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So I work for a small financial technology business in the UK, not quite startup size but close. We have a dozen staff on site and usually 5-10 remote contractors working for us. There isn't really a hierarchy so to speak, but I'm generally considered to be the owner's second in command although in practical terms this doesn't mean much.

Around 60% our work is based in the EU, and as such prior to the Brexit referendum the owner sent an email to all staff and contractors informing them that, if they wanted to guarantee their employment past the next 2 years, they should vote to remain. This isn't unusual; the owner of the biggest pub chain in the UK asked his employees to vote to leave for similar reasons. As everyone knows, the leave side won the vote and the UK is exiting the EU.

Without going into too much detail, it has recently become clear that the Brexit process isn't working quite as intended and a degree of economic pain looks to be a likely outcome. The company 'will probably fold inside the next 18 months' according to the owner, and he is visibly distraught. This Monday, he called me into a meeting as he usually does, and told me quite simply to research the social media accounts, internet histories and company emails of all staff and contractors to look for evidence of support for Brexit, and to supply him with the list of names. I pointed out the ethical and potential legal issues with this and he shot me down, saying these people had destroyed the company and he'd happily fudge their performance metrics to give him a solid reason to fire them.

Moralising aside, the most talented engineer in the company, the de facto tech lead, is an ardent Brexiteer. Suddenly losing him at this point along with several well-regarded contractors will almost certainly result in the catastrophic loss of at least two big contracts, which will sink the company unless a lot more staff are let go. Is there any point in trying to salvage this or should I leave my resignation on his desk this afternoon and contact the police?

closed as off-topic by gnat, dwizum, JakeGould, bharal, mxyzplk says reinstate Monica May 5 '18 at 4:13

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  • 11
    @JoeStevens Note that in the previous question you refer to, OP writes "I'm currently seeking alternate employment for reasons that should be obvious.". – pipe May 4 '18 at 15:01
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    @pipe And OP became the "second in command" in about a month, in a startup that has apparently been existing for at least two years, and quickly enough that OP is even "generally" considered to be the second in command? OP is really unlucky, to always land on such insane managers... – user38070 May 4 '18 at 15:40
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    @JoeStevens @@NajibIdrissi Those posts are detailed and well structured. I will give OP the benefit of doubt that he is not trolling. Also, he may post for somebody else. – Sebastien DErrico May 4 '18 at 17:45
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    @pipe ...and "prior to the Brexit referendum the owner sent an email to all staff". The Brexit referendum was in June 2016. If he was around to receive the email, he's been there for two years minimum. – user77891 May 4 '18 at 18:42
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    @Stacey It took a while to understand why you wrote that, but then I figured that you think OP received that email. He never claimed that he did. – pipe May 4 '18 at 18:46
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Brexit hasn't killed your company. Your boss has killed the company by assuming that Brexit will kill your company.

Working and living in the UK for a large technology firm, Brexit hasn't changed anything about how we work. The fact that your boss thinks it's a guillotine pedestal is simply a sign of his bad financial planning.

Obviously, you don't have to conduct his witch-hunt for him.

His paranoia is your cue to start looking for another job - there's plenty of companies in the UK who have planned effectively and will flourish in the post Brexit era.

This isn't a police matter. Anyone sacked as part of this culling can seek advice from CAB/employment lawyer and proceed from there.

Retain that email asking for people to vote in the election. You might well need that, because it's evidence.

