(Work) Cunning vs. Ethics

"A Detective style look

at how to win or loss at work"


If you're taking the summer off to relax and recharge, but plan to hit your endeavors hard come this Fall. Then perhaps you should take the time to tune up your personal work ethics. How do we recommend you do this? 

Why by understanding how to be cunning and slightly unethical of course.

 This series will focus on how to get as much as you want or need out of your job while maintaining good ethical standing (kinda in most cases). Even if you are the one running the business, it may be good to know how NOT to create the type of chaotic work environment where lines are blurred, morale is low and productivity is hit or miss. 

We will detail real-world cases as examples on does and donts as well as to ascertain analytic data for research, stats and Fact-checking. In some cases, we‘ll compile scenarios in a fictional setting, but base it on actual work policies per profession. In any version, Names and titles are altered or changed for clarity or privacy reasons. 

With that said, let's begin our misadventures into Work Cunning vs. Ethics

Case 1

"No Pay for Days":

Lucas Favre - Unsplash

The case of the Bumbling Boss.

A young Man unexpectedly finds his way into a blue collar profession while searching for white collar work. He is 20, Fresh faced but years of practical street smarts and a naturally High IQ has made him wise beyond his years. 

His supervisor and payroll manager are one in the same, if not for a couple of technicalities this “Boss” would be the 1st and last stop between getting paid and getting employed. 

For these two; Jean, our 20-year-old victim, and B.S, the Supervisor, the issue starts a few years ago when a series of missing pay from seemingly random Checks begin to develop. 

Jean 1st noticed it after a snow storm on the grounds its job it is for them to keep. On pay day Jean should have gotten paid for 22hrs, but only received 12. A difference of almost half. See, Jean is an “on-call” worker and the company he works for is actually pretty huge. 10K plus union workers working in subdivisions of a subcontractor, ran by the city for the last 3 years even though the Job title and union has been around for decades. Needless to say the setting gets complicated. All that really matters is, B.S is the one who sets the hours and signs off on them.

Being on call and planning to maximize what hours you can get bi-week to bi-week can be even more challenging when the money doesn't literally add up. “How can I be missing 10 hours!?” Jean thought as he tried to gather himself enough to edit his in-person reaction. Now, of course, there has to be some likely explanations given the general circumstances:

  1. a mix-up in hours; they change week to week after all.
  2. Jean didn't work 22 that paycheck because the hours were in 2 separate pay periods.
  3. If Jean is right, then perhaps B.S Made an error while submitting hours.
  4. If Jean and B.S are right, then the company that “cuts the check” (middlemen) made a mistake.


  Let us fast forward two years and dozens of messed up checks later and we’ve covered all of the above reasons, plus several others twice over by now. About a month after catching up with the latest fiasco in funds, Jean finds himself short 8hrs out of twenty. He looked 2 days ahead to see his direct deposit stubs for payday and can already see the sources of his anxiety; missing money when you need it the most. 

Not like that last time before he became accustomed to being on the ass-end of clerical money errors. That one time, Jean had booked a romantic mini-getaway into the city for the woman he hasn't seen in months. This was the 1st time Jean checked ahead. Ensuring everything was going as planned, as well as admiring the fruits of his labor. Rotten Fruits buddy. Jean was missing a third of his wages. He had to settle for a cheap bus ticket out of town to see his love, while dodging overdraft and cancellation fees for pre-scheduling all weekend arrangements. Lucky he caught it before payday. 

Luck ran out a while ago and it happens too often and predominantly to him out of any on-call or otherwise type of worker out of 9 of them associated with this site. This time he needed a new answer because its starting to look like B.S is on 'dat bullsh!t' and for the sake of avoiding physical confrontation, Jean needs to hear anything remotely believable. 

What does the Supervisor say when yet again, he has to be addressed about missing hours?

He Forgot.

Let's look at a few key points: 

  • Jean claims to have seen a submission form on B.S’s Desk with accurate hours.
  • B.S has never claimed to have forgotten before.
  • 2nd Paycheck into the “new” season 
  • Hours are Punched on Time Card than logged digitally before submitting to Payroll

Jean was furious. “Go home and punch a wall”, furious. That he did, and almost broke his hand in the process. At that point, it almost didn't matter because Jean decided his days were numbered there. No notice, no conversation, no risk of a confrontation. He wouldn't be back come Monday. 

