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Cleaning lady inflating work hours
February 28, 2013 1:29 AM   Subscribe

Our cleaning lady, who otherwise seems to be pretty honest and is regarded like a family member, has been inflating her billable hours. We know this for sure. How should we deal with this?

I moved in with my girlfriend, whom I will call A., several months ago. She already had a cleaning lady, whom I will call B. -- she comes in one morning a week, and she has done so for several years. B. has been working for A.'s parents for over 20 years, nearly full time, and she was hired by A. and her siblings when they moved out. B. is generally trustworthy and regarded like a family member and a confidante, not merely the "cleaning lady". In fact, A.'s parents have spent several weekends away with B. and her husband.

I get along with B. as well. However, since I am a freelancer and sometimes work from home, I have a good idea of the number of hours B. actually works. B. reports her hours at the end of the month by writing down on a sheet the number of hours worked on a specific day, so that A. will do the math and pay her one month worth of work. At the end of January, I noticed that her reports didn't quite match what I remembered from these days, and I told A. about this. In February, I paid a little more attention and wrote down B.'s hours for that day after she left. I didn't stay home specifically to "control" her, but since I was there already, doing some work, I wrote that stuff down.

Now it's the end of the month and my notes and her reports don't match at all. In my notes she worked 5hr - 5hr - 4hr - 5hr, and her reports state she did 6.5 hr - 7hr - 5.5 hr - 6hr (the latter being on the day she did the reporting, so we can't think this is a matter of bad memory). This means 6 extra billable hours she didn't actually work.

The question is, how do we deal with this without being too accusatory? This is not a matter of money, but we would rather not being taken for idiots. B. is paid market rates and, on top of that, she gets a Christmas bonus and paid vacation (two extra "months"). A. would be perfectly fine with paying a higher hourly rate (B. never asked for this, though), she just doesn't want B. to inflate her hours.

How should A. approach B. about this discrepancy? Preferably, without making me sound like a snitch or like I stay home to control her... I actually like B.! I just don't care for her math...
posted by lost_lettuce to Human Relations (65 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Any option of putting her on a set salary? The situation as is seems to warrant something like that.
posted by mannequito at 1:35 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is it possible that she's billing you for travel time? If she's still mostly working for A's parents, but is travelling to clean A and A's sibling's homes, she'd be losing paid hours (hours she used to work for A's parents and is now on the road) by not billing someone for transport time. Worth checking how she understands the arrangement, and how A's siblings are managing things, before assuming she's cheating you.
posted by Wylla at 1:47 AM on February 28, 2013 [54 favorites]


Sack her. Don't worry about being accusatory or about being uncomfortable after, she has been ripping A off, presumably for some time and she can't be trusted. Whether she is likeable is not relevant.
posted by biffa at 1:47 AM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is it perhaps understood by B. that she include time spent getting to and from work?
posted by vacapinta at 1:48 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


The question is, how do we deal with this without being too accusatory? This is not a matter of money, but we would rather not being taken for idiots. B. is paid market rates and, on top of that, she gets a Christmas bonus and paid vacation (two extra "months"). A. would be perfectly fine with paying a higher hourly rate (B. never asked for this, though), she just doesn't want B. to inflate her hours.

Excuse me, but this is ONLY about money. Why does she inflate her hours? To increase her pay.

Tell her straight out: "I see that you are inflating your hours, this is dishonest and unacceptable and cannot continue."

This will satisfy your desire to not be taken for an idiot. You say you don't want to be accusatory, but this would seem to be a fact you cannot avoid.

Then I would suggest continuing,

"but I like you and you do good work and I don't want to have to fire you."

"If you need more money, I understand that and am willing to talk about it."

And then if you want to go further,

"I am raising your hourly rate by (whatever you choose) as a show of my good faith and confidence in you and all I ask is the same from you."

And if she does it again fire her on the spot.
posted by three blind mice at 1:50 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hmm. Is it possible B deserves a raise from you, the siblings, A's parents, or all of the above??

Would you be paying B the bottom line on her billable hours if she got a raise and it all equaled out? Is your place cleaned well after B does her job?

Is she (B) afraid to ask for an acceptable raise because of her relationship to A's family somehow?

----

I don't think the lying is OK, but I'm not sure why you think the paid vacation B gets from A's parents for her full time work there has anything to do with you.

----

If B does a great job otherwise and doesn't steal from you otherwise, you really should consider letting this go.

