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I work in big engineering organization. I have a very efficient, dutiful and experienced supervisor working under me. He has gained a great respect for his longtime services in the organization. By virtue of his experience and knowledge, he is important for our organization.

A few days ago I learned of a few complaints against him

  1. He claims overtime for more hours than he has actually done.

  2. He accepts delivery of substandard items from some vendors in return for financial benefit.

  3. He promotes favoritism among our staff, giving unauthorized benefits to some workers including extra leave, overtime etc.

Considering his services and the mandatory requirements for our organization, I decided not to take disciplinary action against him. At the same time, I want to communicate to him that he should not dare to repeat such practices in the future. By virtue of his experience, age & services, I don't want to tell him personally by calling him in my office.

How can I address this issue effectively and in the best interest of the organization? I cannot afford to expel him from our team, and at the same time I do not want him to repeat these bad practices in the future.

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    He's stealing money via overtime and manipulating vendors for his own personal benefit. You can't possibly claim he is "valuable" for the company. Sorry, but no amount of experience or knowledge is worth someone who will blatantly act so destructively. Any worker can be replaced. – dwizum Nov 30 '18 at 19:20
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    If you "cannot afford to expel him" then you first need to re-structure your team in a way that no member holds you hostage in this manner. After that, you can easily address any problematic employee. – sf02 Nov 30 '18 at 19:27
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    Nobody is indispensable - or rather, nobody should be allowed to be indispensable. That's effectively a hostage situation. If you show him that he will receive no consequences for his actions, what exactly makes you think he won't just continue with them? You have to be able to discipline any subordinate, up to and including termination. Otherwise your organization is dysfunctional. – TheSoundDefense Nov 30 '18 at 19:45
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    @paparazzo your link is to this question. – Time4Tea Nov 30 '18 at 21:33
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    @AhmadRaza Are you telling me that, if this person was run over by a truck/left for another job/committed a felony and will be in prison for five years, your organization would just fold up? If so, somebody screwed up bad. If not, you can get rid of him if you really have to. – David Thornley Nov 30 '18 at 22:59
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The only thing worse than someone with selfish, blatant disregard for company policies is someone who behaves that way, yet masquerades as a good employee and hopes that their positive reputation will get them out of trouble.

Validate the rumors, then seek help from your employer to make sure you understand the proper methods to deal with the facts, once you actually have them. The accusations you've collected (lying about overtime, receiving personal financial benefit from business relationships with vendors) are very serious and could be putting him, you, and/or your employer in a bad legal position if they're not dealt with.

You say you want to do what's best for your organization, yet you also seem unwilling to enforce company policy. Consider that the company has put policies in place because it views them as the best way to handle certain situations. In other words: If you truly do want what's best for the company, enforce it's policies. Or, seek help/guidance from someone in a position to change or interpret them for you.

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    Yes you are right that company has clear policy to tackle these cases but in exceptional case few decisions are taken otherwise in the best intrest of organization running affairs. If you have not suitable backup to replace such persons than only option left is to retain him by adopting requisite corrective action. – Ahmad Raza Nov 30 '18 at 19:29
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    If there was a fox getting in your hen house and killing your chickens, would you evict the fox? Or just leave him a nice note asking him not to eat your birds? Sometimes you just have to rip the bandaid off. Firing him will sting in the short term, but every day he sits there stealing from the company with a big smile on his face, you're gushing blood. – dwizum Nov 30 '18 at 19:59
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    Terminating this employee is done to cut them off and stop the problem they're causing by stealing from your employer. It's not done to "make him an example for others." You keep mentioning "requisite corrective action." If you're unwilling to fire him, and you're unwilling to even speak to him face to face, what exactly do you mean by "requisite corrective action?" – dwizum Nov 30 '18 at 20:25
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    @AhmadRaza It sounds like you're protecting this employee, because this employee is "such a great employee". I don't think you understand, if the client heard they were overbilled by this person, and if was discovered you were protecting this employee, the legal action would punish you both, and you'd lose the client, and your company would suffer. I don't think you're helping the employee, the company, or you. Don't be afraid to do a harsh thing, when it is the right thing to do. Collect evidence and if it supports getting rid of him, get rid of him. – Edwin Buck Dec 1 '18 at 14:18
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    @Edwin It sounds like in addition to all of the above, he's deliberately siloed off information or skills for himself, as a means of retaliating if challenged. If that's the case then the OP letting him know he's been found out and is being watched closely may cause more retaliation. – Julia Hayward Dec 2 '18 at 8:20
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The first thing you should do is verify those complaints by whatever means is possible, and document carefully everything about them. You cannot accuse someone of things so serious without extensive backup. And you should do this no matter what you decide to do about him.

Are you sure he's indispensable to your organization? Can you make it a project to collect most of the knowledge he has that you really need? Consider that he is setting a bad example for the entire organization, and may be the source of a lot more you don't know about, from him directly or from the friends/followers who see what he's getting away with.

