News that Essex County is going to spend $90,000 to buy a system that will keep employees from cheating on their time cards raises all kinds of interesting responses — none of them very gratifying.
The system will ensure that workers are logging in correct information and also that they can’t show up late and have a colleague punch in for them on time.
What a predicament, when you can’t trust your employees to be on the up and up in keeping track of their responsibility to arrive at work at the required time.
Would anybody actually try to justify the practice of showing up late but being recorded as being there early?
Years ago, the late comedian George Carlin did a routine on employees goofing off shortly after arriving at the office in the morning, attributing this attitude to the rank and file: I have to be there at 8 o’clock, but the first 15 minutes belong to me.
That was comedy. But if that spirit is alive in Essex County, there’s nothing funny about it.
County workers are on the honor system now, filling out time cards every pay period. Under the new system, they can punch in up to 8 minutes before their start time. But if they are even one minute late, they will be docked for 15 minutes of late time.
We’ve been told that some reports of time-card abuse focused on Horace Nye Nursing Home, which, as of the first of the year, will no longer belong to Essex County. It is shifting into private hands.
So maybe the remedy isn’t as critical as feared, which would represent an enormous expenditure to resolve nothing.
But chances are the abuses are here and there — maybe everywhere. That is the real shame. And it’s likely happening in other local governments and private businesses, as well.
A little bending of the rules is not unusual, though it’s never justifiable — especially when the county and unions negotiate contract issues, presumably in such good faith. Surely, no union representative would agree that members should be allowed to disrespect a fundamental work ethic.
The new devices compare the face of the person punching in to a three-dimensional photograph of the worker stored in the system, creating a record of the worker with the time clock. If you didn’t punch in, the record will tell on you.
As usual, honest workers will have nothing to fear and no reason to be resentful. It’s the cheaters who will have to change their ways, and that’s as it should be.
But what shouldn’t be is for the county’s taxpayers to be out $90,000 just to be assured the punch-in procedure isn’t creating an opportunity for cheaters.
Another loophole will soon be closed and sealed.
But how regrettable that the step was even needed.