Vacation paid and a Christmas bonus does not equal full benefits like medical insurance or a pension fund.

In a PC kinda way, this is a tricky question. Again, I'm not saying that billing hours not worked is OK, but I'm kinda wondering if re-evaluating how this loyal family employee gets paid might not be in order.

----

Anecdata. I work in the murky world of wholesale seafood in LA. This story I am about to tell would be the same if I still worked in the restaurant business. Wait. I do still work in the restaurant business as an owner...

The assumption across the board is that workers without benefits and job protection will game the system a little. On the wholesale side, we give away that which doesn't sell, because if we did not, it would be stolen, anyway. On the restaurant side, I'm a hawk about cash and sales, but I'm generous as all f*ck to prevent shrinkage (theft.)

As a family person, I habitually overpay my nanny. She doesn't steal, and she takes great care of my child - even tho she is paid hourly, if I cut her hours short, I pay her the usual.

----

Having someone in your personal space is a big big thing. If this person doesn't steal, but charges you what she (accurately) perceives is the value of her work, even if she works faster - don't penalize her for this.

It sounds like you have a great deal. Square it in your head that you are paying for value, not hours, and move on to other dramas
.

-----

Disregard my advice if you feel you are truly being taken advantage of when you shake it all out.
posted by jbenben at 1:54 AM on February 28, 2013 [94 favorites]


I'd second jbenben. Ignore the hours. Are you getting what you pay for in value? The lying is not great, but it is arguably a workaround for B instead of negotiating for more pay.

Instead of confronting on the hours, which will be awkward, I'd suggest telling her you only want to pay for x hours per week if you want to cure the issue of overbilling (although you may still get the issue of underworking).
posted by MuffinMan at 2:02 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nthing the possibility of travel time, or possibly other prep efforts outside of on-site work you've observed. Throw in the possibility of rounding up to the nearest half-hour, and it really doesn't seem like too big of a stretch from what you observed.

If you *really* want to confront the issue without making any accusation, you and A could just start asking for more details on invoices ... not just hours, but how time is spent. A good excuse for doing this would be the claim you're trying to reduce expenses and wonder if there's anything B does that you might be willing to do yourselves rather than pay her to do.

I'd also echo, though, that it's fundamentally true that the details are less important than whether you and A are happy with the value you're getting from B's services. If you're happy with the status quo or would be happy to pay her more, don't rock the boat, just pay her what she's asking you for and maybe give her something extra or a token gift now and again.

If you're unhappy with what you're paying for, then how accurate the hours are isn't your real problem.
posted by weston at 2:23 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


What jbenben said, especially this part (which I've slightly altered to emphasize a different clause):

Having someone in your personal space is a big big thing. If this person doesn't steal, but charges you what she (accurately) perceives is the value of her work, even if she works faster - don't penalize her for this.

It sounds like you have a great deal. Square it in your head that you are paying for value, not hours, and move on to other dramas.

posted by she's not there at 2:25 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Did the amount of cleaning that she needs to do increase when you moved in? Did she change the amount of time she was spending on the job when another person was added to the household? Maybe she needs to keep to a schedule but isn't comfortable asking for more money for the same amount of time.
posted by cellura p at 2:26 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is this a hill you really want to die on?

Normally I hate this kind of thing but as A. would be perfectly fine with paying a higher hourly rate, what's the problem here? Just that you feel like you're being played? The drama that will arise from you doing anything about this will be worse. If you're unhappy with her work, by all means, let her know you know - but if you're happy, why not just keep the peace?
posted by heyjude at 2:28 AM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Pay her a little extra, for her hard work
If she accepts it, pay her even a little more, "for you hard work"
If she accepts it, pay her even a little more, "I feel you are worth more than what I was paying you before"
If she accepts it, pay her even a little more, "Your friendship is greatly valued to our family"

I think you get the picture.
posted by JamesBlakeAV at 2:31 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess I don't see what the problem is. She cleans the house the way you want, you're paying her what you feel she's worth, she's being paid what she feels she's worth. This sounds like everyone is happy, and you're getting all caught up in trivialities.
posted by empath at 2:47 AM on February 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


... 6hr (the latter being on the day she did the reporting, so we can't think this is a matter of bad memory)

