May 23, 2015 • By Dennis Beaver
Is your boss asking you to lie for him, or to cover for the promises he makes to customers that he does not fulfill? Have you told the companies or individuals he owes money that payment has been sent, not to worry, and to deliver ordered merchandise, even when you knew that no payment was on the way?
If this sounds familiar, then we’ve got another question: How does the idea of free room and board sound, courtesy of the California Bureau of Prisons? Because that’s exactly what’s faced by one of our readers, who we’ll simply call Crystal. Her email states in part:
“I work for a company that manages apartments, many of them Section 8, and the tenants are often moving from one bed-bug infested unit to another, requiring that we call out pest control services often.
“My boss is terrible at paying our suppliers, maintenance people and especially the pest control companies we use. I know that he does not plan to pay them for months, and I really wonder if ever. He orders me to say that we never received their invoice — so they re-send what we already have — or that we signed their check and payment is on the way, and I know it isn’t true.
“Can I get into trouble if I continue to lie for him? What bothers me also is that many of these same companies not being paid continue to respond to our calls for service. I need this job, but my mom tells me that no job is worth going to jail over and to listen to your advice.”
‘Tell your reader to get out of there fast!’
“Your reader has potentially become of a criminal conspiracy with her employer and needs to get out of there, fast,” warns Bakersfield-based attorney Jay Rosenlieb. He specializes in representing business owners.
“A lack of honesty in business — unethical conduct — is commonly seen when the boss directs the person in accounts payable to say to a vendor, ‘We mailed the check last week,’ or instructing the purchasing department manager to phony up a credit application.
“So, if you want to stay out of trouble with the law when faced with obvious dishonesty by management, ask:
(1) How do I maintain my own dedication to doing the right thing — acting honestly — and not get terminated?
(2) How can I make sure that I do not become involved in business activities that could expose me to criminal prosecution?
“Submitting a false credit application for the employer knowing that he has no intention or ability to pay so that he can buy goods from a particular vendor makes you part of the conspiracy. Why? It’s because you have induced the vendor to deliver goods based on that false credit application.”
Signs you are in the danger zone
“When an employer asks you to do anything you recognize as dishonest, untrue and misleading, it’s a clear violation of business ethics. Think of Enron’s collapse in 2000, and the epic losses caused by a dishonest mortgage industry — using phony income statements — which threw our country into the Great Recession, sending many real estate people to prison. Merely following orders is no defense to being sued civilly or prosecuted criminally,” Rosenlieb stresses, adding, “And if you find yourself in this situation of being asked to lie for the boss, in a polite manner, express your feelings.”
“But, what if the boss won’t budge and threatens to fire the employee, or actually does? Would a refusal to follow those orders be seen as insubordination and prevent getting unemployment insurance?” we asked.
“If you were terminated or simply quit, you would almost certainly qualify for benefits,” he strongly maintains, but points out that there is a difference between a business decision, and where dishonesty is being practiced.
“You tell the boss, ‘I really don’t think we should start selling our Christmas products in July.’ That is a business decision that would only hurt the business. A refusal to follow that directive is insubordination and could get you fired, as it is not your call.
“Contrast that with, ‘Tell the suppliers that we will pay them next week, but we are not going pay them until two months from now.’ In this case, you can say, ‘Boss, I can’t tell that to those people, because I know what we are going to do and that would be untruthful and would hurt someone.’
“Crystal needs to keep in mind that if her boss isn’t ethical with other people, will he act any differently with her? People are consistent.”
“Dennis, tell Crystal that she might just be the next victim,” concluded Rosenlieb.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.