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A friend of mine who recently graduated from college came across a situation at work that has put her into a moral conundrum. Her employer/the owner of the small company (5-7 in house employees, plus a number of sales reps) she works at is expecting her, as well as other employees, to do homework for his children. This homework ranges from junior high level work to college level research papers. He also tells the employees that they will be held responsible if the kids get a bad grade on the work that they do. My friend has serious problems with this, and it been causing her lots of stress outside of work as well. This is in addition to other somewhat questionable decisions that have been made by this owner as well before she started working there.

The obvious goal would be to find a new job and get out of there are fast as possible. However, that may not be possible before the homework starts to affect her recommendations from the company.

How should someone who finds themself in a situation where an employer expects them to do something against their conscience, but not totally illegal, handle the situation? Can she refuse to do the work, then take legal action if she is released because of it?

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The legality part of the question is going to be local. –  JeffO Aug 28 '12 at 19:15
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Don't we all want to say, "tell the boss to stick it and if you fire me, I'll report your kids to the school." This coward would never call your bluff and his kids will learn a lesson. –  JeffO Aug 28 '12 at 19:46
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Has your friend politely suggested to the business owner that it would be best for his children if they did their own homework? Obviously there is something awry here if he has asked in the first place and threatened employees on the basis of grades received; but, phrasing the refusal primarily in the interests of the children, rather than personal moral objections, might cause him to reconsider. –  halfer Aug 28 '12 at 19:52
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@maple_shaft - Hmm, I'd tend to agree. I was going to say how would such a moron end up in a position of power like that, but you just have to look at politics and that theory is out the window. :-) –  Anonymous Aug 29 '12 at 6:59
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@acolyte - There are different types of morons, and a person can be really good at one thing, and really bad at another. Politicians don't "just end up" in a position of power, either. They pursue it. They're really good at getting votes, but whether they're any good at anything else is often questioned. Sames goes for the owner. He's good at starting a company and doing the initial sale of whatever it is his company does. Whether he can do anything other than that is a different matter entirely. –  Shauna Aug 30 '12 at 13:37

8 Answers 8

up vote 29 down vote accepted

I have my doubts that this is a true story personally, but for the sake of others who find themselves in such an egregiously unethical or potentially illegal situation I decided to answer anyway.

Depending on where you live, this may be illegal

Regardless of ethics, or the good intentions of this woman, or the self preservation instinct that guides her, she can still become in a great deal of legal trouble by doing this. Don't think for a second that a kind judge or an understanding jury will hear her case and let her go. Certainly a district attorney will press charges anyway.

This is a fantasy. My one brother narrowly avoided jail time and paid tens of thousands in fines on acts he did with the best and most innocent of intentions. My other brother may permanently lose his medical license because of a doctor ordering him to use a medical device that he was not trained, certified or licensed to use in that state.

If he would have refused he would have been threatened with termination. It would have been far better for him to lose a job than lose a career.

He may fire me and give me a bad recommendation though!

This is an irrational fear and not one you should take into consideration. Chances are that the boss will realize if he fires you with reason, then he opens himself and the company up to a potential lawsuit for wrongful termination.

When bosses do illegal things and they want to get rid of people who know too much or have become a liability to them, they almost always do so discreetly and for seemingly benign reasons. They would be foolish to say anything negative about the employee at all as this just draws more attention to them and the real reason behind the firings.

My wife worked at an attorney's office where he was engaging in fraudulent real estate deals and cooking the books of his LLC. When she started noticing fishy things in accounting she was QUIETLY let go without reason and they even gave glowing recommendations of her.

What can I do to seek justice just in case?

In case the guy is a complete fool or madman and decides to carry out his threats, acquire proof of what he was asking to do or threatening you with for not complying with his demands.

  • Keep any emails mentioning this in anyway

  • Retain conversations by email or voicemail between you and others in the office complaining or discussing what the boss is asking of you.

  • Save or forward voicemails mentioning any of this between her and the boss, or even her and the other employees.

  • Buy a $50 voice recorder, keep it in your pocket discreetly, and engage in a conversation about it with the boss.

If you do any of this and he lets you go FOR ANY REASON then you will literally have attorneys specializing in employment law crawling out of the woodwork pleading with you for them to take your case. It would be cut and dry case and she could walk away with millions because of it.