If she even inflates the time on the day she gives you her timesheet, that seems like a golden opportunity to take a middle road between confrontation and letting it slide. You could just glance at the report, allow a look of confusion to cross your face and say, 'Is this right? You got here at X o'clock, which was 5 hours ago, but this says X-1 O'clock." Your phrasing might be different depending on how the timesheet is designed, but basically I'm suggesting you set up a situation where she has to either explain why she considers the stated time for that one day to be legitimate (e.g. travel time), or she admits to that single day mistake, apologizes, fixes it, and thereafter knows you're paying attention.
posted by jon1270 at 2:51 AM on February 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Just a thought:

It seems a little weird that she would inflate her hours when you are in the house and can see her there. Is it possible that you are missing some of the times when she is there, or that she is charging for going out to get supplies or something similar (in addition to travel time as people mentioned above)?
posted by bearette at 2:52 AM on February 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


You should butt out. There is 20 years of relationship dynamics here, butyou're getting caught up in dollar amounts and ego. This isn't your family, let it go.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:53 AM on February 28, 2013 [83 favorites]


I would NOT pay her more: because she's effectively stealing from you (and who knows how long this has been going on), she should be rewarded?! Um, no. If the amount you are actually paying her, inflated hours and all, is worth it to you, then I'd just leave the situation as is.

Don't be accusatory, but keep your eyes open: she may not have been pocketing property, but this isn't 100% honest behavior, either.
posted by easily confused at 3:01 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah: "travel time" doesn't make a lot of sense: I have two jobs, but I can't charge either of them for travel time between them --- CleaningLady has two separate jobs, and shouldn't try to claim it either. Travel time would only be justified if it was travel for ONE job, one employer, that had two sites.
posted by easily confused at 3:04 AM on February 28, 2013


I totally agree with Brandon B. this is a twenty year relationship that seems to be working well for everyone. You have the luxury of sitting there watching someone else clean your apartment. Why are you interfering?
posted by bquarters at 3:12 AM on February 28, 2013 [21 favorites]


Thinking about this some more, the only way I can see this playing out is A's parents getting royally pissed at you, A being annoyed at you, and with you paying the same amount you've always been paying and having a frosty relationship with your housekeeper from here forward. There's no way to bring this up that doesn't make you the bad guy.

The only way I could possibly see this working out is for you not to bring up the hours, and just offer to pay her a flat fee weekly so she no longer has to fill out her time sheet. I'm sure she doesn't like inflating the hours, either. Don't mention that you think she's been inflating her time, though.
posted by empath at 3:17 AM on February 28, 2013 [21 favorites]


You say she gets market rate but I would expect a loyal 20 year employee that does a good job to get well above the market rate. You are also okay with paying her a higher rate but have apparently not offered to do so even though you are aware of the power differential between you and her. Assuming you are splitting the cost between you and your girlfriend you are getting a very good deal financially, is quibbling over about $50/month really worth the disruption you will cause in the entire family? She has twenty years of good memories with this family, do you really want the rest of the family to look at you as the tight-fisted newcomer that doesn't value a near-family member over the price of a couple of coffees a week?
posted by saucysault at 3:33 AM on February 28, 2013 [25 favorites]


She's been cleaning for the family for TWENTY years? And she holidays with A's parents, so they have a personal/social relationship?? At this point, she's more like a family friend who happens to also be an employee.

My dad's secretary has worked for him forever. She and her husband are close friends of my parents. I can't even imagine how furious they'd be if I threw some secretarial work her way, and then accused her of dishonesty. Let alone if my boyfriend accused her!

Seriously, tread very very carefully here. I'd just keep paying and shut up, personally. Otherwise, could A discuss it with her parents? Like, 'When B bills you, how exactly does she calculate her hours?'

But really, I'd leave it.
posted by Salamander at 3:36 AM on February 28, 2013 [18 favorites]


When you think about it, paying anyone by the hour is essentially the worst possible way to do it. You're saying "I want you to do this as slowly as possible, and if you think you can half-ass it so you'll have to spend more time 'correcting' it, that would be great too."