  • For the time being I cannot afford to expel him out but as long term measures I have decided to trained at least two more supervisor as a backup to tackle such issues – Ahmad Raza Nov 30 '18 at 19:24
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    Yes, it seems wise to train replacements. But then I wouldn't necessarily tell him about it, as he can do even more damage if he's not feeling secure. And you should cover yourself both legally and with higher management by gathering cast-iron documentation of his offenses, past and future. – user90842 Nov 30 '18 at 19:29
  • This is only reason that I cannot tell him personaly in this way he will feel himself un secure. Till the time I have no suitable replacement I have to go ahead with him with requisite corrective action – Ahmad Raza Nov 30 '18 at 19:32
  • You should be very careful with corrective action too, as he will likely perceive that he's been found out. If I were you I'd make myself a written plan of what needs to be corrected, and announce it all at once as I announce he's been dismissed. Then it will be clear to everyone why he's been dismissed, and that you're trying to redress it all. More might come out then, so be prepared to act further. – user90842 Nov 30 '18 at 19:35
  • Exactly right. .. I have noted your valuable opinion to implement. – Ahmad Raza Dec 2 '18 at 4:36
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In my view the main point is that several of the things he supposedly does are not just "against company policies" but outright criminal on the personal level (Fraud, corruption etc) and place huge liabilities to your company (e.g. if the substandard products hurt/kill a customer).

I am assuming that these things turn out to be true (after investigating these by sufficient means, e.g. hiring an private investigator)

  • Realize your losses: You have to fire him. His knowledge will be lost, and you have to replace him.

  • Work on minimizing the damage - make sure that you find employees in his team who have been cut out by his favoritism and make sure they know that you are on their side, so that you have people available to take over the team who are not somehow depending on him

  • Do not go to the police now. The offer on your behalf to the guy not to go to the police if he does as he is told may be a valuable bargaining chip. The same hold for all other employees who profited from the guy and looked the other way then he did what he did

  • Figure out how good his connections to the customers are. Did he bribe customers? If so, you may have to prepare for loosing business (or paying up). Talk informally to the most important customers he worked directly with about his work - go to the next level, not the technical contact level. You can dress this as a management-managment follow up in the style of "what can we do better".

  • Figure out if he managed to put liabilities for you or others into the books covering up his responsibility

  • Once the person in question realizes that you investigate/plan to replace him, the gloves have to be taken off. In that moment you have be ready to hit him with everything you got, fair or unfair, honest or lying, treating civil+criminal lawsuits, disciplinary action, public destruction of his reputation, and potentially even thing on the border of legality (e.g. exposing things your PI found out accidentally), and that hast to happen visibly enough that everybody in the company knows that he has to choose sides. Those who do not choose sides with you have to be walked off the premises the next day.

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How can I go through this issue effectively and in best interest of the organization? I cannot afford to expel him out from our team, and at the same time I do not want him to repeat these bad practices in the future.

You have a manager/supervisor that you report to, let them know.

The employee is an insider threat. They do some great things and some things that are destructive to the organization. You are letting their strengths let them get away with destructive behavior.

Imagine that the person who reported them to you, goes over your head. When your company finds out that you protected somebody who was stealing from them, they might not accept excuses from you. Expect to be disciplined, but you might end-up fired - or charged.

Also letting them keep their job could cause the employee to shift how they are stealing, or they might accelerate their action.

  • I respect your opionon , despite availability of all legal and disciplinary action to tackle such issue, sometimes in the best intrest of organization running affairs you have to decide otherwise. Unfortunately we have not suitable backup for him who can be well known of technical process ess like him. In the long run I have decided to trained at least two supervisor like his caliber as backup to tackle such issues – Ahmad Raza Nov 30 '18 at 19:38
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    But does your boss know? – mhoran_psprep Nov 30 '18 at 19:39
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    Yes I have already told him with all details of evidence bcos if he will come to know from other sources than it will shatter my confidence – Ahmad Raza Nov 30 '18 at 20:01
  • The last paragraph is important, it can certainly lead to a shift or acceleration. – Kilisi Dec 1 '18 at 15:17
  • Rightly said. .. – Ahmad Raza Dec 2 '18 at 4:38
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"By virtue of his experience and knowledge, he is important for our organization"

Fix that problem immediately. Locate employees who are keen to learn the domain knowledge that he has, and work with them to get them trained up.

Then (or probably sooner), get concrete evidence of the employees activity - not just gossip - and then fire him. He is a thief, and his activities - and your acceptance of them - may reflect on you. Make sure that HR is involved at all stages, so that due process is followed.

This is an opportunity to show your mettle as a manager. Take it.

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Fire him. Don't mince around. If you let things slide, he'll harm the company more. If you confront him, he's likely to leave anyway. You can't effectively bargain with him.