  • 47
    Bonus points for having guillotine and witch hunt in one answer. – Mister Positive May 4 '18 at 12:01
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    "there's plenty of companies in the UK who have planned effectively and will flourish in the post Brexit era. " That's rather prescient of you, would you mind picking stocks for me? – Sam May 4 '18 at 15:04
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    It's entirely plausible and probable that businesses have been managed "perfectly" and are still in deep trouble due to being heavily dependent on contracts with clients in Europe. Even if you had a crystal ball and new Brexit was coming, your only options prior to starting such a business would be not to start it. Brexit could not be anticipated by anyone but the people who decided to call for the vote. Your dismissive generalisations are reminiscent of the oft-repeated "positivity => success" misnomer. – Dom May 4 '18 at 15:16
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    Weird. I work in a UK based FTSE 100 company serving customers in over 200 countries. Sales aren't being lost, the walls are not burning down. I don't see panic and dismay in the financial news or papers. Bankers aren't jumping out of windows, the Pound->Dollar rate has been on a general upward trend since the initial post-Brexit dip. I guess you're reading different papers to me. – Snow May 4 '18 at 15:27
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    I don't understand how you go from your anecdotal experience of one UK company that you work for, to a conclusion that all technology companies in the UK will either be fine post-Brexit, or will fail due to poor management. Generalisations usually don't work well, but this one is particularly bad. Your description of the overall economy, exchange rate, etc., are also irrelevant. Those are about the market as a whole. Individual companies do not rise and fall with the market. – Jon Bentley May 5 '18 at 1:40
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Is there any point in trying to salvage this or should I leave my resignation on his desk this afternoon and contact the police?

Neither.

  1. Polish up your resume and start looking for jobs now. If your boss has lost faith in the company, than it's unlikely to survive, regardless of this matter
  2. Putting a resignation on his desk is just passive aggressive. However you can and should tell him "What you ask me to do is in my opinion morally wrong and it may actually be illegal. I think it's also counterproductive and will gravely harm our company. Sorry, but I can't do this". There is a minuscule chance that this wakes him up, but I wouldn't count on it. There is a good chance you will be fired, so be prepared for that. "I'm sorry you feel this way, but I can't compromise my moral integrity. Bye".
  3. Don't go to the police. No one has been harmed yet. If he starts firing people because of their Brexit votes, these people may have legal recourse (as you might have if you get fired). But any legal action has be to tied to a specific case and person and it's up to each affected individual what to do about it.
  • 2
    Regarding number 2, I'm not sure about the UK, but here in NL a potential new employer will have questions about being fired, it would be better for your future career to quit than to get fired if only to not raise flags. – kevin May 4 '18 at 14:05
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    What the heck has happened to the expression passive-aggressive? Now you call an actual physical letter of resignation passive? It's pretty much the most upfront thing you can do. – pipe May 4 '18 at 15:04
  • I can think of a couple of more upfront ways to resign: a) Hand the letter to your boss instead of leaving it on the desk. b) Call a meeting with the boss and explain why you're leaving, face-to-face. – Timbo May 4 '18 at 21:02
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    @pipe Maybe "passive aggressive" isn't the right phrase, but leaving it on his desk isn't very straightforward. Have the confidence to stand there and tell them what it is when you hand them the letter and face your decision. – jpmc26 May 4 '18 at 21:11
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    @pipe Obviously! The letter just passively waits there for somebody to actively read it. Booby-traps are classic example of passive-aggressiveness! – Sopuli May 4 '18 at 21:58
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Is there any point in trying to salvage this or should I leave my resignation on his desk this afternoon

Don't resign without another job to go to. But it does sound very much like it's time to be updating your CV and starting to look for a new job.

and contact the police?

This isn't something for the police as it's a civil matter, not a criminal one. Realistically, the first step here would be for one of the employees made redundant / fired / let go to file a formal complaint and (on the assumption that was dismissed or ignored) bring a case to an employment tribunal. You can't actually do too much yet as your personal employment status hasn't been affected by your employer's actions.

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    If you have a union a representative should be notified, but other than that there is currently no legal recourse except refusing to comply. And I would very clearly state the refusal to comply due to the questionable ethics and legality of this. Most important: get it in writing, email is your friend. I would consider this a case of risking getting fired for non-compliance vs risking getting sued (together with your boss) for compliance. – Stig Tore May 4 '18 at 12:02
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    The chance of a 20 person IT company in the UK being unionized is just about zero :-) – Philip Kendall May 4 '18 at 12:04
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    Are you sure that ordering a subordinate to look through the internet histories and e-mails of every person in the company for political reasons is not a criminal matter in the UK? A source would be ideal to back up this claim. – reirab May 4 '18 at 19:39
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I don't think you have to resign right away, and I'm not sure you even have a case to call the police (I'm in the US though so I'm not up on UK laws).