Options and Alternatives

Where does Work Ethics & Cunning come in?

  1. Know the Rules and Regulations, and Play dumb
  2. Understand the detailed nature of the System at play
  3. Communicate with Co-workers/Union/lawyer

Playing Dumb, acting Dumb or actually being dumb enough not to know your rights are 3 different things, to be blunt. Jean didn't act unaware and he stays as sharp as he can with company policy, etc. Where it was time for him to show his hand was when he had nothing to lose. 

If you’re going to quit, EXHAUST the HR department. Especially if you are unionized. You need to communicate in plain, clear english what is the core problem. And you need to be able to clearly express the worst effect the issue has had on you, while being “confused” how it could happen. Last, you need to express sincerity and confidence without beating your chest at the wrong person when you stress to them the need for a resolution and, dare say further compensation.

Lets look at a draft of how Jean could handle this situation before quitting:

Correspondence to the Union and higher employer;


To whom it may concern,

My Name is Jean, I work at (site location) under Supervisor B.S. I’ve been with the company for several years and have been happy for the opportunities granted to me thus far. My 1st concern, however, is the nature of my Paycheck. Several times throughout each year, I’ve missed being paid for large portions of my hours.

I always Clock in and out, while keeping a personal record of the hours I work. On the occasion of each incident, I’ve gone through both channels available to me in the form of my supervisor and calling payroll directly. It can take anywhere from 1 to 3 paychecks later before I see my missing hours. Some occasions, those checks themselves are missing hours for that pay period.

It has been confirmed on each occasion that the fault was not on my end, and everyone seems to strive to handle it, but it has had a devastating effect on my personal life. 

Part of what I believe makes me a diligent worker is that I pride myself on keeping up and keeping track. As this applies to my personal life, please trust me when I tell you that I’ve done the best I can with inconsistent pay and because of this ongoing issue, I've run out of 2nd and 3rd chance on my debts. I've had to make sacrifices in areas that I shouldn't have if only I received what was rightfully mine, being paid in full and on time as my co-workers are.

I’m writing this because I’ve run out of options on my own and I need answers as to how this could happen, and if it's just happening to me. I would love to continue working with confidence that I will be properly compensated for my efforts. If there are any other parties I should address this to, I would humbly appreciate it if you could forward me that contact information as I am now in the process of seeking counsel from whoever is qualified to handle this matter better than I’ve been able to do so.

If you are able to help me than it would truly change my life for the better and allow me to move beyond this and focus on the work again. Please contact me here, or on-site at: ( info here)



(employee info here)


Understand the details


Jean by now has already done all the basic troubleshooting, but he doesn't want to over-explain himself. No matter what you're dealing with, the person helping you is going to ask the seemingly obvious first. Let them. Jean made sure to cover the basics and keep track of the result. That way, once he’s asked, he can clearly and quickly rule it out with the person whose help he is seeking. 

  • Express the Issue
  • Express the Effect
  • State your Standings (the result of effect and how you feel about it)
  • Leave room for the recipient to Do Their Job

Jean also needs a bit of leverage. All signs lead to B.S being the problem. If he accused him right out the gate, it could be spun against him as having a typical  grudge with an authority figure. It needs to be communicated that this is a very strange issue that is clearly happening, and shouldn't happen in this company.

Jean read all the handouts and did a little extra research into his position. Took him about an hour out of the week. He is well aware that all signs point to the person submitting the hours, and not a glitch. Now, what's his added leverage?

Free Legal Consultation

A version of this letter sent to a lawyer prior to sending it to anyone within the company has gained him a reply with a few more details that reinforce his workers' rights. So now he has an idea on what type of response he should receive for  sources within and associated with the company.

Fact Check yourself

Make sure you're not in the wrong anywhere else. Be calm and be clean. Either handle an issue promptly, in the right way. Or plan ahead. Keep notes, do research, and Know your Options and Alternatives.

These are just a few examples in an actual situation where you have to be clever and inform in order to come out ahead. Remember, even the most ethical hero understands the cunning of the bad guy.

Be your Own Hero.

This Case is still pending a final resolution, fingers crossed Jean, Fingers crossed. 

 Photos courtesy Unsplash
John Favre, Jeshoots, Alice Pasqual, Dini.design



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