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Throwaway account because others can trace accounts back to me and my company.

Related to Unethical Billing Practices?, but different question.

I work for a software development company, and I work for several customers to which we bill time according to the hours we track on their projects.

I'm also participating in internal activities meant to formalize a department, set up standards and generally tidy up some processes.

My company is asking me to bill these hours to my current customer, under these reasons:

  • If it's only a few hours, they really don't mind (not sure about that, I've been asked to hide this from them)
  • It also benefits them, because we're making our processes better (I'm sure getting a good night's sleep also helps to be productive, but we don't charge that)
  • We're still available to them so it makes sense to bill them (I'm pretty sure the client is not aware of paying for "standby" time)

The company has a policy for transparency a partnership, so I'm pretty sure this shouldn't fly, but it does, since management is pressuring me in performing this practice. The policy is not specific at all, it's just a vague description of ... well, transparency and partnership.

This is a job I really like and I would like to keep, but I feel uncomfortable in such situations, up to the point where I have offered to work these hours for free. (Not considered seriously yet, and I'm glad because I have better things to do with my time.)

Now, in the linked question (Unethical Billing Practices?) it was perfectly established that this is unethical and even illegal.

How can I convince management to reconsider this?

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    What exactly is unethical here? "Standby" time is a support contract, where customer pays for a certain # of hours per month. Whether they use it or not, they are just paying for peace of mind. These hours usually come at a discounted rate, so they benefit both parties. Your business gets guaranteed long term income, they get cheaper support, than it would be on demand. – Neolisk Apr 17 '17 at 21:15
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    You link to the other question about unethical billing practices but don't say how this question is really different. – Brandin Apr 18 '17 at 6:24
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If they have a service contract (which you have sighted) that allows for a certain amount of hours then it's fine. But if you're billing the client for hours which are not directly related to your tasks for them then it is unethical.

Since you have direct and clear orders from your bosses it's up to you how to proceed. Normally a tech would not be invoicing a customer directly, they would be logging their hours in some sort of tracking system or giving a breakdown, and financial people would be doing the actual invoicing.

Your choices are limited, comply with management or refuse. If it was clearly unethical I would email them for clarification on what they want me to bill, so that I have a paper trail. Then move forwards from their reply. If they insisted I'd tell them to bill the client themselves and I don't want to get involved in the invoicing, but I have never minded losing a job. Your case might be different and that is the risk you take whenever giving an ultimatum.

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    If your contract with the client does not include standby time and is only for specifically authorized projects, then billing them for time you spend on company, not client projects, is not only unethical, it could be fraud and could get you set to jail. – HLGEM Apr 18 '17 at 17:21
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How many clients are dealt with in this way at your company? Other companies?

Talk to a few colleagues. If it is an industry wide practice, you might have to go to a totally new company/industry. On the other hand, if it is not common, you might ask for a different project to avoid the hassle.

If it is a persistent issue with your manager, but you are not able to get away from him, talk to his manager/boss in a subtle way. Maybe you could show some extra interest in another project and ask for a transfer.

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