It sounds like your boss is rightfully distraught, and looking for a good excuse to get revenge. I would seek some language along the lines of "that was a funny joke, now let's get down to business of salvaging the company."

One thing he could do is seek to rebrand the company as anti-Brexit in someway (so pro diversity, pro globalization, etc.) which would have the effect of giving the company some new life blood and discourage your ardent Brexiteers from sticking around.

Another option, and I think this is what you should do since it's clear that the company could fold, is to just stall on this task while you look for your next position. As a kindness, you could keep the conversation out of the news.

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    -1 for suggesting that those who desire to control their own destiny are somehow against 'diversity' – Michael J. May 4 '18 at 17:52
  • @Michael-j +1 from me then so the value of the answer is corrected, political semantics aside... – Stian Yttervik May 6 '18 at 5:15
  • @MichaelJ. +1 from me too, because not agreeing with you does not equal not wanting to control your "destiny", quite the opposite, we are not letting you control ours. :) – Rares Dima May 11 '18 at 1:27
  • @Rares Dima So you too assert that every citizen of the UK that supports leaving the European Union is "against diversity"? You'll not change many hearts and minds by making accusations like that. How about extolling the virtues of remaining in the EU rather than trying to convince those who disagree that they have some kind of character flaw? Just a thought. – Michael J. May 11 '18 at 19:32
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    :: munches on popcorn :: – LeLetter May 14 '18 at 21:54
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The company 'will probably fold inside the next 18 months' according to the owner, and he is visibly distraught.

Is there any point in trying to salvage this or should I leave my resignation on his desk this afternoon and contact the police?

There's not much to salvage here. Sounds like the company will only be arounf for 18 months or so no matter what you do.

So no - don't bother trying to salvage this.

And no - don't leave your resignation on his desk this afternoon.

And no - don't contact the police.

Instead, use the remaining 18 months to update your resume, find your next job, give the appropriate notice period, then leave.

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Whether due to Brexit or not, if the owner believes that the company will fold inside of the next 18 months, there is a good possibility that it will, so is probably a good idea to start looking around for another job.

That said, to solve your current dilemma, is there any reason why you cannot simply "do" what the owner asks:

research the social media accounts, internet histories and company emails of all staff and contractors to look for evidence of support for Brexit

And just report that you could not find anything? Many would say that this is too passive-aggressive, but the owner has asked you to perform a task that you find unethical and that he has no right to expect you to do. To my mind, this is a lesser problem than a confrontation that, from your description, seems unlikely to have a positive effect.

  • If the owner is going to ask to snoop everyone for unacceptable views, the response to "I couldn't find any" (when he knows or can guess there probably are some) will be disbelief, probing, and probably the OP either accepting looking bad, being put on the spot, or otherwise tricky. I wouldn't do this, because of the reaction if the OP were to try and say he/she found nothing. – Stilez May 4 '18 at 23:58
  • @Stilez: This is the UK. If the boss fires people because of their views regarding Brexit, that will cause him legal problems. If he fires you because you didn't snoop in other employees' private affairs, this will go to an employment tribunal and you'll make him pay. – gnasher729 May 6 '18 at 11:24
  • The point is that even if his intended action fails (due to law/tribunal), it's rarely a good idea to avoid a request by pulling out an excuse that will only add yet more engagement and tension when it (almost inevitably) fails, due to being transparent, well before any tribunal is on the case. If an avoiding tactic can't actually work and will add tension and accusations when it does fail, then, pick a different avoiding tactic in the first place – Stilez May 6 '18 at 21:19
  • @Stilez Fair enough. What would you do instead in a way that would leave the OP in a better (or at least equal) position with his boss? – Michael J. May 7 '18 at 13:06
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    That's something each person might do differently. Perhaps say "I can't do that, I'm afraid." Or "Maybe that's not a route we should go down right now". Or "When you end up prosecuted, barred, or sued, I don't want to br in the dock with you. Sorry, no." Or "I have too much to do, to start tracking people down in social media and gallivanting over everyone's Facebook pages and browsers. I'll do all the business work needed, but if you want social spying, you'll have to hire someone, and I'll say outright, it won't end well." But that's me, it might be completely wrong for the OP. – Stilez May 7 '18 at 15:09

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