My employer has been known to be fairly unethical in the past. The owners do not seem to care much about compliance and everything is frantic. I am currently looking for a new position.

However, today I have been asked to complete a task that I feel is simply unethical and illegal. However, they are reassuring me that everything is okay and that it is my job to complete the task.

We provide IT services to various federal agencies (DHS, DoD, Army, etc.) Sometimes with proposals you are asked to submit signed letters of commitment for the key personnel you are proposing for the job.

Today my employer told me to pull a signature from another document and sign a letter of commitment for an individual who does not know anything about the opportunity we are bidding.

Because it's not a legally binding document, they're saying it's not a big deal and the we've done work with this person before.

My point, though, is that forging a name on anything is not acceptable. What should I do?

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    Just to play devil's advocate here - how do you know the individual owning that signature is unaware of the work and/or would not approve of the use of their signature? I don't want to give the appearance of supporting what may be obvious fraud, but when I was consulting, it was common to keep the consultant's signatures in order to use them for letters like this - without the explicit consent of each person for each specific letter - consultants basically gave blanket consent for them to be used in that manner, as needed. This was common practice in the industry. – dwizum May 15 at 18:17
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    Is there any reason you can't or shouldn't ask this employee directly whether they've given the company permission to use their signature in the way dwizum describes? – BSMP May 15 at 19:55

Assuming you want to stay a law-abiding citizen, you should refuse.

This is fraud. There is a reason it's a signature, not just a printed name. Forging a signature is illegal, it doesn't matter if the document is super important or just "a little" important.

Refuse to do it. Look for a new job as soon as possible.

Depending on how you feel about it, report them to the proper authorities.

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    Oh, and the DoD and friends... they don't forget things like this. OP probably won't get caught, in all honesty. It's unlikely to get checked, and if it is, the manager will probably assume they signed it as part of the documentation. (Note, I'm not recommending doing it, I'm just saying statistically, they're unlikely to get caught.) But if they did get caught, their career in anything government related is essentially over. Certainly, kiss goodbye any security clearances. – corsiKa May 16 at 0:20
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    @corsiKa And, possibly, their career period. Depending on what, specifically, OP would be convicted of, it could easily ruin their odds of getting any high-responsibility job in the future. – Nic Hartley May 16 at 4:28
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    Please do report it, you'd be encouraging them if you don't plus they might forge your signature under a document later on if it benefits them... better to have the trend documented & reported beforehand. – Konerak May 16 at 6:41
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    Yea, defrauding the government, and that is what this is, can lead to jail time in a federal prison. – Pete B. May 17 at 17:25
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    This +100. I have friend who worked in real estate. His boss asked him to Photoshop some signatures and other shenanigans. They got caught. Boss is in prison and my friend plea-bargained guilty, years of probation, and is now a convicted felon. Ruined his life. – Rocky May 17 at 21:10

Okay, you are now officially in over your head. See a lawyer who specializes in employment law ASAP and let them know EVERYTHING, update your resume, and get out as soon as your lawyer says you should.

Not only is this fraud, but you may also be a party to it if you say nothing. Again, this is why you need a lawyer ASAP.

Follow the advice of your lawyer and proceed.

In response to the comment below: There are legal search services you can use such as avvo.com or a simple Google search. The local Bar association can help you as well. Or, if you know a lawyer, you can ask him for a referral to one specializing in employment law

  • @TKK and others, I've made a meta post that might be a better place to continue this discussion if anybody is interested. – Kamil Drakari May 17 at 16:25

If it really isn't a big deal, then your boss should be willing to send you an email clearly directing you to this task. Tell your boss that it doesn't seem right to you, but if they will send an email explaining what needs to be done, you will do it.

If your boss isn't willing to do this, then you should respectfully refuse to do the task.

The goal is to keep your job right now, so that you have time to find another one (as it may be necessary), without doing anything illegal where YOU can be the one thrown under the bus.

If they do send you an email, make sure you forward it to your own, offsite email before doing the task. You want a copy of that email where they can't delete it.

If you are pretty sure it is illegal, and the boss is willing to give you written directions, then you can take those directions to a lawyer to find out if you or the boss is right. If it is illegal, don't do it! But if the boss is willing to give you written directions, then it might be ok (or at least the boss thinks it is ok).

