Emily Mongan

In high school, I had a job working in the foodservice industry, which I strongly believe should be a mandatory part of the teenage experience.

First and foremost, I learned to check my ego at the door: I was there to serve occasionally grumpy, rude people while trying to pull off an OK look with a visor, a tie and an ill-fitting pair of khaki pants. Combine that appearance with the fact that I always smelled faintly of grease, meat and vanilla custard mix (also known as “Eau Du Culver’s”), and you get a recipe for teaching a 17-year-old valuable life lessons (with the bonus of “quality testing” the frozen custard whenever I felt like it).

Priority-wise, third in line behind wearing a clean, complete uniform and not flying off the handle at rude customers (“Ma’am, if you want the turkey BLT put back on the menu, you’ll have to take that up with our corporate office. I am a high school sophomore. I can’t even drive yet.”) was obeying the laws of the time clock.

Not properly punching in and out was grounds for having your hours reduced, or being fired entirely. The timeclock was king, and you quickly learned to bow to its whims. That reverence has followed me all these years later, which is why I was so perplexed when this story crossed my radar last week.

A certified nursing assistant at an Illinois nursing home is being charged with theft after it was discovered that she would come to work, clock in and then leave, only returning to clock out hours later. And this wasn’t a one time thing — this employee reportedly pulled this off 11 times in one month.

I get that in any workplace it’s possible that things get busy. People are focused on their own tasks, and might not see a coworker much during the day, if at all. But how does nobody notice that an employee just isn’t there? And since her absences weren’t planned or cleared in advance, was anybody covering her duties on those days?

I’m sure there are multiple reasons why a case like this would slip through the cracks. The administration at the facility may have seen her timesheets were intact and never figured anything was wrong. The woman’s co-workers might have thought she took the days off, or was working a different shift.

At the time of the incident, she had been working at the nursing home for five years, according to the Peoria Journal Star. So it’s possible she simply got comfortable in her position, or found a way to sneak around the system (so she thought). Whatever her reasoning, her plan backfired — she now faces up to seven years in prison for the “theft” of about $1,800.

What concerns me most about this baffling story, and what should be the takeaway here for anyone who oversees employees, is the nature of the work that this woman ran out on. This wasn’t food service, and this wasn’t retail. This was human lives. There was no indication from news reports that the nursing home’s residents suffered in any way on the days she pulled a Ferris Bueller, but what if there was?

Thankfully, this employee’s plan to play hooky was eventually discovered by someone in human resources, so it may serve as a lesson to any and all employees who work on an hourly basis: You might think you’re getting away with punching in and leaving, but be careful. The timeclock may punch you right back. Even if it takes a while for someone to notice what’s going on.

Emily Mongan is McKnight’s Staff Writer. Follow her @emmongan.