In mid-January 2023, viral posts on social media addressed a worker who was reportedly fired after “spy software” identified “time theft”:
A January 16 2023 tweet about the story provided additional details, like the name of the worker (Karlee Besse), and a broad location (Canada):
A popular post on Reddit linked to a January 13 2023 CBSNews.com article. It described a slightly more nuanced situation than was summarized by the headline, reporting that the worker in question initially claimed that she had been improperly dismissed and was owed money:
A Canadian accountant has been ordered to repay her employer for “time theft” after the company’s tracking software determined that she was performing personal tasks while she claimed to be working. The court ruling marks one of the first instances in which such technology has been used to order a worker to repay an employer for slacking off on the job.
Karlee Besse, an employee of Vancouver Island accounting firm Reach CPA, initially claimed she was wrongfully dismissed and that her employer owed her $5,000 in unpaid wages and severance pay. Besse’s employer said it terminated her because she engaged in time theft and filed a countersuit seeking just over $2,600 in wages it paid her while she allegedly wasn’t working as well as part of an advance she received before her employment began.
The January 16 2023 tweet linked to NPR’s “A woman is ordered to repay $2,000 after her employer used software to track her time.” It began:
When Canadian accountant Karlee Besse was fired for being unproductive at her job, she found herself up against not only her former employer, but its time-tracking software [TimeCamp], too.
Now, a civil tribunal, which is part of Canada’s judicial system, has ruled that Besse owes her former company $2,756 after the software installed on her laptop revealed she misrepresented over 50 hours at work.
Besse worked remotely for Reach CPA, an accounting firm based in British Columbia, Canada. The dispute began [in 2022] when Besse claimed she was fired without “just cause.”
Her employer argued that Besse was rightfully let go because she engaged in time theft. Reach CPA said it gathered evidence using TimeCamp, time-tracking software that records what files are accessed, and for how long. The records showed a discrepancy of 50 hours between what Besse reported as time worked and what TimeCamp logged as work activity.
It was dated January 11 2023, and an “Introduction” section provided an order of events in the dispute. In that section, the dispute was characterized as being about “alleged wrongful dismissal.” It indicated that Besse first claimed she was owed $5,538.17 (reduced to the tribunal’s upper limit of $5,000).
Reach CPA Inc.’s response alleged that Besse “engaged in time theft,” counterclaiming for previously paid wages and an alleged advance:
1. This dispute is about alleged wrongful dismissal. The applicant and respondent by counterclaim, Karlee Besse, was employed as an accountant by the respondent and applicant by counterclaim, Reach CPA Inc. (Reach), from October 12, 2021 to March 29, 2022. Miss Besse says Reach terminated her employment without just cause. She says she is entitled to $1,371.60 for unpaid wages and $4,166.67 for 1 month’s severance pay in lieu of notice, for a total of $5,538.27. However, she limits her claim to $5,000, which is the Civil Resolution Tribunal’s (CRT) small claims monetary limit.
2. Reach says it terminated Miss Besse’s employment because she engaged in time theft. It says since it terminated her employment for cause, Miss Besse is not entitled to severance pay. Reach denies owing Miss Besse unpaid wages and counterclaims $1,506.34 for the paid wages it says amounted to time theft. In addition, Reach says at the time it terminated Miss Besse’s employment, she owed $2,903 as the unforgiven part of an advance Reach made when she began working. After deducting $1,806.27 from her final paycheck, Reach says Miss Besse still owes it $1,096.73 for the advance. Reach’s claims total $2,603.07.
A section labeled “Issues” explained that the tribunal’s purpose was to determine which party’s claims were meritorious, primarily whether either party owed the other money. Under “Evidence and Analysis,” findings about the period leading up to and including Besse’s termination appeared — including the allegations of “time theft,” and the installation of TimeCamp monitoring software:
On March 16, 2022, the parties met to discuss some of Miss Besse’s files that Reach said were over-budget and behind schedule, and they created a performance improvement plan. After the meeting, Reach says it became concerned about a timesheet entry Miss Besse had made for a file she had not worked on. Reach says FG then analyzed Miss Besse’s TimeCamp data between February 22, 2022 and March 25, 2022 and found 50.76 unaccounted hours that Miss Besse had reported on her timesheets but did not appear to have spent on work-related tasks.
The parties met on the morning of March 29, 2022, and FG explained his analysis of Miss Besse’s timekeeping, including his concerns about the unaccounted hours. FG acknowledged Miss Besse might feel like she was on the spot and offered her time to consider the information and get back to him. Miss Besse declined that opportunity. Later that day, the parties met again and Reach terminated Ms. Besse’s employment. None of this is disputed.
In a section further examining whether termination was warranted, the arbitrator managing the tribunal contrasted the parties’ claims, partly excerpting Besse’s statements at the time her employment was terminated:
Based on [TimeCamp’s video-based] evidence, I find Miss Besse did not have to take steps to get TimeCamp to differentiate between her work and personal activities once she was logged onto the program. I find TimeCamp automatically recorded activities in such a way that Reach could identify and classify them as work or non-work related. I also find the videos show that as tracked in TimeCamp, Miss Besse did not work on files she recorded time for in her timesheets, leading to the unaccounted hours. Miss Besse says she could not explain the 50.76 unaccounted hours since she did not fully understand how to use TimeCamp. I find this does not matter given TimeCamp’s automatic tracking functionality described above. I accept the 50.76 figure based on Reach’s calculation of time Miss Besse recorded in her timesheets less her work time recorded by TimeCamp.
Even if I accept Miss Besse was working in hard copy most of the time, there is no evidence she uploaded her work onto Reach’s electronic system, or otherwise demonstrated to Reach that she spent any significant amount of time performing work-related tasks in connection with the 50.76 unaccounted hours. So, I accept Reach’s explanation that Miss Besse’s printing volume did not add up and that she did not upload work she did in hard copy … I find it difficult to accept she would not have taken the time Reach offered her to reflect on the allegation raised and to give her side of the story if she thought she had done nothing wrong, even if she was afraid. Instead, when confronted with information about Reach’s timekeeping analysis, Miss Besse said “Honestly, I don’t really think I need time to look at it, it’s pretty… like, you can’t fight the time […]” She went on to say “Clearly, I’ve plugged time to files that I didn’t touch and that wasn’t right or appropriate in any way or fashion, and I recognize that and so for that I’m really sorry […]” and repeated later “Clearly, it’s, I’ve plugged hours that I shouldn’t have plugged to files um when I wasn’t working on them and like, I can’t hide that” (reproduced as spoken).
Ultimately, the tribunal’s final decision favored Reach CPA Inc. over Besse. In addition to “time theft” damages, Besse was ordered to repay an advance (and the fee for the tribunal):
Within 30 days of the date of this order [January 11 2023], I order Karlee Besse to pay Reach CPA Inc. a total of $2,756.89, broken down as follows:
a. $2,603.07 in debt and damages for time theft and the outstanding part of the advance Reach made to Miss Besse,
b. $28.82 in pre-judgment interest under the COIA, and
c. $125 in CRT fees.
I dismiss Miss Besse’s claims.
“Time theft” as a concept that gained prominence in a broader post-2020 debate over remote work, and news about the role of “spy software” in the case involving Besse and Reach CPA Inc. went viral as a result. On the surface, the story appeared to be a cautionary tale, warning of the broad dangers of remote work. In actuality, “spy software” was used during the course of an employment-related tribunal in order to validate the worker’s claims of unpaid wages and wrongful termination.