Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Stealing time

Rubina Ahmed-Haq and I had an argument that devolved into shouting and foot-stamping on Monday morning, although the shouting and foot-stamping were all on my side and she has yet to realize we had a disagreement.

Ahmed-Haq is the CBC radio workplace columnist who, according to her website, “live[s] at the vibrant intersection of journalism, finance, and public speaking,” which explains why we’ve never met — I live many blocks south, at the less vibrant intersection of journalism, snow removal and bird-feeding.

Rubina Ahmed-Haq

Rubina Ahmed-Haq

Ahmed-Haq thinks “personal finance can be exciting!” and says her “passion for all things money started at a young age.” Had I known any of this on Monday morning, I would have turned the radio off before she’d opened her mouth, but I didn’t, and so there I was, all unsuspecting, drinking my coffee, looking out the window, when I heard her say:

Time theft is when an employee is paid for hours when they did not work. This can happen when someone exaggerates the hours on a time sheet, or when a worker punches in but doesn’t complete the duties expected by their boss.

At this point, the foot-stamping began.

Regardless of how it happens, if the intentions are dishonest, there can be repercussions.

Ahmed-Haq then brought on an employment lawyer to run through the list of repercussions — warnings, suspensions, terminations — and explain that time theft is serious because it “speaks to a worker’s character” and “that can have repercussions for that worker’s future job prospects.” (There were an awful lot of repercussions in this very short radio piece.)

And then the yelling started. “Does anyone at the vibrant intersection of journalism, finance and public speaking TIME YOUR BATHROOM BREAKS?” I hollered. “Do you take precise, 30-minute lunches each day? Does the CBC track your every move with a wristband?!”

As you can imagine, she had no answer to any of these questions; by which I mean, she didn’t hear me and continued to the heart of her piece:

But the pandemic has created a unique situation for those now working from home. Many find themselves with a lot of autonomy.

At this point, Ahmed-Haq brought in an HR lawyer, who kind of stuck up for people working at home, suggesting that, based on what she’s heard and seen, they are working harder — and juggling multiple responsibilities — rather than ripping their employers off.

But you don’t have to rely on some rando HR lawyer’s anecdotal evidence: research by the US National Bureau of Economic Research found that the average workday “lengthened by 48.5 minutes in the weeks following stay-at-home orders and lockdowns.”

And while the data didn’t account for, “those who broke away to take care of elderly parents, managed multiple interruptions from schooling young children at home or simply chose to walk the dog for the third time that day,” one of the authors of the paper, Harvard prof Jeffrey Polzer, told the Washington Post that:

…a day broken up into shorter meetings or one that bleeds longer into the evening — even if the total number of hours worked is not more — can have downsides, too. “Is it working from home or living at work, or both?” Polzer said. “As we try to manage our work from home environment, it’s very hard to turn off work. That’s always been true since our phones have followed us home, but that phenomenon has grown.”

Ahmed-Haq’s HR lawyer suggested employers should be more “results oriented.” (Which any bozo can see is the case — who cares how or when you got your work done as long as you got your work done?)

But Ahmed-Haq was clearly more interested in the issue from an employer’s perspective, and so quickly moved along to advice on documenting time theft before accusing an employee (and protecting yourself from accusations of time theft by tracking your own work which is evil freaking genius — be your own Amazon wristband!)

What’s incredibly telling is that, on Ahmed-Haq’s vibrant planet, stealing time is something only employees do.

But in the real world, it’s often the other way around. What about employers who demand their workers arrive at work 15 minutes before their shifts begin? Over time, that adds up to significant time (and wage) theft. What about employers who fail to pay employees who work statutory holidays time-and-a-half or give them time off in lieu? (Again, time AND wage theft.) What about people answering work emails on their smart phones late into the evening and first thing in the morning?

And what about heat and light and internet theft? Isn’t that what happens when a company shuts its office down, sends its workers home and effectively offloads its utility bills onto them?

But the bottom line here is that “time theft” is often short hand for “being human at work.” Doing all those annoying things human beings do — going to the bathroom, eating lunch, talking to co-workers, being autonomous.  It’s a list that’s grown even longer since COVID forced ever more people to work from home.

In her book  On the Clock, What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane, American reporter Emily Guendelsberger says that in focusing on “time theft,” companies are basically trying to make workers behave more like machines and that this is a prelude to actually replacing workers with machines.

So Ahmed-Haq should really think this through, because once the machines take over, nobody’s going to need a workplace columnist.

Now, who do I see about the 3 minutes and 24 seconds of my life she stole on Monday?



Here, in lieu of yet another Canadian’s pointless musings on the dawn of the Biden era, is some blank space.







You’re welcome.



Nope, not CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall nor even former CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke — this is an item about Musa Hadid, the Christian mayor of Ramallah, a city that serves as the de facto administrative capital of the Palestinian National Authority. More accurately, this is an item about a documentary about Hadid — Mayor — by director David Osit.

I heard a great interview with Osit this week and can’t wait to watch the film, which I’ve discovered I can rent via the Film Movement website. (This site is a revelation to me: in renting the film, you can support both the filmmaker and the independent theater of your choice — in the case of Mayor, there’s even a Canadian option, the Sudbury Indie Cinema in Ontario)

Hadid’s immediate goals for his second term are not entirely dissimilar from the goals of a CBRM mayor, “repave the sidewalks, attract more tourism, and plan the city’s Christmas celebrations.”

His ultimate mission, though, is even more ambitious than establishing a deep-water terminal for ultra-large container vessels in a port located thousands of miles from any population center of size — it’s “to end the occupation of Palestine.”

As the synopsis puts it:

Rich with detailed observation and a surprising amount of humor, MAYOR offers a portrait of dignity amidst the madness and absurdity of endless occupation while posing a question: how do you run a city when you don’t have a country?