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StrategyDriven Practices for Professionals Article

So You Think Your Boss Is Breaking The Law

StrategyDriven Practices for Professionals Article
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

In the movies, if someone suspects their boss is breaking the law, the conclusion to the story is pretty standard. The employee – sometimes after a crisis of confidence – reports their boss and ultimately triumphs. They stand at the end credits, a paragon of virtue and Doing The Right Thing.

The real world is very different.

If you suspect that your boss is breaking the law, handling the problem is not quite as simple as you might think. Your career is on the line; the personal finances of your family are on the line. Those facts alone are enough to make someone hesitate and wonder what they should do.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you think your boss, or the larger company, is doing something illegal, you have a number of options before you.

1 Ignore It

Upside: If you ignore the issue, you’re not going to get into any trouble — or potentially lose your job — due to reporting it. Ignorance is bliss, so you might decide it’s easier to just pretend you’re still ignorant of what’s happening. The choice to ignore the issue is a powerful one, but it might be the one that works best for you and your personal situation.

Downside: You could be affected by what they are doing. Let’s say you are a taxi driver and you learn that risks are being taken with the vehicle fleet maintenance, documents forged, cars that aren’t safe to drive being let out onto the road. Your silence could ultimately result in you having to seek out an attorney that has experience in treating auto and work-related injuries because you become a direct victim of their negligence. This kind of situation can happen in all fields; with white collar crime, you could even be implicated as an accessory, for example. If you think the idea of whistleblowing could damage your career, then you need to think through the potential consequences of suffering for their malpractice.

2 Report Them Anonymously

StrategyDriven Practices for Professionals Article
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Upside: Though we know many famous whistleblowers, there are plenty of anonymous whistleblowers who still managed to make a change to company practices. This helps you to feel safe in the job without fear of reprisals, while still ensuring that changes are made due to your report. You can be completely honest with anonymous complaints because they can’t be traced to you, allowing you to be sure all the right areas are investigated.

Downside: You do have to consider what will happen if your complaint is followed up on by law enforcement or local government. If the entire company is engaged in illegal acts, you could easily find yourself without a job. Before you report, it’s wise to examine your career options and ensure you have a plan B if the company should close. It’s also worth remembering that no anonymity is one hundred percent complete all the time; there’s always a chance – however improbable – that your boss will find out it was you who made the report. You have to be certain of your facts before you make any report to an authority, so don’t make a guess: you have to be sure.

3 Confront Them

Upside: This is the most direct approach and thus can herald the best results. There is always a chance there is an innocent explanation for what you think you have witnessed. This option gives you the chance to find out the full story before rushing to any judgement. There is also the fact that your observations could serve as a wakeup call. Illegal or other nefarious activity is meant to be secret; if you have noticed, it might be a sign to your boss or the company that they are losing control of their secrecy. This, in turn, could make them examine their motives, and potentially change their ways.

Downside: It might end badly; you could be fired, or even pressed into being complicit in the illegal activity on pain of losing your job. This could put you in an extremely difficult situation, meaning you have to choose between what’s “right” and what is best for you and your family. It’s a good idea to make sure you have another option for employment, just in case your intervention is not welcomed.

There’s no doubt that discovering your boss or company is engaged in illegal or negligent business practices is troubling. Ultimately, you have to make a decision that is best for you; hopefully the options above will have given you something to ponder.

StrategyDriven The Advisors Corner Article

The Advisor’s Corner – Can Ethics Be Learned?

Can Ethics Be Learned?Question:

Can you teach ethics, or are we ‘hard wired’ and born with or without ethics?

StrategyDriven Response: (by Roxi Hewertson, StrategyDriven Principal Contributor)

YES you can teach the principles and importance of ethics. YES, you can model the ethics you expect within your culture. And… NO, you cannot be sure someone will behave and act in ethical ways just because you’ve taught or modeled ethics for them.

NO, we are not born with a particular set of ethics of what is right and what is wrong in every context.

And here’s why…

Whatever society you live within, its culture, your family, your peers, and the reward and punishment experiences you receive from all of them, shape your ethics. For example, consider China’s one baby ‘recommendation’ versus the Catholic Church’s no birth control edict. Each entity, made up of people, operating within their own culture, thinks they are doing the ‘right’ thing for the ‘right’ reasons. Therefore, what’s ethical in China is not ethical in Rome and vice versa.

We are so quick to pass judgment on other cultures’ ethics and ways of living and being that we might even convince ourselves that ‘those people’ whomever they are, are dead wrong, period. The reality is, their ethics are wrong based on your ethics. It’s just not as simple as we’d prefer it to be. This makes judgment about what is right and wrong a very personal issue and that means we aren’t born with ethics; we learn ethics.

Our personal values are formed in early family life and evolve as we get older. We might challenge our parents’ or cultural values or keep them. We may have an experience that shapes us and alters what matters most. Different stages of life may affect what we will ‘fall on our swords’ for.

And those values, whatever they are, drive our behaviors, even unconsciously at times.

For example: if integrity is high on my values list, I will pay far more attention to ethics than if my highest value is wealth. It’s that simple. And… If integrity and wealth are both on my top 5, then I will behave very differently in my business dealings than if they are not together in the top 5.