Think of her pay as a salary. You pay her $X per month to keep your home clean, because it is worth $X per month to you not to have to dust and whatever else she does. If she gets it done faster than that, awesome. She's good at her job. Leave it be.
posted by Etrigan at 3:45 AM on February 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


Does she take a break for lunch and regular breaks from work? If she doesn't take any proper breaks off, but is legally entitled to them, perhaps she's factoring them in (say, 45 min for lunch and 2-3 15 minute breaks) and taking them before or after when she's not in your space.
posted by brambory at 4:08 AM on February 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


[Some comments deleted; please just offer advice in a civil way, or skip the question. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 4:16 AM on February 28, 2013


My first thought was also travel time.
posted by phunniemee at 4:17 AM on February 28, 2013


A couple of clarifications:

Travelling time is not included in the billing and A. pays for the bus tickets. B. used to work full time for A.'s parents when the kids were younger but now only does a few half-days there.

Actually I am not lurking with a stopwatch... Because I do get along with B., she greets me when she gets in and when she leaves. Even before I was paying more attention, on A's behalf, I couldn't help notice the time when she left. "Oh, is it 1 PM already? Better have lunch now." You get the gist.
posted by lost_lettuce at 4:18 AM on February 28, 2013


I'm shocked at the answers in this thread suggesting you sack her immediately or put her in some sort of hostile confrontation situation. You might take that approach with a no-skill minimum-wage warehouse worker. But even then there should be due process and a fair hearing if the work has been otherwise good.

People are not disposable like cheap appliances. You do not throw them away when they develop a crack. They should be treated like valuable resources. And when something goes wrong with your resources, you should figure out why, and if it is something that can be corrected, and how best to handle that. This is basic employer training stuff. Treat people well; give them the benefit of the doubt, allow them to explain their situations and reasoning, and give them every opportunity to make good on mistakes or misunderstandings.

And household help, especially long-term help who you implicitly trust, should be handled with two orders of magnitude more finesse and tact when it comes to employment matters.

In the situation described above, in a well run multi-servant household, would be handled with the utmost discretion by the head butler or house manager who would first inquire with the family if the services of the employee in question were otherwise satisfactory but without mentioning any wage-related issues. If the work of the employe was poor, then the employee would probably be dismissed, but then this is cause for dismissal anyway.

If the employee was doing good work but otherwise inflating their hours somewhat, that would be a very quiet off-side chat with just the manager and the employee about work satisfaction, any issues with regards to treatment and pay, whether there are any situations at home that might benefit from some assistance, and so forth. It would be very delicate, and very discrete, and whatever the outcome is would never be discussed, even with the family unless absolutely necessary.

There are basically two simple reasons for apparently inflated hours in a good employee.

1) The person feels they are underpaid. If they're doing good work, fix the underpayment, and make sure in future there are annual or biannual pay reviews.

2) The person is billing accurately, but for time spent where you can't see it. You and the employee should come to an understanding about what is and is not billable time so there isn't any more confusion.

Long term trustworthy domestic help should be handled very carefully. What would you do without her? Is a few dollars worth destroying years of an excellent relationship?

Kid gloves.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:20 AM on February 28, 2013 [53 favorites]


Something else to think about, regardless of what you do: Should you or A tell the other family members about this? Do you really want to open that can of worms?

I'm am not saying the housekeeper is right at all, but I'm also not claiming to know the entire story here. If you and your girlfriend want to view this strictly in a financial light, that's your right, but will it solve the problem? Is there actually a problem here? If there is one, then what would sort of solution would you like to see?

Is this really about money or about your ego and perception of being cheated? Are you even responsible for paying the housekeeper, since your girlfriend collects the hours and writes the check?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:25 AM on February 28, 2013


I agree with the comments stating that she is a valuable help; I am not denying that whatsoever. I was asking if there was any way to address this issue without causing drama. We don't want drama. We are just puzzled at the inaccurate billing because this person seems to place a high value on honesty: talking badly about people who lie and cheat, and so on.

But probably the best solution is to simply raise her hourly rate and always pay her for 5 hours worth of work per visit, since she works from 8 to 1 PM and never stays longer. So even if she is faster, she won't be penalized for that.
posted by lost_lettuce at 4:28 AM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't mean to threadsit, honest.

Bearette, that is what is puzzling us as well. She knows I am here. As for the supplies, I have often gone to the store to pick up some stuff by her request.
posted by lost_lettuce at 4:31 AM on February 28, 2013


You moved in with A.

A had employed B prior to you moving in.

You, presumably, help A with paying for B's services now that you live with A.

But, in my opinion, you are assisting for paying for B's services. That does not make you B's employer. If you and A break up, A will, in all likelihood, continue to employ B.

I think you are petty and unreasonable. It's 6 hours/month, and whether you realize it or not, cleaning for two people is different than cleaning for one. You are, whether you realize it or not, making more work for B. More work = more pay.

