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I’ve been working in the same place for 10 years. Today, a staff member (who is related to our supervisor) approached me and told me that our supervisor had to lend the boss several thousands of pounds of her own money because the boss didn’t have enough to pay staff wages. The boss has a fancy home and cars etc, and according to the relative he is taking money that’s supposed to be put back into the business and using it for personal things. She says his accountant is cooking the books for him. This is quite shocking to me, but I have no proof! The staff member is not always a reliable narrator but I don’t believe she would outright lie. How should I proceed?

Edit: Thank you all. Just to clarify for those who didn’t follow, it’s the relative of the supervisor who told me all this, not the supervisor herself. I would have to ask the supervisor to corroborate the story, but am hesitant to do so as I still wouldn't have proof and would likely lose the trust of the relative.

  • 2
    This is a bit hard to believe. I would stay away from it. Who owns the company? – paparazzo Apr 30 '18 at 12:35
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    Which country are you in? You may be legally obligated to inform the financial ombudsman in your terrority of even potential accounting irregularities. – Burgi Apr 30 '18 at 16:16
  • What is your role in the company? – rooby Apr 30 '18 at 22:53
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    Judging from the fact that OP mentions Pound as the currency, combined with the fluency of the language I can only conclude that the country is either United Kingdom (and dependencies) or South Sudan. My bets are on the former. – pipe May 1 '18 at 11:31
  • I know you've already accepted my answer but I've made some updates per people's comments which you might find useful. Good luck! – MonkeyZeus May 1 '18 at 11:52
126

Step 1: Resume working as normal.

Step 2: Update your resume.

Step 3: Start applying at other places.

Step 4: Get ready for a fallout.

Step 5: Either the company is in trouble and you will start to see additional signs of trouble, the company recovers and shows no additional issues, or the company was never in trouble to start with. In the third case, the other employee might be spreading false information in hopes of someone else screwing up and diverting attention from the employee's recent mishap which you are not aware of.


Per comments from @1006a:

The following is UK specific.

You can try contacting the HRMC (HM Revenue & Customs) to double-check that you aren't going to get whammied for not having proper tax and national insurance payments made.

If there is an issue then this could be a tell-tale sign of things to come.

  • 26
    Please add this step (unless you work as a self-employed contractor). Check with your benefits to make sure the business has been paying its share of your withholdings. For instance, if you live in the US and call up EDD, they'll be able to tell you what numbers they have on file for you. – Stephan Branczyk Apr 30 '18 at 14:56
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    @StephanBranczyk I'd like to add your info but what is EDD and how current is their data? Is it a once-per-year situation? Also, OP does specify "several thousands of pounds of her own money". – MonkeyZeus Apr 30 '18 at 15:00
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    Ooops, you're right. I missed the "pounds". My mistake. EDD is the US based unemployment program. Their info has always been extremely accurate and up-to-date for me, but of course, they don't deal in pounds! – Stephan Branczyk Apr 30 '18 at 15:06
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    EDD is California's Employment Development Department. Presumably Stephan meant "your state's equivalent" since Unemployment Insurance is a Federal-State joint program, and so you have to deal with this at the state level, not the federal level. – Kevin Fee Apr 30 '18 at 16:22
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    Yes, that sounds about right. The main point is that if the boss really has been misappropriating funds then that might include the money that was supposed to go to the government in employees' names. This can have negative consequences for the employees even if it wasn't their fault, so the OP would want to know about that ASAP. – 1006a May 1 '18 at 13:04
66

You should inform that staff member that since she has knowledge of criminal activity she is obligated to report it to the authorities or else she becomes an accessory herself.

If the boss is embezzling and the accountant is defrauding and the staff member does directly know this then it's up to her, not you, to figure out how to proceed. You can not do anything yourself because you really don't know anything.

The point of telling the staff member to talk to the police instead of talking to you is not necessarily to give her good advice. The point is to stop her from recruiting you to play a part in the sitcom she's performing called "Office workers convince themselves boss is a crook and get in deep trouble". You can do this by substituting a different drama called "Apixe is the wise one in the gang who always knows the correct thing to do".