One more example:

Think about the ‘mafia.’ There are entirely different sets of ethical standards and ‘rules’ driven by different values and relationships. For ‘family’ life is precious. For strangers, life is indifferent. For enemies, life is worthless.

I believe we all know right from wrong within our own system and culture unless we have a very real mental health disorder that distorts reality. It is also clear that what is right for one culture, family, or society can be totally wrong for another. So if we are going to talk about ‘ethics’ we need to consider ethics within a cultural context and determine how much flexibility the culture we live within is going to permit before we deem something unethical.

In our workplaces, what is not acceptable behavior needs to be very explicit to everyone for all of the reasons we’ve just considered. If you want a workplace where your values and principles are honored and matter, then you must be crystal clear about what that means in decision-making, communications, and for managing relationships with people both inside and outside the organization.


About the Author

Roxi HewertsonLeadership authority Roxana (Roxi) Hewertson is a no-nonsense business veteran revered for her nuts-and-bolts, tell-it-like-it-is approach and practical, out-of-the-box insights that help both emerging and expert managers, executives and owners boost quantifiable job performance in various mission critical facets of business. Through AskRoxi.com, Roxi — “the Dear Abby of Leadership” — imparts invaluable free advice to managers and leaders at all levels, from the bullpen to the boardroom, to help them solve problems, become more effective and realize a higher measure of business and career success.


The StrategyDriven website was created to provide members of our community with insights to the actions that help create the shared vision, focus, and commitment needed to improve organizational alignment and accountability for the achievement of superior results. We look forward to answering your strategic planning and tactical business execution questions. Please email your questions to [email protected].

StrategyDriven Podcast Special Edition 35 – An Interview with Robert Kolb, co-author of Corporate Boards

StrategyDriven Podcasts focus on the tools and techniques executives and managers can use to improve their organization’s alignment and accountability to ultimately achieve superior results. These podcasts elaborate on the best practice and warning flag articles on the StrategyDriven website.

Special Edition 35 – An Interview with Robert Kolb, co-author of Corporate Boards explores the motivations, conflicts, limitations, roles, and ethics of corporate boards; answering the often asked question of why Boards and their members behave the way they do. During our discussion, Robert Kolb, co-author of Corporate Boards: Managers of Risk, Sources of Risk and Professor of Finance and holder of the Frank W. Considine Chair of Applied Ethics at Loyola University Chicago, shares with us his insights and illustrative examples regarding:

  • the Board of Directors’ role in managing upside risk
  • how companies deal with the risk of diminished Board independence that occurs when the CEO is also the Chairman of the Board
  • what time-inconsistent misconduct is and why it occurs
  • why compensation plans may encourage executives to engage in exceedingly risky merger and acquisition deals and the actions Boards take to mitigate this risk
  • the Board’s role in establishing executive compensation, including those mechanisms that result in unduly rewarding failure
  • who the Board of Directors should serve… just shareholders or a broader group of stakeholders that includes shareholders, employees, the environment, and society

Additional Information

Robert’s book, Corporate Boards, can be purchased by clicking here.

Final Request…

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Thank you again for listening to the StrategyDriven Podcast!


About the Author

Robert Kolb, co-author of Corporate Boards, holds PhDs from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in philosophy and finance and has taught at the University of Florida, Emory University, the University of Miami, the University of Colorado, and Loyola University Chicago, where he currently serves as Professor of Finance and holds the Frank W. Considine Chair of Applied Ethics. Robert is the author or co-author of more than 50 research articles and 25 finance texts on topics, including financial derivatives, investments, corporate finance, and financial institutions. Robert recently edited the Encyclopedia of Business, Society, and Ethics. He also founded Kolb Publishing, Inc., which published finance and economics university texts and was acquired by Blackwell Publishing, now part of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. To read Robert’s complete biography, click here.

StrategyDriven Project Management Warning Flag Article

Project Management Warning Flag 2 – Breaking-up a Project to Avoid Approval Thresholds

Most organizations increase expenditure authority with each successively higher organizational level. Such budgetary constraints necessitate higher levels of approval for increasingly resource intensive projects; adding to the work required of lower level managers who need to ‘sell’ senior executives on their larger initiatives.


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Five Easy Principles?

It’s not enough to know what to do. Understanding why is important, too, so the Ethics Guy explores the deceptively simple guidelines that govern behavior

Over the past four weeks, this column has looked at some ethical questions that arise in professional and personal life, such as the ethics of New Year’s resolutions, whether it’s O.K. to lie to help the company, and collecting for kids at the office. By now, you might be wondering, “On what are you basing your analyses, Ethics Guy?” After all, it would be easy for anyone to shoot from the hip and say what he or she feels is the right thing to do when presented with an ethical dilemma.

As a professional ethicist, however, my responsibility is not merely to explain what we ought to do, but, perhaps more importantly, to say why we ought to do it. My ethical obligation to you is to provide good reasons for how we ought and ought not to act.

For the next several columns, I will present an account of the five fundamental ethical principles that are the foundation of right conduct in any arena of your life. They are:


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About the Author

Dr. Bruce Weinstein is the public speaker and corporate consultant known as The Ethics Guy. His new book, Is It Still Cheating If I Don’t Get Caught?, (Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press) shows teens how to solve the ethical dilemmas they face. For more information, visit TheEthicsGuy.com. To read Bruce’s complete biography, click here.