If your guy died in a traffic accident or got a fatal heart attack, you'd cope. If he ran off to Las Vegas with his ill-gotten gains, you'd cope. If he wound up serving prison time, you'd cope. You wouldn't like what you had to do, and it would cause serious problems, but your operation wouldn't just be shut down. Similarly, if you fired him, you'd cope.

He isn't working for you any more. He's working for himself. He's not going to cooperate in being made dispensable, because he'd realize that that would lead to you firing him. He's not going to do any knowledge transfer or get anyone else up to speed. You can fire him now and have serious problems, or fire him later and have serious problems in addition to the damage he does between now and then. There will never be a good time to fire the guy. Now is the best time.

Right now, he's getting overtime money he isn't due. That's not really such a big issue compared to the others. He's screwing up your supply chain, and that can have extremely serious consequences. He's demoralizing your staff. As time goes on, you're going to be using more and more substandard parts, jeopardizing your corporate reputation and laying yourselves open to potentially massive legal liability, and in addition your staff will get worse because of him.

If you investigate and find he's clean, fine. Then you need to figure out who was making such scurrilous reports. Otherwise, fire him.

The entire point of this answer is to tell you why you have to fire him and why the reasons for not firing him are unsound. For your best course of action, see Sascha's excellent answer.

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I think George M's answer is good and I agree: you should do everything you can to investigate, substantiate and document these alleged violations by your subordinate.

I think violation number 2 is potentially very serious. If he has been taking 'back-handers' from vendors to accept poor quality product, then that is a conflict of interest. Many large organizations have very strict, zero-tolerance policies towards this and if you try to sweep it under the carpet, then it may have some serious implications for you.

Regarding that matter, I think you have a responsibility to bring it up with your superiors and probably your company's Legal department. If this conflict of interest is serious and has been going on for a long time, then he may simply need to be let go, regardless of his experience or value to the company. I would let the more senior Management and Legal guide you on that.

If your leadership and Legal team agree that his 'sins' can be forgiven, then at the very least I think you would need to call him into your office and have a private, face-to-face discussion about it. You should explain very clearly that these violations are in breach of company policy and unacceptable. In that scenario, you can say that, in light of his experience and service to the company, the company is willing to give him a second chance; however, if there is any repeat of these violations, then you will have no choice but to resort to disciplinary action or terminate his employment. If it is a private conversation, then there should be no risk in terms of harming his reputation within the company.

If you are his boss, then it is your responsibility to ensure he is complying with company policies and procedures, and it is your responsibility to discipline him, if necessary. If you try to avoid confronting him on this face-to-face, then I am afraid that is just going to make you come across as a weak Manager, and you may give him the impression that he will be able to get away with breaking the rules in future.

  • Thanks for your comments, I am 100% agree that such cases must not be tolerated as these can produce bad name for organization and product as well. Despite availability of these legal and disciplinary action to tackle the issue, sometimes in the best intrest of organization running affairs you have to decide otherwise. Unfortunately presently I have not suitable backup to replace him. By virtue of his experience he had vast knowledge of technical processes. So in present circumstances only option left is to go ahead with him with requisite corrective actions. In the long run I have decided – Ahmad Raza Nov 30 '18 at 19:46
  • Most large corporations I have come across would not see it that way. They would take the view that no one employee is so indispensable as to justify taking a risk with legal exposure or damage to the company's reputation. Again, I strongly recommend that you take guidance from higher Management and/or Legal. – Time4Tea Nov 30 '18 at 20:03
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    Exactly right. It is our mistake that we cannot trained backup of his caliber. I have also discussed the issue with my executive manager and told him my exception. He has also same opionon that by necessary corrective action we have to go ahead with him till the time we have suitable replacement. – Ahmad Raza Nov 30 '18 at 20:11
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I see a few issues here, some are already mentioned above.

  1. It is a management failure that you have such a low bus factor. You should deal with this immediately irrespective of the outcome of the ethics investigation. Having a high key person risk affects your organization, the employee (they are always "on call", and normally can't be moved within the organization).

  2. Tolerating this behavior tells your staff that you are willing to accept ethics violations "if you are important enough". Is that really the kind of culture you want to promote? Hey, steal from me and as long as you are critical its okay. This leads to a toxic work environment.

  3. Firing this person would set a great example for the rest of the staff, who undoubtedly are aware or have heard the same rumors you have and would lose their faith in management if nothing is done.

How can I address this issue effectively and in the best interest of the organization? I cannot afford to expel him from our team, and at the same time I do not want him to repeat these bad practices in the future.

It is in the best interest of the organization not to bleed money. If any of your other staff (who I am sure have heard the same things as you) complain to an external body (a judge for example), you risk being charged as someone actively enabling this behavior. You and/or your company may also be held liable for all the illegal gains you enjoyed while knowing about the corruption.

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