  • “a relative“ ... – DonQuiKong Apr 30 '18 at 14:53
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    @ErwinBolwidt Under UK Law (since OP mentions Pounds) a Failure to Disclose is a crime under the "Proceeds of Crime Act 2002" - conditions include when the person has reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting, a crime with evidence or information which gives reasonable grounds for such knowledge or suspicion and that he can identify the other person mentioned in subsection (2) or the whereabouts of any of the laundered property and does not disclose it to a nominated officer, or a person authorised for the purposes of this Part by the Director General of the National Crime Agency – Chronocidal Apr 30 '18 at 15:43
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    @Erwin Bolwidt: The point is not to give good advice to the staff member. The point is to stop the staff member from recruiting Apixe to play a part in the sitcom she's performing called "Office workers convince themselves boss is a crook and get in deep trouble". Apixe can do this by substituting a different drama called "Apixe is the wise one in the gang who always knows the correct thing to do". – A. I. Breveleri Apr 30 '18 at 15:51
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    @dwizum: So if someone tells you he saw a crime committed, your advice to that person would be to keep quiet about it and not mention it to the police? – A. I. Breveleri May 2 '18 at 7:20
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    @dwizum: There are two possibilities: a) The person talking to OP has evidence -> go to police. b) They do not have evidence -> They should stop spreading rumors! By asking them to go to the police you are asking them to choose between these two alternatives. – Stig Hemmer May 2 '18 at 8:36
22

How should I proceed?

I think you should remember this saying that holds true most of the time. There are three sides to every story:

  1. Side A
  2. Side B
  3. The actual truth

In your specific case you only know what side A is claiming. You don't know the other side, and you did not witness anything, you really only know 1/3 of the story at best.

With that in mind, you should consider minding your own business and do not get caught up in the rumor mill antics.

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    Actually by induction there are N+2 sides of a story, where N is the amount of interviewed persons. The other two are the interviewer's and the real truth, that is impossible to grasp. Pics or it didn't happen is a corolary. The proximity factor to the truth is directly proportional to that a certain amount of convergent sides agree. This is one of the reasons a jury almost always need to be unanimous. – Mindwin Apr 30 '18 at 14:32
  • @Mindwin Interesting concept... – Mister Positive Apr 30 '18 at 16:14
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    Just because it isn't guaranteed to be completely true, doesn't mean it's guaranteed to be completely false. I wouldn't trust unverified rumors without any sort of proof, but at the same time, I would start updating my resume if I heard rumors like that going around. – neminem Apr 30 '18 at 16:35
7

How should I proceed?

Scenario: You do not believe that person

Business as usual, nothing to do.

Scenario: You believe the company struggle to survive

If a company need several thousands pounds to survive and cannot get money from a credit line and finally, an individual made the difference by lending money. I would expect the company to crumble in the next 12 months. I will prepare accordingly: saving money, updating my resume and aligning my skills development to my next job.

Scenario: You believe your boss is shady and can result legal trouble

I would not whistle-blowing something without any proof. This can be the tip of the iceberg. The backfire can be very strong. At minimum, you will blow yourself and your supervisor. In the heat, the supervisor can reverse everything that she said and you will be the one who invented a story. This can drop your reputation and someone can sue you if there is no proof in the end.

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    if he needs to borrow money to pay salaries, then next month could be last – BЈовић May 2 '18 at 6:29
3

If you believe that this is real and not your staff member making up nonsense then I would proceed as follows.

I think in this scenario the most ethical approach would be to anonymously notify the authorities via some form of whistle-blowing service that keeps your anonymity as what he's doing is a serious criminal offence in most countries. Let them handle it if the fact it's happening bothers you and your own set of personal ethics. Though either way I'd distance myself from all of this as much as possible.