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Tape recording people without both parties consent is illegal in some states: slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2011/03/… –  jdb1a1 Aug 29 '12 at 14:20
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@jdb1a1 Even in the few states that have these laws making this illegal, there are usually explicit exceptions for "suspecting highly illegal activity" or where there is no "... reasonable expectation of privacy." IF charges were even to be brought against you for doing this, any decent lawyer can argue that there is no "reasonable expectation of privacy" in the workplace. If the employee was invited into the bosses home then it would be illegal but certainly not a public workplace. –  maple_shaft Aug 29 '12 at 14:28
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The only thing I would add to this otherwise great answer is that I would want out immediately; not only to refuse to go along with unethical behavior, but also out of suspicion about what else someone with such poor ethics may be doing. With no morals, they may be invading the employees' privacy or worse (identity theft? fraud? stealing?). –  NickC Aug 30 '12 at 4:25
    
Upvoted for the first section. Yeah, doing this could go very badly, though I'm not sure how likely. I think the second section is dangerously misleading though: the risks of a bad reference may well be less than the risks of buying into this, but it's a crapshoot whether the boss lets it go, or becomes irrationally angry -- he may back down but if he were logical and sensible, he wouldn't be cajoling his employees into this sort of thing in the first place. –  Jack V. Aug 30 '12 at 10:43
    
@JackV. That is a fair criticism, but when being bullied, would you really be happy living in fear of an irrational response? It is a game of poker sure, but my intuition tells me that he is bluffing. If not then your contigency is being laid off for reasons against employment law in which point a retaliation with a lawsuit will both damage the boss and reward yourself. Read Art of War when you get a chance, battle should always be the last resort in a confrontation, but don't put yourself in a confrontation unless you are sure you can win. –  maple_shaft Aug 30 '12 at 10:56

Alright, I'm going to preface this with a few disclaimers.
1) I am unsure of the individual conditions of this situation, thus my advice should be taken with a grain or two of salt.
2) I am unsure of the actual legal ramifications of certain acts in the locality of this situation.
3) What i advise is simply my gut feelings of how to proceed, based on what is commonly accepted as normal practice. There could be any number of variations/deviations from that normality, but I cannot speak to those.

Now, your friend is facing 2 main problems:
1) doing the work for a student might be illegal (VERY unlikely, except for certain SAT/college level assignments).
2) her boss is forcing her to do the work, under threat of dismissal.

The only solution to these is to contact a lawyer. A lawyer can tell her if doing the assignments can be considered an illegal action or not.

Regardless of the legality of doing the assignments, her and the lawyer should sit down and go over her contract in detail. Specifically look for any sections relating to dismissal or firing, and conditions that can precipitate said event. There is normally a sort of catch-all entry in that section, but the important thing is that her contract does not specify doing kids' homework as part of her expected duties. Then, if any of these requests/orders to do the homework have been given in traceable form (ie, non-verbally. On paper or via email), they should be presented to the lawyer. Getting it on paper/email is critical, because that will avoid any possible he-said/she-said cases. From there, follow the lawyer's advice. They are the only ones who can give advice regarding local laws.

Informing the school is somewhat iffy, as that would lead to punishments for the children, and not the boss. That part is up to your friend.

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+1 for TALK TO A LAWYER –  maple_shaft Aug 29 '12 at 18:18
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@maple_shaft i'm thinking of making a topic on meta about bringing back the 'legal' tag, but making the tag wiki entry state that "QUESTIONS WITH THIS TAG SHOULD NOT BE ASKED HERE, BUT INSTEAD ASKED TO A LAWYER" –  acolyte Aug 29 '12 at 18:22
    
@acolyte who reads tag wikis? If the tag exists, any question it applies to is a perfect question for the site! –  Jim Sep 17 '12 at 19:24

As someone who has quit a job for moral/ethical reasons, I say your friend needs to quit immediately. If she doesn't have another job lined up, she runs the very real possibility of getting all sorts of negative feedback from life partners, housemates, family, friends, acquaintances, ex-coworkers, but she will not be wearing down her soul bit by bit as she sinks into acquiescence, moral turpitude, and depression. No joke.

Unless she critically absolutely needs the money and has no resources, I say leave ASAP and let as many people know why as she can without generating fear of blacklisting or retribution.

Documenting the requests will be helpful if legal issues arise, but my main concern is for her emotional and moral well-being.

