...At what cost?
April 20, 2006 9:43 PM   Subscribe

Are my boss's demands unethical?

I am the personal assistant to a flamboyant nyc philanthropist who is an executive board member of more than a couple of nonprofit organizations. I've had this job for over a year, but am considering looking for new work because I am becoming uncomfortable with some of my boss's demands.

A couple of months ago he asked me to begin keeping multiple time-sheets. In addition to my regular timesheet I now have three others, each for a different organization. Anytime I assist in his work for a particular organization I log it. His aim in this is that I will make up invoices for these hours and bill these organizations for my work, and then this money will reimburse him for having paid me. Some of the work is admin support for the organizations themselves, but a lot of it consists of his own regular duties that he just passes along to me.

Not only is the extra work of keeping four timesheets a burden, I also think this is unethical. His executive board roles are unpaid positions, but by paying me to do some of his duties for him and then billing the organization for that time, isn't he effectively getting paid for this work?

I am uncomfortable charging organizations and draining their precious resources for work that they think their board member is doing. Perhaps this sort of thing is a tolerated practice, and I don't know about it.

I'd like some informed opinions before I confront him about my feelings. I doubt he will handle this conversation well; I am already looking for other work (for this and other reasons). In the meantime, does anyone have any recommendations on pursuing nonprofit admin work here in the city? You may email me at sfumatomag at gmail dot com.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Honestly? I've known a few board members of both corporations and non-profits, and this is pretty routine. I don't know whether it's ethical but many of the non-profits will know that this happens. It would depend on how big the non-profits are, I guess, there are an awful lot of big arts charities in nyc for instance that understand that this is simply the cost of having a flamboyant philanthropist on the board.
posted by atrazine at 10:06 PM on April 20, 2006


but by paying me to do some of his duties for him and then billing the organization for that time, isn't he effectively getting paid for this work?

No, not unless he's billing them for more than he pays you. If, in fact, any money paid to him is ultimately "passed though" to you, then he's just a middleman.

I am uncomfortable charging organizations and draining their precious resources for work that they think their board member is doing.

Have you got an example of work that the board member "should have been doing himself?"
posted by bim at 10:09 PM on April 20, 2006


It's unethical. If your boss is doing this to make keeping you cost less, ask for a raise.
posted by jdroth at 10:10 PM on April 20, 2006


Ethical or not, I wouldn't want to confront my boss on this unless I was prepared to move on immediately. I suspect that the relationship will be irreparably damaged. Just be prepared for the worst case scenario, if you choose to pursue this. In the long run, "moving on" does sound like a good idea if you feel uncomfortable.

Good luck. :)
posted by bim at 10:22 PM on April 20, 2006


Not only is the extra work of keeping four timesheets a burden, I also think this is unethical. His executive board roles are unpaid positions, but by paying me to do some of his duties for him and then billing the organization for that time, isn't he effectively getting paid for this work?

Are you billing the same work multiple times for different organizations? If so, then it is borderline unethical. If not, then you are simply billing your time out to a set of clients.

You may find it easier to keep time in an excel spreadsheet. You need a column for description, a column for client, and a client for start time and a final column for end time. Record each time block in this format. When it comes time to print the timesheets, simply sort by client. Then copy and paste the relevant sections to make up your invoices.

When you bring this up with your boss, try not to make it a confrontation. Simply indicate that you think it is an odd practice, and explain that you would like to understand whether it is a common practice, or something unique to him. If this guy is a bigshot philanthropist, you probably don't need to burn any bridges even if you disagree with his business practices.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:22 PM on April 20, 2006


The only place I see a hint of unethical behavior here is in the fact that you are doing work that your boss "should" be doing for free as a board member.

Personally, I wouldn't worry about it too much. Most of the board members I know farm out their routine work to their executive assistants -- I don't know how many charge back for it, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to find out this was a common arrangement. The value of having an executive board member does not come from the routine tasks they perform for free, and the amount of money that goes to paying you for them is almost certainly dwarfed by the amount of money brought in by having him associated with the non-profit.
posted by tkolar at 10:35 PM on April 20, 2006


Anytime I assist in his work for a particular organization I log it He's paying your salary; you're doing work for an organization; he's asking the organization to reimburse him, so he's not out that money. He isn't making any profit on this whatsoever (unless you're double-billing for the time, which does not seem to be the case).

by paying me to do some of his duties for him and then billing the organization for that time, isn't he effectively getting paid for this work?No, he's not. He's reducing the amount of unpaid hours that he contributes. At the end of the day, he isn't walking away with a single penny of these organization - he's simply reducing his workload and reducing his in-kind contributions (your salary). You're the one (in your paychecks) that has the money from the organization.

Not only is the extra work of keeping four timesheets a burden It's a burden if you have to work extra hours without extra pay, or if he has unreasonable expectations of what you can accomplish, because he doesn't realize how much time this takes. But it almost sounds like you just think this is pointless work - and that really isn't your job to decide.

