Does reading through work documents while commuting count as “work time”?

by Chloe Taylor10 Apr 2015
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has told its employees that they must dob in colleagues whose timesheets are questionable.

According to The Canberra Times, the ATO has made a point of telling staff that reading work documents on their commute does not count towards the number of hours worked.

In an internal newsletter sent out this week, the ATO gave its public servants a number of specific examples of what not to do.

The newsletter told recipients that fraudulent time sheets would be published, The Times reported, and bureaucrats were also informed that leaving work early and taking a work-related call on the way home did not constitute “being at work”.

Other examples given were using a 30 minute lunch break to update performance and development agreements and spending an evening researching university courses that might help with professional development.

“If you know someone is misrepresenting their hours worked, remember it is also your responsibility to report it,” the letter, which was sent out on Tuesday, read. “It's easy to forget to record your attendance, and if you don't do it daily, it can be tricky to remember the exact hours you worked. Intentionally recording more than your actual hours is fraud, and there have been cases where employees have been investigated and sanctioned under the code of conduct.”

Technology has added confusion to the ATO’s long-standing time management system about what counts as “work time”.

The ATO’s actions run a risk of further aggravating its seemingly unhappy staff – HC reported in February that ATO staff were considering industrial action in response to harsh terms and job cuts.

This is not the only instance of the ATO’s recent attempts to control its public servants’ time management; Taxation Office bosses launched an incentive program over Christmas to combat sickies.

Australian Services Union official Jeff Lapidos told The Times that the ATO should consider alternative methods of tracking the amount of time its employees are spending at work.

“One method [currently in place] is for the team manager to get a copy of the employee's log on-log off times on the ATO's computer system,” he said. “Another is to obtain a record of the times the employee swiped their building security card to enter and leave the building – for the manager or a 'spy' to observe the employee and note the times of their comings and goings.”
He added these techniques are problematic as they are “not conclusive”.

“Your log on time will not coincide with the time of commencing duty if you immediately have breakfast and read the paper for the next 20 minutes,” he explained.


  • by Fiona 10/04/2015 11:15:30 AM

    Feel like I just stepped back 20 years reading this article.

  • by kimbowa 10/04/2015 12:44:38 PM

    Looks like there needs to be a "work to rule" campaign amongst ATO employees. Do nothing outside your working hours that relates to work. Employers need to acknowledge that employment is a partnership not a dictatorship.

  • by caca 13/04/2015 11:46:05 AM

    I realise this is very Utopian of me but wouldn't it be great if businesses hired enough people to do the work AND have a chance to read work documents during work hours? Maybe even have some back ups for people when they go on leave? I know now I'm just speaking crazy.

    But seriously, I'm not sure I necessarily like the direction is which workplaces are going but the focus is shifting solely to output of work not of physical hours. This is great if you get your work done in less time but I don't know anyone who can actually finish for the day without having other work to start or catch up on or leaving a colleague hanging that could use some help.

Most Read