What would you do if your boss was being unethical? — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily
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What would you do if your boss was being unethical?

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Question: "Recently I found out that my boss is clearly engaged in some things at work that aren't illegal but are unethical. I'm not supposed to know about them; I came across the information completely by accident. I'm not sure what to do. I think he's a decent person who's just gotten desperate about keeping his job, but I don't know him very well. Any advice?" - Shaina, Executive Assistant

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol Ziemer October 16, 2017 at 10:36 am

It is important to find out who you can report this practice to. If there is no one in the company that you feel you can trust will give you proper guidance, consider consulting a lawyer. And be sure you have facts to support your report – keep a “record” of what you are legitimately seeing and/or being asked to participate in. If you participate willingly, you could become the scapegoat if things are investigated. Remember, NO job is worth compromising your ethics. It is too easy for the unethical to turn illegal. If no one is making an effort to correct the problem, start seeking employment elsewhere and let that house of cards fall without you.

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Lisa October 9, 2017 at 5:14 pm

Since you stated you don’t know him well that makes things difficult. If, and only if, you are 100% sure what you saw is correct and intentional and if you have an anonymous tip line I’d report it there. If you aren’t 100% sure of what you saw, and if you value your executive, I would check in with them saying you saw something that didn’t seem to make sense and made you concerned. Depending on their response then I’d report it even if no tip line. You don’t want anything to end up blowing back on you and making it look like you were complicit.

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Barbi C October 8, 2017 at 2:29 pm

Unfortunately there will be times when we are aware of this type of behaviour. Your boss is probably not the only one within your company acting unethically and as someone has already commented, this behaviour comes from the top so unless you want to cause a scene and probably become a target when there is downsizing, my suggestion is to let it go. It does go against everything we are all taught but there are times when we need to look away.

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Cindy October 8, 2017 at 2:18 pm

I have always been an advocate for speaking the truth assuming that the leaders were unaware of what was happening right under their noses. However, I have learned that, more often then not, unethical behavior is suggested and/or encouraged from above. I have a great relationship with my boss so I would likely ask him about it and ask if there was some sort of explanation that would assist me in understanding his actions. If I didn’t know my boss well I would keep it filed away in my head but also keep my eyes open to see if this was a one-time deal or his standard practice. If I found additional examples of this behavior I would go to HR with the complaint and at least three examples of unethical behavior. After that I would drop it. Like I said at the beginning, his superiors likely know and encourage such behavior.

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Judith October 5, 2017 at 5:26 pm

I have been there. I desperately needed the job because of the time I needed to care for my 95 year old mother. I reported the occurrences to the HR Director who could pass it up the chain of command. When there seemed to be no penalty, I had to let things go. I wish I had the ability to follow through, but I could not lose my vacation and sick leave and leave my mother in the lurch.

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Melissa Hunter October 5, 2017 at 4:25 pm

I agree with the above, you have a fiduciary responsibility to the company. Remember, if he gets caught, they may well assume you knew and did nothing. If you don’t want to report it and it comes out, you will have to explain why you did nothing. I don’t envy your position. I was there once, where my boss was the owner of the company. I was not prepared to be part of what she was doing, so I quit. Good luck with whatever you decide.

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Mary October 5, 2017 at 4:13 pm

You have a responsibility to the company to alert to any potential conflicts or issues that could result in litigation, or worse. If you happened on the information by accident, your boss cannot claim malice or forethought. Finally, it’s not your burden to carry! Contact your Compliance Officer. If your company doesn’t have one, report your concerns to your boss’s boss.

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Kim October 5, 2017 at 4:09 pm

As an employee of the company it is your obligation to protect the integrity of the company, share holders and it’s employee’s. You say you stumbled across information so you have proof vs. an assumption which is why you need to report it to either an Ethics hotline or to your HR Director. I don’t believe that their is no retaliation for ones actions, what I do believe is that if you do the right thing with no malice intent, you have nothing to fear.

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Lisa October 5, 2017 at 1:48 pm

Does your company have any type of “whistleblower” policy in place? That might be the route to follow. If you know about something, you should report it. If you’re worried about retaliation, the whistleblower process would protect you.

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Mark October 5, 2017 at 10:18 am

You could always set up a “phony” e-mail account with Yahoo or Gmail, and send the person an anonymous e-mail that people have become aware of what was going on, and that they should stop what they are doing or else you will notify the appropriate people. To be extra safe, don’t set up the e-mail from home, do it from a library PC, and absolutely use a phony name with phony information so it can’t be back-tracked.

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