Dirty IT job No. 6: Payroll cop
Wanted: Sys admin to log long hours and plan vacations around other people's paydays. Must be willing to put up with self-absorbed IT professionals. Ability to sniff out fraud essential.
You'd think the one person responsible for making sure everyone in an organization gets paid would be treated with the utmost respect. You'd be wrong.
For three years, Jennifer Hoffman worked as sys admin for a major U.S. telecommunications carrier. She was the only person who knew how to operate the time-and-attendance software essential to running payroll for some 12,000 full-time employees and 3,000 contractors. From the janitors to the CEO, if you didn't fill out an electronic time card, you didn't get paid.
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Sure, you could get the company to manually cut you a check. But then you'd have to deal with "Bonnie" (not her real name), possibly the most loathed individual in the company, says Hoffman, who is now a life and business coach in Los Angeles.
"People actually offered me money to talk to Bonnie for them," she says. "I wouldn't do it."
Yet during nearly every payroll period, some IT contractor would make a change to the network that brought her system to a standstill. Every time the network went down, the lone server that ran the time-and-attendance software -- nestled deep inside a data center 1,500 miles away -- had to be manually restarted. Jennifer would get on the phone and tell the data center techs where the server was and what they needed to do.
"Dealing with high-profile, highly paid, arrogant contractors who felt they could do network upgrades whenever they felt like it was challenging," says Hoffman. "They were so fixated on what they were doing they never thought about the peripheral effects of their actions."
Still, the other part of her job -- keeping people from cheating -- was worse. Several times she was called upon to play payroll cop by the carrier's internal affairs division. For example, there was the time a techie who got laid off in May logged into the system and filed time cards for the remainder of the year, so he'd continue to get paid while sitting at home on the couch.
Or witness the HR employee who pretended to rehire dozens of former employees during the middle of each payroll period, then "fired" them a few days later. Their paychecks were sent via direct deposit to a bank in a neighboring state, where her partner in crime would withdraw the funds and split the proceeds.
That woman eventually got fired, though never prosecuted. Later, she tried to use Hoffman as a job reference. You can imagine how that went.
"I didn't want to have to spy on people, but after that incident with HR, I got called on by internal affairs a lot," she says. "When you work in a system like payroll, the things people do are unbelievable. You have to have really trustworthy people working for you or they can rob you blind. It's the dirty jobs like this that are the backbone of every organization."