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WFH Accountants Beware: BC tracking software case leads to global news coverage

Accounting firm wins court decision over “time theft” by accounting employee

Author: Canadian Accountant

TORONTO, Jan. 14, 2023 – A Canadian accounting firm and its former employee have made global headlines over a small claims court dispute involving remote work and “time theft.” The case involved a cloud accounting firm called Reach CPA in Courtenay, B.C., an accounting employee working from home (WFH), and a time tracking software application called TimeCamp. 

Since the decision by the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal was published Wednesday, the case (Besse v. Reach CPA Inc.) has been reported on by international media outlets, including The Guardian (UK), NPR (US), Times Now (India), MSN, Yahoo and more. Canadian accounting stories rarely attract this level of international scrutiny but the case is a cautionary tale of remote work and employee relations. 

Accounting employee files wrongful dismissal legal claim

The accounting employee was hired in September 2021 and worked for about six months at Reach CPA. The two sides agreed that the employee could work from home, the firm would forgive an advance it made to purchase home office equipment, and pay the employee’s fees as a student in the CPA program. 

By February, things had started going wrong. According to the decision, the two parties met to discuss time management issues, and the firm installed TimeCamp, which is marketed as time management software, on the employee’s computer. By March, the employee was behind schedule and overbudget on files, and the firm created a performance improvement plan. But they later discovered about 50 unaccounted hours that were reported on timesheets by analyzing data from TimeCamp. 

The firm offered the employee time to explain. The employee declined. The firm fired the employee. And the employee took the firm to small claims court from termination without just cause, filing for $5,000 (the small claims court limit) in unpaid wages and severance. 

Accounting firm fights back in small claims court

In Canadian employment law, when an employer alleges just cause in dismissing an employee, the employer bears the burden of proving any misconduct in court. Reach CPA filed a counterclaim against the employee alleging “time theft,” and provided the court with the data from TimeCamp. 

The employee challenged the analysis on two fronts, saying that the company had allowed the use of the work laptop for personal use during personal time, and therefore could not distinguish between work and non-work activities. The employee also said they had spent considerable time working with paper copies, an argument countered by the software collecting data on printing. 

The employee’s claim was dismissed and the employee was ordered to reimburse the firm in debt and damages for time theft. 

A cautionary tale in the world of remote work

As previously reported by Canadian Accountant, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated change withing the Canadian accounting industry in numerous ways, not the least of which was the provision of remote work as accounting firms transitioned to the cloud. Remote work has placed an emphasis on trust between employers and employees. 

Many media outlets commented on the use of TimeCamp, which CBS News labelled “spy software,” and NPR previously labelled “tracking software,” which The Guardian notes was “a strategy companies are increasingly taking in the era of remote work.” (Some media outlets noted that the software was often used by lawyers for tracking billable hours.) 

But the case also revealed a number of interesting facts about the world of small firms today. Reach CPA was not only willing to allow the employee to work from home but was willing to pay fees related to the Chartered Professional Accountant Professional Education Program (CPA PEP), if the employee aspired to become a CPA. 

The case also reveals a starting salary of $50,000 for remote work by an accounting employee who is not a CPA. According to the decision the employee was required to work at least 2,000 hours a year, which works out to an hourly rate of $27.50. Accounting salaries are a source of ongoing questions and discussions on platforms such as Reddit. 

By Canadian Accountant staff. Read the court decision here. Title image: Chen from Pixabay.

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