fraud. In that case you need to get away as quickly as possible. You do not want to be in the position of trying to find a new job when the last company on your resume is all over the news because of an accounting scandal.

Normally I'd recommend against it; but if the company as a whole is crooked this is a case where it might be better to quit immediately instead of waiting until you have a new job lined up. If it does blow up before you find a new job, being able to tell interviewers that you quit your previous job rather than doing something illegal is a much better place to be than if you were still working there when it all came down.

0

Ask your question the relevant EU government authority that provides law advice for all EU citizens:

EU rights - advice and problem solving

I used this free service to get a handle on a few of my local laws.

And my common sense advice is to not sign it, as you will probably take the fall. Especially if it's easy for government employees to discover this discrepancy - they usually don't like to report the little stuff but if it's that obvious they have to report it or risk trouble, they are also human after all.

Better to find another job that risking ending up in jail. Or just amend your copy and sign the edited version.

And keep copies of anything that can be your evidence if all hell breaks loose.

0

Based on US law (other places may be different), your best bet of all the bad options might be to bite the bullet and blow the whistle on this. Do research the laws about how to do it correctly and remain protected.

Yes, whistle-blowing will be a career killer, but when you work for a company like that, your career is already dead since you are effectively becoming an accomplice to a crime. At least becoming a whistle-blower may give you some legal protection (at the very least, it will serve as evidence that you were not a willing participant), and here in the USA also a share of reward money that can compensate you for the loss of your career.

DO NOT try to resolve this amicably. All you are doing is giving the employer a heads-up, and you may well get fired for "not being a team player" - which can also turn out to be a career-ending move.

Your best career move is probably to quit the job and become self-employed. That neatly sidesteps most of these career problems, as long as you can manage to find enough clients.

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