But if this --- a measly 6 hours/month --- from your position of privileged freelancing is the concern you want to bring to the table, then you bring it to A. YOU say nothing to B --- not one word --- until you bring it to A. And I'm betting A's problem with this won't be B.
posted by zizzle at 4:37 AM on February 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


I do hourly work and frankly, I hate tracking my hours. My current boss does it for me, but when she asks me for what I think my hours were, god knows if I'm anywhere near accuracy.

She might just be sick of taking the time to keep accurate records, or even assuming you will correct her if she fucks up her time sheet. I know I would.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:43 AM on February 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


At this point the simplest solution sounds like a flat weekly rate "so that we can stop with the hassle of writing down hours". It should be about the work completed, not how long it took. Do NOT bring up the discrepancy with the hours as a reason.
posted by like_neon at 4:43 AM on February 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


Could this just be bad math on her part? Or a bad memory after the fact? It's easier to remember how long you were working on a task when it was a week ago, but maybe at the end of the month she's forgotten, and honestly thinks she worked those extra hours (I know for me, it's the other way around - something I think took 6 hours actually took 8, etc.).
posted by backwards guitar at 5:08 AM on February 28, 2013


I was asking if there was any way to address this issue without causing drama.

Maybe she "inflated" her rate because she didn't want the drama of having to ask for a raise. No one wants drama. A fixed salary seems like the best idea to me.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:15 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Any chance the parents have told her it's okay to fudge the hours a little bit?
posted by oinopaponton at 5:15 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are you paying for the cleaning lady or is your girlfriend? I'm not clear on that point, because it seems like you moved into your gf's space. Does your girlfriend just vent about it? Has she asked her parents? What do they suggest?

It's a delicate relationship. You can't just find a new cleaning person that you can automatically trust to come into your home.

I'd just drop it, honestly. Just pay her. It's not easy work, and she doesn't even get health benefits. She's reliable, too. That's really good.
posted by discopolo at 5:36 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Clarification: since it came up in a few comments...we are not in the United States. We have got socialized healthcare in our country. Health benefits are not an issue.
posted by lost_lettuce at 5:40 AM on February 28, 2013


How does A. want to handle this? Perhaps she should talk to her parents to get their input as well before addressing B.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:43 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is up to her employers, A and A's parents. You've made your concerns known, now let them figure it out.
posted by spaltavian at 5:45 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you haven't talked about what is and is not billable time, that could be the issue and one worth addressing. But otherwise, no, there's no good drama-free way to have this chat. A better alternative would be to set a salary. You compensate her for the equivalent of 6.5 hours per visit and leave it at that, and if she is efficient she is rewarded for that.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:26 AM on February 28, 2013


People are not disposable like cheap appliances. You do not throw them away when they develop a crack. They should be treated like valuable resources. And when something goes wrong with your resources, you should figure out why, and if it is something that can be corrected, and how best to handle that. This is basic employer training stuff. Treat people well; give them the benefit of the doubt, allow them to explain their situations and reasoning, and give them every opportunity to make good on mistakes or misunderstandings.

No, this is piss poor management. You don't manage intent, you manage behavior. There are certain ethical boundaries that are not crossed, and theft from an employer is one of them. By all accounts, this woman has been treated very well -- she is well respected by A and A's family, and A is amenable to discussions of increasing wages.

By all means, she deserves a chance to explain herself. But if the explanation is anything less than rock solid, she _absolutely_ should be sacked. Past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior, and it costs you your time to ensure that she doesn't backslide. To suggest that sacking her for theft is not treating a person like a valuable resource is to blame the victim and utterly ridiculous. Firing doesn't have to be heartless; it can absolutely be compassionate.

A may be stuck with the unpleasant business of firing someone, but it is the hired help that made the choice to put A in that position.

That said, lost_lettuce, this is entirely A's call. This is a family friend and that can get awkward. She may be happier with the fixed salary approach and maintaining the relationship. You've done your part, and unless you're asking this question directly at A's behest, rather than pushing her to act on it, I would let her come to her own conclusions.
posted by bfranklin at 6:28 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Billing by the hour is a hassle and sometimes it is unclear what counts as a billable hour. I agree with everyone who has suggested offering to pay her a relatively high flat weekly rate for convenience.
posted by steinwald at 6:37 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


We have got socialized healthcare in our country. Health benefits are not an issue.