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    Actually if it is NOT real, then it is ALSO a serious criminal offense - lyint about someone comitting a crime has several legal consequences as well as possible "i lost business because of that, pay up". – TomTom Apr 30 '18 at 11:50
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    I would not whistle-blowing something without any proof. The backfire can be very strong. You will blow yourself and your supervisor. – Sebastien DErrico Apr 30 '18 at 12:07
  • Even saying something anonymously might not help. The staff member likes to talk, and if authorities show up, it might not take much for the staff member to go around telling people that the cops showed up right after they told the OP what was going on. – curt1893 Apr 30 '18 at 12:26
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    @SebastienDErrico The whole point of whistle blowing at least in the UK, is it's anonymous and can't generally cant be traced. Though if it's a big company (which is sounds like it isn't) then those rules can end up changing. Though my point still stands. – li x Apr 30 '18 at 12:46
  • Regardless if the allegations are true or not, this will create trouble for the company, based exclusively on hearsay. I do not think this approach is ethical. For ethical whistleblowing, the whistleblower should have at least some level of confidence that their allegations are true, – Peter May 1 '18 at 15:05
3

Do not spread the rumors. This could potentially be career suicide and you do not want to get caught up in the rumor mill. If the rumor is true and the company crumbles you will soon find yourself looking for a new job. Since you have worked at your previous company for 10 years it will likely be your only reference for the work you've done over the past decade. If your boss hears that you were spreading this rumor (true or false) he might be angry at you and give you a bad review to potential future employers.

If you hear any other coworkers talking about this I would recommend removing yourself from the conversation and do not comment on the topic. If you are approached directly I would recommend changing the topic to something else.

Keep your resume updated and continue on as normal. If you believe these rumors are true I would recommend looking for a new job.

1

It’s possible that this is an attempt to get OP in trouble. They may be hoping OP will tell the authorities a story that they know isn’t true and then deny that OP heard it from them. Obviously if that is the case, the safest response is do nothing. But it’s also possibly true, in which case the other answers are reasonable.

Since you can’t be sure which, perhaps the only thing common to both scenarios is you should start looking for another job!

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    IMO this is an answer, and not such a bad one: Do nothing. – Vector May 1 '18 at 18:53
  • Correct. I thought the implication was obvious. – WGroleau May 1 '18 at 20:40
  • Upvoted, because there's no way this answer should be lower than the "Go ahead and ask the boss if he's been stealing" answer. – Kevin May 1 '18 at 21:14
  • @WGroleau maybe do update your answer with this explicit statement, it deserves to be said. – Pierre Arlaud May 3 '18 at 9:10
  • @PierreArlaud: Done, though I really think it shouldn’t be necessary. – WGroleau May 3 '18 at 13:05
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Have their been any rumours about the company being in bad shape financially?

One obvious solution which hasn't yet been suggested is ask the boss. (Edit: Not ask him if he's been stealing, but ask him about the company's financial situation.) If he's genuinely been stealing, then of course he's not going to fess up. But if the company has really been doing badly, then how he responds to you will tell you plenty. If he can tell you that the company is going through a rough patch, then at least bonus points for honesty.

As far as the house and car goes though, you can't judge the company by that. He may well have earned them in the past, or he's inherited money, or his partner has a good job too. And for the car especially, you get more credibility with clients if you look the part, so that could be legit even if it did come from the company. They could be coming from dodgy dealings with your company, but it's not a safe assumption.

If you're in the UK, a limited company has to file accounts every year. Look up the records on Companies House for starters. I assume other countries have similar systems, but I wouldn't know where to start looking there.

Owners and directors are perfectly entitled to take money out of the business as dividends at any time - what you're interested in is how much has gone out. Also check the value of loans and assets, because those are a top way for books to be fiddled.

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    ask the boss - Worst possible thing to do IMO - no better way to get further into trouble. – Vector May 1 '18 at 18:52
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    Yeah, this seems particularly bad. Nothing like going up to the person responsible for your salary and saying, "I heard a rumor you were stealing from the company. Any truth to it?" – Kevin May 1 '18 at 21:12
  • @Kevin Hardly! But by all means ask the boss 'I heard money is tight for the business right now - is that right?' I've done that myself. As far as stealing goes, like I said, there are perfectly legit ways he can be getting money out. The business may not survive, but if it's his business then that's his call, and you're SOL, and it's still not stealing. – Graham May 1 '18 at 22:18

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