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I have come into a strange position and could greatly use some advice on how I should proceed. I am an undergraduate student at an American university in a computer engineering program. For the last several months, I have been hired as a student developer working for the university. However due to HR issues I have been working without any compensation. (I have so far worked over 300 hours for the university without pay.)

However last week they have finally got around to filling out the HR paperwork to officially hire me. My immediate boss feels bad about me working all this time and wants to "make it up". He has suggested doing this by going and "padding my pay" by a few hours each week until the time is covered. However I have been told to not let anyone else know or there will be trouble for it. This feels very shady and I am really struggling over whether this is something that is acceptable or not to do.

I know the thing that most people are likely to comment on is “Why the world did you not just quit?” The reason for this is really twofold. The position is a really nice one, I am able to be doing development work to help build up my resume and pay for school as a freshman student. The second being that I really do need the money from the position to help pay for school, and I was told throughout the entire process that I would start being payed “Just next week”.

I understand that they probably were just taking advantage of my ignorance (this is my first job), but has anyone ever had any experience like this where they can give advise on how I should proceed? (Or if the suggested method of padding hours is acceptable?) I’m told that “People do it all the time”, but also being told “don’t tell anyone” just makes it seem somewhat suspicious.

Also as a side note to the site administrators, I apologize for posting this on a separate account from my main account. I just don’t want this traced to me as I have been told that I will be in a lot of trouble if this is found out. (Either the fact that my hours are padded, or that I was working without pay.) (I guess I am breaking a bunch of labor laws by working without receiving payment, and reporting time that I haven’t worked is also illegal. (Theft in office)).

Any advice that could be provided would be greatly appreciated. (Particularly concerning the legality and ethics of the situation.)


This question has been replicated to https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/78479/what-are-the-legal-and-ethical-implications-of-padding-pay-with-extra-hours-to , where it is more on-topic.

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    Yes, padding the hours is fraud. You could go to jail for it. – HLGEM Oct 18 '16 at 19:29
  • It depends on how much you have to pad it. Are we talking 1 or 2 hours or 5 or 10 hours? – Hobbes Oct 18 '16 at 19:31
  • Advice questions like this are off topic on this site, voting to close. – The Wandering Dev Manager Oct 18 '16 at 19:40
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    See an employment lawyer, this is beyond us as there are too many factors to consider. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Oct 18 '16 at 19:50
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    I guess I am breaking a bunch of labor laws by working without receiving payment - I would think that it's the university breaking labor laws by employing students and not paying them but I'm not a lawyer. – BSMP Oct 18 '16 at 20:15
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The time you worked without being officially hired is water under the bridge. You were a volunteer employee and you will never officially get paid for that time. Let it be lesson to you that you never start working at a job until you do the HR paperwork.

It does count as experience in some ways but you will need to separate it out from the paid time going forward on your resume. When future potential employers do a background check, HR is going to tell them your official start date even though you think you started earlier. Thus you will fail the background check as being a liar.

Document only the hours you worked or an auditor could come along and find that you are committing timesheet fraud and you could go to jail. No one at that point is going to believe your boss told you to do it or that you were simply making up hours worked before you were hired. When I worked for an audit agency, we sent several people to jail for lying on their timesheets. It is not worth the risk as universities are almost certainly audited.

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    Yes but the chances are someone in college can't afford a lawyer. Nor might he want to make his current boss who is his only employment reference at this point angry by doing so and getting him in trouble. – HLGEM Oct 18 '16 at 22:08
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Legalities aside, the best solution for you and everyone else where you do get compensated is not to pad hours. That is both unethical and dangerous in many many ways.

Everything should be above board. So either backpay you and treat it as an oversight. Or compensate you in some other way. There is nothing wrong with giving a volunteer a gift for example, vouchers, electronic gadgets whatever comes to mind. It's none of your business whether they go and sell it or use it. I buy around $2000 in gift vouchers every year and give them away for various reasons. I'm well aware that the majority are sold the same day.

If your professor really wants to push for something on your behalf he should think along these lines rather than come up with a scheme to defraud the institute.

  • "There is nothing wrong with giving a volunteer a gift for example" -- under the circumstances though, it'd probably be taxable as employment income. – Steve Jessop Oct 19 '16 at 23:15
  • @SteveJessop why would you mention the circumstances? – Kilisi Oct 20 '16 at 0:10
  • Because I'm not a crook? – Steve Jessop Oct 20 '16 at 7:42
  • @SteveJessop how could you deem it crooked? I set up the network and maintain the computers and peripherals at my kids school as a volunteer. I've never asked for anything, but every so often they'll give me a bottle of wine, on one occasion a desk, and several times gift vouchers. I'm not a crook, but I don't put these down as taxable income. – Kilisi Oct 20 '16 at 7:53
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    OK, well since neither of us is working in the US, it won't be the IRS to whom we have to explain how we accepted pay for 300 hours of work, from our current employer, and this is a perfectly normal untaxable gift akin to our Mums making us dinner ;-) – Steve Jessop Oct 20 '16 at 14:30
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Sounds like you need to ask for a signing bonus totaling the amount you worked. They may decline to pay you but it's your own fault. Never work for free. Never keep working for free.

DO NOT - DO NOT - DO NOT pad your timesheet. A few thousand dollars is not worth the risk.

Consider this a very cheap lesson.

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It varies state to state, but depending on your official title, they could be legally obligated to pay you. This is tricky, because you're a student, in many states, so long as you are an intern they do not have to pay you. In some states they have to pay you a bare minimum (not minimum wage necessarily). However, if you are an official employee of some sort and there was an official agreement that there would be compensation, then depending on the amount and the state, you can take them to either small claims or civil court. In my particular state, it's <= $5000 owed goes to small claims, and > $5000 owed goes to civil court.

Depending on the agreement of this compensation, they might be legally obligated for compensating you this time where the HR paperwork was not filled out.

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