I have socialised heatlh care in my country too, but my (unionised) employment offers sick days, additional health benefits, a pension and many other benefits that are not available to a people that are paid for hourly work. After 20 years of service she only gets a month off a year? I started my job with a month of vacation as an entitlement. Does she get yearly increases in her pay that she knows about and can count on?
posted by saucysault at 6:41 AM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Butt out. This is a long-term relationship to which you are not a party.

Moreover, what your girlfriend is really paying for is a clean house, not X hours of the cleaning lady's time. As long as she's happy with the $/clean house ratio, it's petty to pick a fight over the details of the calculation.
posted by ewiar at 7:03 AM on February 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


We had a similar situation with our housekeeper arriving late and leaving early. We got really annoyed, then realized we were annoyed over things not getting done, so we made a list of what we wanted her to finish that week and after a couple of weeks, we were happier and realized we didn't care if she left a half hour earlier each day as long as things were done.

You're annoyed because you think she's taking advantage of her family, but in a long and happy working relationship like this, I promise you they have come to care that the house gets clean and they can trust her not to take or damage things, and that she's happy with them and dependable.

The tactful way around this is to say "We're trying to figure out our household budget. Would it be possible for us to schedule you to work for X (slightly less hours she usually works) at $Y (slightly higher rate) each month so we can budget ahead? It'd be easier for us than doing a timesheet at the end of the month.

Good longterm household help is very hard to get on both sides. Ignore the extra hours for the peace of mind in having someone you know and can trust around your house.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:14 AM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think this is a cleaning industry thing. I had a cleaning lady who charged X for 4 hours. She was rarely at my house for 4 hours though. I was basically paying a flat rate for her to clean, and that was fine with me.

You might want to suggest this as a change in how you'll pay her:

"Hey B, it seems like it would suit you better if we paid X per week, rather than fool around with this hourly situation."

Hopefully, she'll take the hint and that will be fine. If not, then no biggie.

I would let your girlfriend do this though, it's her long-time relationship.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:44 AM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I feel like you are getting a lot of advice here that isn't exactly what you wanted. My suggestion: Ask the woman to e-mail you or your girlfriend when she gets to the house each day and again when she leaves, so you can easily track the exact hours. If she's counting travel time, as has been suggested, this is when you will find out.
posted by troywestfield at 8:20 AM on February 28, 2013


theft from an employer

I fail to see how this is theft, or if it is on some kind of technicality, how that is a useful way for the OP and his girlfriend to frame it.

This is why people get paid based on submitting their hours, whether that's via invoice or time clock or what.

The way to handle this isn't to cut the check for whatever amount and then say THEFT! YOU'RE FIRED, TRUSTED LONGTIME EMPLOYEE!

The way to handle this is to say, "Wow, seven hours last week? That's a lot. What were you working on for seven hours?" or "Wow, seven hours last week? You know, I was around all day that day and didn't notice you being here for that long" or whatever tactful not escalated way of calling attention to the fact that her hours seem inflated to you.

Perhaps she accounts for her time in a way you find satisfactory and you pay her the extra $50 she's asking for. Perhaps she doesn't and you say, "I think operating on the honor system isn't working out. From now on we're going to offer you a flat $X per cleaning session." Or whatever.

The point of her giving you an accounting of her time is that the ball is then in your court to dispute that accounting and pay her accordingly. Padding an invoice isn't great, but it isn't theft, and treating it as if they are interchangeable probably isn't going to produce good results for anyone.
posted by Sara C. at 8:54 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


As someone who has previously done hour-rate freelancing, and who is now in a weird semi-salary position that still requires hourly sheets, I'd recommend — if butting out isn't good enough — just switching to a flat rate that's more than she's getting now with the excuse of not wanting to do paperwork. "That way, if you get done a little earlier or a little later, it's no biggie."

"By all means, she deserves a chance to explain herself. But if the explanation is anything less than rock solid, she _absolutely_ should be sacked. Past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior, and it costs you your time to ensure that she doesn't backslide. To suggest that sacking her for theft is not treating a person like a valuable resource is to blame the victim and utterly ridiculous. Firing doesn't have to be heartless; it can absolutely be compassionate."

The problem with all this, and the reason why it's poor and shortsighted management, is that B is not a fungible employee who is easily replaceable. She's an asset, and terminating an asset over something that's not causing harm — they'd be willing to pay her more — is both foolish and bad business.