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documentation is 100% needed, as claims like this without proof turn into he-said-she-said, and then the company can sue her for slander/libel (intentionally lying to damage the boss' professional reputation). It's sad, but that's how it works. –  acolyte Aug 30 '12 at 13:22

Of course, I'm not in this position, nor is anyone else you'll get an answer from here, so there's what we feel is right (which, not being in your position, we would then tell you to do) and there's what we might actually do in your situation, faced with the actual consequences of the decision (like being out of work or maybe even blacklisted).

You're right that the obvious thing to do is get the hell out. Honestly, if my recommendations from that company were predicated on doing homework for children I'm not real sure I'd want them. Job applications have a "may we contact your employer" checkbox for a reason, and trust me, there are MANY reasons to check this box which do not reflect poorly on you. I think this qualifies.

The very first thing I would do if I were your friend is to check to see if I was being asked to commit a crime. Obviously it's plagiarism for the student, but if the author knowingly writes something for another person to hand in, it might be criminal fraud for the author as well. If this is true, most jurisdictions consider it wrongful or retaliatory termination (translated: illegal) to fire an employee for failure to perform an illegal act, and/or for reporting the request to perform such an illegal act to the authorities. There may be a "whistleblower act", or it may be considered in the interest of "public policy" (similar to firing an employee who files a workman's comp claim; if that were allowed, workman's comp would be useless). So, if your friend were to refuse, and was subsequently fired for failure to comply, she should hire a lawyer and file suit for wrongful termination. Any lawyer who heard that story would take the case on contingency and tack his fees on to the stipulated damages.

If your friend actually commits the illegal act, and then reports the crime, she might still claim duress, but it would be harder, as an "at-will" employee, to argue that she was forced to commit the crime; ethically, she could have walked away ("it's just a job"), so she should have, and thus she is culpable for the crime if she commits it, making performing the action and then reporting it a very bad idea (she'd be basically turning herself in; a good thing to do, but she should definitely not expect a medal for it).

If it's not a crime, it's at least extremely unethical. If I were her, I would be trying very hard to find out which schools and colleges the boss's children attend, and inform them (anonymously perhaps) that the assignment for such and such a student was produced entirely by someone else at the behest of the student's father, and that they should reconsider the student's grades and possibly their continued enrollment (if they're in private schools, the code of conduct usually prescribes expulsion for plagiarism).

I will decline to speculate on what I, personally, would do in your friend's place with regard to actually doing the homework assignments. It's not useful to the discussion and would invite criticism either way. Suffice to say, if my boss considered me to be of so little value that he assigned me his children's homework, I would be looking for any way out that I possibly could, and I would not be shy in explaining why I wanted out to other prospective employers.

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The owner is crazy, and is doing permanent damage to his children.

IANAL, but at least in the US this could be illegal (fraud), particularly at the high school and college level.

She should leave ASAP.

She shouldn't worry about the recommendation. Employers check references only after deciding to hire. Prospective employers will understand perfectly why she can't get a recommendation from this man.

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It seems difficult to make "the owner of the small company " to leave, don't you think? –  Sylvain Peyronnet Aug 29 '12 at 11:39
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@maple_shaft - if the owner of the small company 'leaves' that means the company is gone. We're not talking a manger here, we're talking the guy paying the bills. So she's out a job either way. –  Michael Kohne Aug 29 '12 at 11:46
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@acolyte - Unless you can back up that statement that it is not illegal I suggest you retract it. There are statutes that are probably being violated depending on where this is. But this falls under the auspices of Fraud in most if not all states. This could also be charged as conspiracy to commit fraud. Compliance with authority is not an excuse to break the law. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Aug 30 '12 at 17:45
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@Chad the only way to back up my statement would be to examine every single possible case and/or statute. Instead, I invite you to find one instance where falsifying homework/doing someone else's homework is punishable under the law. –  acolyte Aug 30 '12 at 20:03
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@Chad " that would constitute a violation of chapter 2, 10, 11B, 39, 40, 44, 111, or 113B "... 2: Motor Vehicles| 10: Biological Weapons| 11b: chemical weapons| 39&40: Explosives| 44: firearms| 111: shipping| 113b: terrorism. –  acolyte Aug 30 '12 at 20:29

I see lots of answers, but I do not see anything covering the answer I'm going to propose. It's difficult to write you, or your friend, so please take the appearance of "you" / "your" in the following answer as "your friend" / "your friend's".

