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A co-worker casually confessed to me that he buys company products at an employee discount, then resells them online for a profit (more than what he purchased). The company has a clear policy against this exact scenario -- the discount can be used for friends and family, but not for reselling.

To be clear, I didn't ask him to tell me, he volunteered the information. I told him that I do not want to know hear anything about it again.

Many companies have ethics training, to avoid conflicts of interest and possible lawsuits. For instance, accepting gifts is not allowed. Giving contracts without due diligence can lead to lawsuits. I cannot exactly recall, but I think that companies with those policies, if you witness an activity like that, you are obliged to report it.

My current company doesn't have any ethics training. But, even so, am I under any obligation to report unethical or illegal activities? What should someone do if they learn about unethical and/or possibly illegal behavior at work?

closed as off-topic by gnat, Dukeling, Snow, Rory Alsop, Cronax Mar 13 '18 at 13:47

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6

If you have a grudge against this employee and want to launch an investigation into their activities out of malice then you can dig around for proof.

At the moment all you have is a conversation, taking that to superiors may harm you and at the very least would get you embroiled in some unpleasantness and make you at least one enemy. You're already going to leave so it's not going to help advancement.

My advice is to leave it be, it's not your problem or responsibility and all you have is a conversation, no proof.

Do not make an enemy unless you have to, you never know where that person will be in the future and you may regret it, people do not forget bad turns.

  • Especially as you never know Wether said said superior isn’t doing the same... – Laurent S. Mar 10 '18 at 23:50
  • @LaurentS. Yeah, this is a good point. It's unlikely the employee does not have collaborators, since he has to buy the products from the sales team. – user70848 Mar 13 '18 at 17:08
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Issue #1

The family and friends discount loophole is a systematic problem inside the company. You could report the problem and (perhaps) get the guy fired, but that probably wouldn't change much in terms of outcome overall.

Instead, if I were you, I'd submit an anonymous report of the issue, but I wouldn't name the person taking advantage of the policy, nor would I tell them where those items were being sold. Because if the company really wanted to find out who was taking advantage of this policy, or where those items were being sold (probably Ebay), they could probably figure it out by themselves with a little bit of investigative work.

But I suspect that whoever decides to take on this particular issue (assuming someone even wants to touch it) will be politically savvy enough to try to change the system itself instead of going after the individuals taking advantage of the system. Also, I would choose very carefully who to give my report to. For instance, if the company was public, I would inform the shareholders of the company. But if the company wasn't public, I'd have to settle by giving my anonymous report to a couple of executives (who may act on the information, or who may completely ignore it).

On a side-note, if you're an employee at an Apple store, your employee discount is small (I forget the exact percentage), and you're only allowed to use it for one computer and one iPhone per year. That's it! No more than one of each. If a family member wants one, that means you'll have to forego buying one for yourself that year.

Issue #2

The constructions projects without permits. I would use a similar approach. I'd submit my report anonymously. I wouldn't name a particular culprit. And I would submit the report, where I think it would have the most immediate impact, in this case to the planning commission itself.

And I would do this in a heartbeat if I knew that this lack of permits might cause a safety issue, or a health-related issue. Or simply, if I had my name attached to the project and I was the one being pressured to do the thing illegally in the first place (in which case, I'd make the report using my name to ultimately protect myself, but I'd ask the planning commission to keep me as an anonymous source).

That being said, if I wasn't in charge of the project itself, and if I found the requirements of the zoning commission unreasonable, I probably wouldn't intervene.

And in no way, would I put a target on my back by reporting either of these issues officially to the company itself, or by reporting these issues without the cover of anonymity. They should know about these types of problems already. And the fact that they aren't aware, or haven't resolved those problems, could imply a degree of apathy or complicity on their part.

  • You focused on that quote which I removed because it wasn't that relevant. – user70848 Mar 11 '18 at 15:20
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    There you go, I changed my answer. But please be aware, when you change your question and someone has taken the time to answer the only part that you've actually changed (or removed from your original question), you could actually be nicer about asking for an update. – Stephan Branczyk Mar 11 '18 at 18:13
  • You took the time to answer the wrong part of the question. The title and tag asks about responsibility in encountering ethical behavior at work, not quitting. I removed that part to clarify the question for everyone, not just you. Whether you choose to update your answer is up to you. – user70848 Mar 12 '18 at 14:51
  • Please open a discussion on chat. This is not the place. – user70848 Mar 13 '18 at 21:53
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Since you in the first instance appear to want to follow the letter of the law, no matter who wrote it or who benefits, the answer to your question is on your own employment contract. Retrieve the text of your contract, find the clause under which you ought to report the alleged behavior, and under that clause and mentioning it explicitly, i.e., by paragraph number, report it. You want to have all written documents relevant to the conduct in question and what ought to be your conduct in turn ready to be referenced.

Be neutral about it. Say that you don't personally approve or disapprove of anything -- and in fact I don't think you'd be tasked in your job description to agree or disagree with anything beyond your duties and sphere of competence or evaluated according to your level of agreement -- say simply that the conditions appear to have triggered that triggered this clause and thus you're acting on it. Report it and stop there. Once you've reported it, it's off your hands. It won't be your job to follow it up.

If you want to go further regarding illegal construction, and you feel your duty as a 'citizen' is to do something about it -- this time against the company wishes and/or convenience -- report it to the authorities, anonymously if you can, non-anonymously if you can't, and you dare. Or admit you're a citizen with a conscience but no enough guts, and you'll have to shut up and leave it there. If you do report it, do it with evidence. A report without evidence is nothing, it is hearsay, it is opinion, speculation, not actionable, a waste of time. You may have to gather evidence in secret. If you can't or won't do that, better save yourself the bother.

As for trying to change the company ethics and make her adopt stronger standards, that will not happen. You'll fight a lost cause because that's none of your business. Companies can have strong ethics or lax, companies can benefit the owners more than the managers or employees, or vice versa. Companies are set up for people to profit, not to be 'model citizens'. Whoever interests are at play in this are stronger than your will to intervene. You can't control what 99.999% of people and companies in the world do, so why this one? If it's not of your liking or being in it gives way to thoughts that stir your mind, just leave it, find somewhere more compatible. Don't hit your head against a wall. Rather, walk around the wall and do something you like.

  • The question is less my situation and more obligations when becoming aware of illegal or unethical activity. – user70848 Mar 11 '18 at 15:18
  • @user70848 There's actual questions and rhetorical questions… there's morals and moralism. – jchevali Mar 11 '18 at 16:08
  • I don't understand what point you're making. The question is if you know about something unethical or illegal at your company, are you obligated to do something about it. Many companies have policies that are explicit in what they expect of employees. I wouldn't want to be held accountable for someone else's bad behavior, because I didn't say something. – user70848 Mar 13 '18 at 17:06
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It all depends. How much would the company get if one of their salespeople sold the product? How much does it cost to produce the product? Is what he is doing more like stealing from the company, or more like working as a sales person working for commission in his spare time? Did he find the customers, or are they people who contacted the company?

Find out, then make your decision.

Meanwhile you can warn your colleague that the company may be very unhappy if they find out, and it could have any kind of nasty consequences. Obviously losing the employee discount. Or losing the job. Or depending on how his contract is worded, he might be asked to repay the employee discount.

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