It can be tempting to take a hard line, call things "theft," etc., when giving someone else advice, but since that would leave everyone in a worse place than when they started, and because the OP asked for a no-drama solution, it's a bad answer and bad advice.
posted by klangklangston at 9:20 AM on February 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


Oh yeah: "travel time" doesn't make a lot of sense: I have two jobs, but I can't charge either of them for travel time between them --- CleaningLady has two separate jobs, and shouldn't try to claim it either. Travel time would only be justified if it was travel for ONE job, one employer, that had two sites.

A self-employed person can charge for whatever they want as long as their client understands the arrangement. If you're a house cleaner, cleaning two different houses isn't "two separate jobs". It's a single job with multiple clients.

I charge for travel time if it makes sense to do so, especially if I am going somewhere to buy supplies for a job I'm doing for a particular client. when I worked for a gardening company in San Francisco, they charged for travel time outside of a certain area, even though it was travel between two different clients.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:39 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have cleaned houses for a living. One of the things that sucks about being a freelance cleaner is that if you're great at your job you end up getting financially penalised in proportion to your efficiency. In other words, if you're faster than other cleaners and/or get much, much more efficient over time, your employer often cuts back your hours and ends up paying you less for the same amount of work (while, at the same time, praising you). I wonder if the cleaner is charging for the number of hours the job took at first, before she figured out the house and got faster—or if she's estimating how long it would take a colleague with average skills to complete the job.

If she's completing all tasks required to the agreed standard, and everyone's okay with the total amount she's being paid, you should either butt out or start paying her a flat rate that's the same or more as her current earnings.
posted by hot soup girl at 9:56 AM on February 28, 2013 [14 favorites]


nth-ing the recommendation to switch to a weekly block payment. What you are paying her for, and what she is doing a good job of providing, is a clean house - not the time spent cleaning. This takes the hourly billing issue off the table.

It might be good to think of this in terms of auto repair... an expert mechanic who has done a particular repair multiple times will be able to do it much faster than a newbie mechanic, but doesn't deserve less pay because of the speed of the repair.
posted by 1367 at 10:00 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


I fail to see how this is theft

Alright, perhaps fraud is a better term.

The problem with all this, and the reason why it's poor and shortsighted management, is that B is not a fungible employee who is easily replaceable. She's an asset, and terminating an asset over something that's not causing harm — they'd be willing to pay her more — is both foolish and bad business.

She's a cleaning lady. That's a pretty fungible employee. OP doesn't have to stop being friends.

It can be tempting to take a hard line, call things "theft," etc., when giving someone else advice, but since that would leave everyone in a worse place than when they started, and because the OP asked for a no-drama solution, it's a bad answer and bad advice.

OP doesn't have to pull a Donald Trump. OP can easily ask about the hours, and on receiving an unsatisfactory response, be compassionate as initially stated. OP can decide to use someone else and still stay friends. No one is suggesting arresting B here. But there's a certain amount of risk that you're accepting by continuing to employ someone that's willing to falsify their hours in order to make a buck, and people often have a big blind spot to the risks associated with family and family friends.

I fail to see the upside to keeping her on, absent a good explanation. And quite frankly, this is why you should never employ friends.
posted by bfranklin at 10:51 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there anything she might bring home with her to do for A? The first thing that occured to me was household mending.
posted by snorkmaiden at 10:57 AM on February 28, 2013


"She's a cleaning lady. That's a pretty fungible employee. OP doesn't have to stop being friends."

I don't know what world you live in where you can fire an employee of 20 years over "fraud" and then remain friends. And an employee with 20 years of both experience and dedication is not very fungible. It seems like you're just deciding that she's a low-skilled cog and that it's no problem to swap in someone else, which reads as both blithe and misplaced.

"But there's a certain amount of risk that you're accepting by continuing to employ someone that's willing to falsify their hours in order to make a buck, and people often have a big blind spot to the risks associated with family and family friends."

Since she's been there 20 years, and this seems to be the extent of her "fraud," I'm not sure how there's greater risk there than with hiring an unknown and uprooting some deep family connections.

"I fail to see the upside to keeping her on, absent a good explanation. And quite frankly, this is why you should never employ friends."