Discuss with the owner why he needs his employees to do his children's homework, and find out the motivation / rationale behind this.

If the owner gives reasons, some of the reasons might be:

  • lack of time
  • insufficient skills / knowledge to do the homework

Once the reasons are found out, you might want to suggest that what he is doing might be illegal in several states, and when the school finds out, the children might get kicked out of school. Also point out that there might be employees who might comply and may be actually looking for new work, hence the company might lose good employees over this, and if customers find out, they might not be willing to be customers anymore, since it is a questionable company, one with shady ethics.

Propose (if you're willing) that you're willing to tutor the children (either out of good will, or for money, or as part of what you're hired for), either during or after work. Is, or isn't there a clause in your employment contract that specifies "and other duties as assigned"?

Since it is against your conscience, state that you're not willing to do something for money and sell out your own conscience. I assume this issue happens in the US, and since the US gives unemployment benefits, what reasons are there to be afraid of being out of work for doing the right thing? (In other countries, such as Singapore, there's no unemployment benefits, so this wouldn't work in Singapore) If you're fired, so be it. And before having the conversation, if it is legal, record the entire conversation on tape / mp3.

And since you're likely to be hunting for a new job while working at your current location, you need to screen your potential employers with morality questions. Once they've passed your morality test, then tell your story that you're hunting for a new job because of the morality issue, and it is likely if they call up your current employer, they might get a negative recommendation. If the potential employer do not pass the morality test, do not spill the story.

You might just come out better.

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Hey chuacw, and welcome to The Workplace! The asker seems to be concerned that any refusal may result in poor recommendations making it harder to get another job. Could you make an edit to explain how to handle the possibility of a negative evaluation/recommendation based on taking your advice? Thanks in advance! –  jmac Jan 24 at 2:56

To whom it may concern: You should be aware that xxx is attempting to get his employees to do homework tasks, which will be presented to you as having been performed by his children.

cc: xxx, school

Send to xxx. You don't need to actually send it to the school.

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If you list the school as CC'd on a communication, make sure it really is sent to the school. Claiming that you're CCing them and not following through undermines your credibility. –  alroc Dec 26 '12 at 12:36

If it were me I would toe the line and do the homework right up until a month or so before the end of the school year. Meanwhile, I'd be actively hunting for a new job and making meticulous records of the homework. I wouldn't act disgruntled or unhappy about having to do it and I would put in decent effort. The homework I'd do would be excellent, but not so good as to arouse suspicions right away. I'd also make sure to find out where the homework is being handed in and to which teachers.

At the end of the year I'd turn in all of my records and make a full confession to the respective teachers and school administration. Now Richie Rich can fail the class and be humiliated.

What your employer has asked you to do is disgusting. It's an insult to you as an employee and everyone who works hard in school. It's a crime against all of the other students. Unfortunately, simply quitting or refusing won't stop this. They'll just find someone else. My scheme ensures that justice is done. Please consider following my advice.

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This is terrible advice and can potentially get the woman in trouble with the law. Depending on where she lives, this likely may be illegal regardless if she was ordered to do so or not by her boss, she could still potentially face criminal charges. Furthermore, simply going to the teachers and telling them what is happening is no guarantee of justice. Institutions like this if given the chance will sweep scandals under the rug, especially if coming from a potentially vengeful employee who may be making up stories to harm the boss's reputation. –  maple_shaft Aug 29 '12 at 10:57
    
She could still face criminal charges? For what? I'm not aware of any jurisdiction where this would be a legal issue, could you elaborate? Additionally, if the administration sweeps it under the rug she should forward copies to the other parents. –  mimicocotopus Aug 29 '12 at 18:07
    
@mimicocotopus it can be a serious offense to provide material to people to submit on certain papers/standardized tests. –  acolyte Aug 29 '12 at 19:22
    
Right, but she doesn't mention this being anything special like an SAT. It's probably just boring stuff that the boss assumes won't affect his child's learning anyway. In the event that it's actually a crime she should get documentation and go to the police. Otherwise, my suggestion works fine. Toe the line while looking for another job and then burn the boss's parasite, bourgeoisie offspring when you get the chance. –  mimicocotopus Aug 29 '12 at 20:22

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