The joke’s nearly a hundred years old, but it’s still a good one: A census taker asks the head of a company how many people work there and the boss replies, “About half.”

As Homer Simpson, the ultimate slacker, would say, “It’s funny ’cause it’s true.” True in some places, anyway.

Productivity is an average. Some workers work hard, some do just enough to get by, some do next to nothing, and some do less than nothing (they not only waste their own time, but manage to waste much of the co-workers’ with idle conversation and shoddy work that needs to be redone by others). An employer naturally prefers the first to the last.

Shirking is easy to spot in some contexts, not so easy in others. Determined goldbrickers perfect the art of looking busy when someone’s watching.

When employees get caught looking at pornography, playing video games, or actually sleeping on company time, there’s not much they can say for themselves – though that doesn’t keep some from mounting a creative defense.

They can’t help it, they insist. They’re addicted to porn or gaming (it’s a disability). They were conducting research on the behavioral patterns and purchasing habits of porn users or game players. They’re narcoleptics. They were bitten by tsetse flies.

Keithann Widner, a coder at the Charleston Area Medical Center, was caught sleeping on the job, more than once, and ultimately fired. She applied for unemployment benefits, but was denied because of “simple misconduct,” whereupon she appealed and an administrative law judge also denied her, relabeling her behavior “gross misconduct.”

She next appealed to the Board of Review and then the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, but both affirmed the ALJ’s decision. Widner then took her case to the state Supreme Court and was rebuffed a fifth time.

If she’d put half that effort into her job, she still might have it.

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