Because they might be loyal employees for 20 years and also fudge their hours some? What a weird view of the situation.
posted by klangklangston at 12:35 PM on February 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


Nthing either (1) she doesn't remember her hours, or (2) she's billing a certain number of hours per task based on how long it would normally take, but she's faster than that. I know a LOT of contract employees who do that - AC/heat technicians, drafters, etc., it's common knowlege. This task usually takes about 2 hours, I bill it for two hours. As I get good at my job, I can maybe do it in an hour and a half, but I still bill two hours. Outside the industry it looks fraudulent, but inside, it's common practice and none of these people are otherwise dishonest/thieves/cheats in normal life.
posted by celtalitha at 12:59 PM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


At this point you know that your want your apartment cleaned to X level (the level she does now consistently) and that it normally SHOULD take Y time (probably somewhere between the actual time and the inflated time averaged out). So: ask her to switch to a standard monthly retainer rate. Figure out what that is, determine if you think that's good value for money, and then make her an offer to pay that each month for your home to be cleaned the way it is now once a week. The incentive there is that she gets the same amount of money if she can maintain that level but do it faster and you get the piece of mind from not clock-watching her each week. It seems you all should be well past any kind of hourly arrangement anyway.
posted by marylynn at 1:21 PM on February 28, 2013


I should also say that if her performance starts to slip under this new arrangement, then only need deal with the performance issue, not some accusation of fraud which is much touchier.
posted by marylynn at 1:23 PM on February 28, 2013


OK, more clarifications:

Actually A. asked me to post this on her behalf, as she doesn't have an account. A. says she wants to know about such things, so this is not the issue here. Anyway, thanks for your input, we have arrived to the conclusion that the best thing is to raise her hourly rate and have a flat rate that is more or less the same B is reporting. No point in talking to A's family (that wasn't even part of the question) or confronting her with the discrepancy. We will be spending about the same, I suppose, but at least it's a more transparent thing.

Just so that it is clear, 6 hours at the rate we pay now isn't exactly chump change, especially since we have both faced huge pay cuts due to the current economy.
posted by lost_lettuce at 2:31 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm glad you're going to pay her a flat rate. I've never paid anything but a flat rate, myself.

I just want to tell you that this:
"She's a cleaning lady. That's a pretty fungible employee."

Could not be more wrong. I'd rather have to find a new lawyer than a new cleaning person. Someone who can communicate clearly, gets the place clean, doesn't steal, doesn't break things, knows where all your stuff goes so you aren't stuck trying to find the colander right when the damn pasta's ready to come off the stove and you realize that it's been hidden God knows where.... is not easy to find, and it is incredibly disruptive when you have to replace them.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:52 PM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can't you pay her by the visit? If she and you share clear expectations of what should be done in a visit, can't you just set a day rate? Me and my roommates had a cleaning lady come once a week that we all split and it was a per-visit cost. I don't really understand having billable hours when she's not clocking in or out anyway. You are paying for the finished product, not the amount of time she spent working.

I would suggest a change in payment structure. Set clear expectations of what you want done and pay for them being completed as a flat rate. If the cleaning lady can't agree to that, or if you go ahead and switch the payment method and find she isn't completing everything she should, might be time to find a new cleaner.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:19 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


We don't want drama

Then just let it go and pay her the damn money.

Every other solution is drama.

What she is doing ONLY impacts your bank account, so the question is simply "is what she is cleaning worth X dollars" if yes, then be happy with your excellent cleaning lady.
posted by French Fry at 8:37 AM on March 1, 2013


Alright, perhaps fraud is a better term.

No, again not really.

This is on par with getting the bill at a restaurant and discovering that you were charged for an app you didn't order. Either you speak up because you're not comfortable paying for food you didn't eat, or you say nothing because it's $4.99 and this is your favorite neighborhood joint and it's no big deal.

Or if your trusted mechanic gives you an estimate that you're pretty sure doesn't reflect what's actually wrong with your car (do you really need an oil change after 2000 miles?). You can either speak up and say "no, I don't think we're going to do the oil change today" or say nothing and pay for an oil change you didn't strictly require.

When someone gives you an accounting of their work hours so as to be paid, that is the point at which you look at what they're claiming they did, and if it doesn't sound right to you, you either speak up or don't.

There's nothing wrong with speaking up, but to claim that an error on an invoice is "fraud" or "theft" is, again, not a useful way of looking at economic relationships. Especially relationships where long term trust and friendly relations is a valuable component of the service.
posted by Sara C. at 8:50 AM on March 1, 2013


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