A public sector employee in Italy made international headlines earlier this year after it was revealed he had allegedly engaged in corruption by continuing to claim his full salary while not turning up to work – for 15 years.

Dubbed the re degli assenti (the king of absentees) by the Italian media, the 67-year-old public hospital administrator stands accused of rorting more than AUD $850,000 and is facing criminal charges of abuse of public office, forgery and aggravated extortion.

While decade-spanning absenteeism is not commonly seen in Australia, instances of timesheet and leave fraud is regularly encountered by the nation’s integrity agencies.

Here are some prominent cases that have been investigated or reviewed by Australia’s integrity agencies.

The University of Sydney

NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)

In May 2020, the NSW ICAC found that several people had made false representations about the identities and number of security guards working shifts at the University of Sydney.

Known as ‘ghosting’, the conduct resulted in the University paying hundreds of thousands of dollars over a ten-year period for services they did not receive.[1]

During one week in 2016, two staff members were each paid for more than 200 hours of ad hoc shifts in addition to their standard 40 hours; this is despite there being only 168 hours in week.

The NSW ICAC made findings of serious corrupt conduct against six individuals.

Queensland Health

QLD Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC)

In March 2015 a former Queensland Health employee was convicted of defrauding the Queensland government of nearly $40,000.

Over a 17-month period the former payroll officer falsely claimed overtime for work she had not done. She was sentenced to two years imprisonment, to be suspended after three months.[2]

Western Power

WA Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC)

In September 2019, the WA CCC received information about a Western Power employee who was accused of falsifying timesheets and misusing a work vehicle. The employee was responsible for conducting inspections of power poles in regional areas. [3]

Western Power conducted an audit of the employee’s work and found more than 200 falsified inspections, 53 fraudulent timesheet entries, and 51 instances of the work vehicle being misused.

WA Health

WA Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC)

In September 2019, the WA CCC published a report about a WA Health employee who had claimed more than $500,000 in overtime payments over a five-year period. This was in addition to her base salary of $112,000-$126,000 a year.

The employee considered her working hours to be 8:30am to 4:30pm, but swipe card access, car parking and computer access records revealed she frequently did not arrive at the hospital until after 9:30am or 10:00am. The employee was also absent on 125 days without submitting a leave form to obtain approval and even travelled overseas on at least four occasions without requesting annual leave.[4]

What are the warning signs?

While each of the examples above show the many ways that corrupt individuals have been able to exploit their workplace environments to gain undeserved benefits, there are common themes that allow dishonest practices to continue unnoticed. These include:

  • Timesheets being ‘pre-filled’ with start, finish, and break times for future dates
  • Staff taking sick leave or annual leave without written notice and not completing leave applications
  • Timesheets not being submitted on time
  • Timesheets not being reviewed and approved by a supervisor familiar with the employee’s work schedule and routine
  • Managers approving timesheets without reading them or considering their accuracy
  • Staff approving their own timesheets

How do you prevent it?

Senior administrators must ensure that appropriate policies and procedures addressing staff attendance and leave arrangements are in place and adhered to. Periodic audits should be conducted to identify any problem areas and enable them to be addressed. Senior executives set the tone for their organisations; leaders who demonstrate cavalier attitudes to their own attendance and leave arrangements can hardly expect better performance from their staff.

Managers and team leaders must understand their responsibility to carefully review and approve their team members’ timesheets and leave applications and ensure that records are accurately kept. Most of all, managers should be open and discuss their expectations of attendance and leave arrangements with their team.

What do public officers need to know?

Sick leave, carer’s leave, annual leave, flexi-time, overtime and flexible work arrangements exist for important reasons. Public officers should not fear taking leave and claiming their entitlements legitimately. The ICAC is not interested in trying to catch people out for mere errors, small oversights, or minor indiscretions. However it is interested in ensuring that agencies appropriately manage the risks associated with employee entitlements.

Every employee is responsible for the accuracy of his or her timesheet records and leave applications. Deliberately making a false entry on a timesheet or leave request form could potentially be a criminal offence. In South Australia, criminal conduct by a public officer in the course of his or her duties as a public officer is defined as corruption for the purposes of the ICAC Act.

All public officers have an obligation to report their reasonable suspicions of corruption to the Office for Public Integrity.

More resources

Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC):

[1] Independent Commission Against Corruption (NSW): Investigation into the over-payment of public funds by the University of Sydney for security services

[2] Crime and Corruption Commission (Qld): CCC issues fraud warning to Queensland public health service

[3] Corruption and Crime Commission (WA): Review of an investigation by Western Power into serious misconduct

[4] Corruption and Crime Commission (WA): Report reveals senior Health employee claimed more than half a million dollars in overtime payments to which she was not entitled