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    If I was to do something illegal, having an email confirming that I was going to do something illegal doesn't seem like the best option. Even if the email is accepted as evidence, does the fact that he was following orders really mean he's immune from the charge of forgery? Seems to me that maintaining plausible deniability over who actually made the forgery is safer, no? – André Paramés May 15 at 20:10
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    @AndréParamés - asking for an email is a clear way of drawing a line in the sand - if it IS illegal, the boss is not likely to clearly implicate themselves. And, as Angel says, it also gives you something concrete to ask the lawyer about, if the boss really does think it is ok and is willing to send an email. – thursdaysgeek May 15 at 21:38
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    @PeterCordes frankly I find this answer dangerous without some evidence, ie, legal cases where that was established. Ignorantia juris non excusat is a saying for a reason. – André Paramés May 16 at 7:33
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    This answer would be better if it didn't recommend actually doing the task. Asking for written confirmation is good, but still doesn't give you clearance to do illegal things. – pipe May 16 at 7:47
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    @PeterCordes - the task may or may not be illegal, although the OP thinks it is at least shady (and I agree). But asking the boss for something more than verbal direction will make it clear whether the boss thinks it is legal or not. If the boss doesn't think it is legal, the boss will NOT want to give a written direction that could be used against them. This is a way to see if the boss considers it ok or not. And also gives you something more concrete to take to a lawyer to find out if it is ok or not. Only if it is, should the OP do it. – thursdaysgeek May 16 at 18:12

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned the obvious: Ask your employer about legal clarification:

Go up to your boss and ask them how it's legal to do what you're doing because you don't want to personally break the law.

I don't think anybody would hold that against you and if they fail to offer an explanation or tell you to just do it, THEN your best (by far) option is to get a lawyer because government contracting + NDA can lead to blowback (also add the signature so you don't get fired in the interm).

What's the worst they can do? Fire you for asking? That might be grounds for wrongful termination (if it's not at-will) + you don't want to work for them anyways then.

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    The VW engineer that wrote the emissions code was jailed. – Gustav Bertram May 16 at 8:47

If you want to go by the book, there are several things you should do.

Notify the subject of the request, or request his permission/signature directly.

This person should have the final say regarding whether or not his resume and commitment are submitted.

He should know which proposals or bids are associated with his name.

Notify the agency. Anonymously, if possible.

I worked for an established contractor a while ago. This is not how things are done.

Your company's proposal is not being made in good faith and should be removed from consideration.

If they reasonably believe this person would commit, they should have no problem getting a signature with his informed consent.

Contact the labor department for your state.

If there are protections for whistleblowers or wrongful termination, they can tell you how to take advantage of them.

Unfortunately, employment law varies from state to state, so your legal protection largely depends on where you live and work.

  • "Notify the subject of the request" - this really should be the first step. We have electronic images of our President and GM's signature that we slap on quotes and certs all the time as a matter of convenience. They know we do this and actually prefer it because otherwise its a pain for them to be interrupted every time their "signature" is needed. – noslenkwah May 17 at 21:03

IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer)

Even for your boss I am not sure if this would rise to criminal charges. It is fraud but not sure it would rise to criminal charges under RICO Act. Still something you want to stay away from. This may be better on law.stackexchange.com.

I get the proposal may not be legally binding. A person may not be available when the contract starts. But a forged signature is fraud. The agency might not file charges but they would likely never do business with the company again. Your boss is taking a foolish risk.

That is close call as you are not making the representation. You are being asked to facilitate. The manager should just have done it them-self. You have to worry this is to use you as a scapegoat.

If you do this for fear of losing your job then be sure you have it in writing you were instructed and stated your objection. They can state you altered email. To get a server subpoenaed is not cheap or easy. You could cc his/her boss but things could go poorly for you. I think refuse would be better than cc.

That said when I worked as a consultant I know my name was used on many proposals that I was not ware of. But I had worked with them before in that capacity and they knew I was not tied up in a long term contract. For sure they did not forge my signature.

You shouldn't sign, unless all your superiors are unable to operate ballpoint pens. You're right to be concerned about that.

Apart from that, I'm on your company's side. They're trying to do business in a marketplace where the buyers insist on them making promises they can't keep. Lincoln freed the slaves. Employees come and go. The group that put together the RFP is only trying to put together an excuse bank, which they can use to tell their superiors they were lied to, if things go bad.

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