I am uncomfortable charging organizations and draining their precious resources for work that they think their board member is doing.First, the organizations know exactly what they are reimbursing him for (your hours). If they think the hours are too great, they certainly can say something - or replace your boss with someone else. Second, it's not at all clear that you know what ELSE your boss is contributing to these organizaitons - direct donations, recruiting of other board members, good advice at board meetings, recruiting of other donors, or even credibility to boards by being on them.

In short, I don't think there are ANY ethical issues her at all to be concerned about. You're not falsifying anything, and the organizations being billed are perfectly capable of saying that they think they're paying for too many of your hours, if in fact they are.
posted by WestCoaster at 10:44 PM on April 20, 2006


It's routine and it's ethical. These charity organizations that this is part of the cost of doing business. Having his name on the board brings in a lot more dollars then the few hours you charge--otherwise he wouldn't be on the board. From his perspective, the charities are "overworking" him and so, in order to fulfill his tasks, he has to pass work on to you which incurs a real cost. It's the same as if the charity asked him to fly somewhere and give a speech and he billed them for the plane ticket. You are a costly resource (like the plane ticket) that he must draw upon in order to fulfill his duties to the charity.
posted by nixerman at 5:20 AM on April 21, 2006


Of course, that IS if he is passing on duties to you so that he can do other duties, rather than passing them on to you so that he can go hang gliding. If THAT is the case, then I consider it to be a bit more of a grey area.
posted by antifuse at 5:57 AM on April 21, 2006


I am uncomfortable charging organizations and draining their precious resources for work that they think their board member is doing.

Actually, this is not true if you are keeping time sheets and will be creating invoices, because they will very much see that you are doing the work, not the board member (unless he puts his name on the sheets and bills double, but it doesn't sound like that is the case).

Not to be crass about it, but his time is probably worth a lot more than yours, and all of you are probably better off with you doing a fraction of the work each week, than the non-profit actually hiring someone to do it or your boss doing it. You may also want to consider that if your boss is a big-shot pilanthropist and is a board member, he's probably already donated way more to these organizations than you could ever end up billing.

In the end, it doesn't matter what a bunch of strangers on the Internet say about it. It matters how you feel, and if you are not happy with the arrangement, you should probably think about finding a new position. But it does seem like confronting the boss may be out of line.
posted by ml98tu at 6:14 AM on April 21, 2006


I doubt it. In fact, they might be the opposite of what you think. I happen to pay for a few hours a year of secretarial staff which is priomarily employed by a non-profit foundation. The staff tracks their hours and bills us. At the same time, other non-profits come and go at the offices and under the guidance of the parent foundation. The president of the parent foundation sits on many boards of other foundations. I am only guessing here, but I would surmise that all these hours need to be separate for maintaining open and honest books as well as staying in the boundaries established for non-profits. I can ask, if you like. Email in profile.
posted by Dick Paris at 6:55 AM on April 21, 2006


I don't see the problem with this. If you're carefully documenting your work and invoicing the charity, they wouldn't reimburse him for what he paid you unless they thought the work you were doing warranted payment by them. As long as the timesheets are accurate, it's on them, not you, to judge what services they deem worthy of payment.
posted by lampoil at 7:02 AM on April 21, 2006


Not unethical. The organizations know that they are paying you for your time. He's not making a profit. This seems very straightforward to me.

If it is a hassle to keep four time sheets, then work something out in Excel and produce the invoices from that at the end of each pay period.

Keep the job, build your connections. This sounds like a great gig.
posted by alms at 7:15 AM on April 21, 2006


I also don't see anything weird going on here - it's all being done in the light of day, so if the charities had any problems with paying for you, they'd address it with him. And being a board member is not like being a volunteer - he's definitely not there to do administrative tasks for free. unless you are making decisions about the directions these charities should be going, and giving fundraising speeches, I can't really imagine you are really taking on duties that ought to belong to him...
posted by mdn at 9:04 AM on April 21, 2006


The consensus certainly that this practice is not unethical. But it sounds like there maybe more to the problem than meets the eye. Are you sure you're not just looking for a reason to exit this position? Flamboyant can be a whole lot of fun, or it can be more trouble than its worth.
posted by ZackTM at 9:11 AM on April 21, 2006


*certainly seems to be*
posted by ZackTM at 9:11 AM on April 21, 2006


If the organizations don't have a problem with this - and if they did, they would take it up with him - then I don't see why you should have a problem with it. He's not falsifying expenses on, say, travel, in order to cover the cost of employing you. He's being totally transparent with them about what they're paying for. If they have a problem with paying, indirect for his services on their boards, they'll dump him, but it's probably worth it to them. Don't make this your problem - it's a very minor issue, at best, and not worth throwing away your relationship with your employer over. Really. He will not take kindly to you making a self-righteous fuss about this, and you'll be out the door over nothing.
posted by Dasein at 11:59 AM on April 21, 2006


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