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EDIT: this is different from the other questions on ethics because I’ve already reported it and nothing was done. I’m now faced with the decision of how to elevate it, if it all.

I'm a new employee in a well known company in a regulated industry (think: banking, nuclear energy, etc.)

I discovered that we're publishing fake customer testimonials. They set off all the alarm bells: SEO keyword stuffing, similar grammar and length, all 10/10 ratings, all "submitted" around the same time. (If I noticed this, others will too.) I found out this happened because the CEO asked staff to submit these.

Meanwhile, our company ethics and values are repeated passionately in every all-hands meeting. My boss's boss is very energized about this. He and I have a good relationship, btw.

I shared my discovery w/ my boss in person, 1-on-1, saying this is very sensitive. She reacted positively, saying it's not sensitive, it's ok to talk about. She directed me to our marketing guy, who said he'd remove them, and then didn't.

Now, this week, our team listed our 9/10 overall testimonial rating as an accomplishment to be proud of. They joked about their family & friends contributing.


So I see two problems:

  1. the false testimonials
  2. the eroding of ethics in the culture

For me, this is a real risk: I want to get my bonus. I don't want the company caught up in a public scandal.

What should my next action be?

  • I could do nothing because I've reported it.
  • I could go back to my boss and include the cultural aspect. Maybe I'd also say I'd like to ask my boss's boss to talk to the CEO and help reset the culture.
  • I could go directly to my boss's boss who likes me and wants me to communicate more with him. And he's really into our values. I believe he'd be a good one to help guide the CEO to the right path.
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    You have a moral and ethical decision to make, report it to the regulatory body or a news organization and look for a new job due to the fallout, or leave your position after finding a new position under protest of the fake reviews
    – Donald
    Commented May 19 at 23:05
  • 1
    Does this answer your question? Should I report an unethical behavior from a teammate to our leader? Commented May 20 at 2:07
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    VTC - this question: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/188692/… and my answer is IMO applicable here. Commented May 20 at 2:08
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    Apologies for the Double post - If you have already reported it - there are two options: You keep going up the chain until you get a response you like (Middle Management, Upper Management, C-Suite, CEO, Board of Directors, Regulatory body etc.) - and you need to be prepared to be fired and face legal action - or - you live with yourself. I recommend the former as the right thing to do - but eitherway it doesn't change much. Commented May 20 at 5:53
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    "I found out this happened because the CEO asked staff to submit these." The highest boss in the company ordered the employees to do this. So, there is not much you can do here. Commented May 20 at 17:46

4 Answers 4

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Since you are in a highly regulated industry, there is likely a method of reporting to a compliance officer. This might be "Chief Compliance Officer", "Chief Regulatory Officer", or "Chief Legal Officer".

If there is a way to report anonomously, try it first.

Most successful businesses are risk averse. Highly regulated businesses typically are doubly so. It may seem like a small matter, but they likely would nip this behavior in bud quickly if the right people knew about it.

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    In a highly regulated industry there should also be external regulatory boards which probably have whistleblower functions.
    – Peter M
    Commented May 20 at 13:34
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    @PeterM very true. For this item, where hopefully it is a rouge marketing person and a lazy manager, in house can fix it quickly.
    – DogBoy37
    Commented May 20 at 13:38
  • @DJClayworth Thanks for catching my mistype.
    – DogBoy37
    Commented May 24 at 1:14
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Let it go. Choose your battles. You should care about ethics, and you should also be able to tell the difference between a small issue and a big issue. This is not a big issue.

You should keep this between you and your manager. If you can't persuade your manager, you'll be about as persuasive as a horse fly to anyone else. If you go above your manager it just means you're someone your manager can't really collaborate with, because you don't know how to keep disagreements within your working relationship.

Lastly, no one owes you an explanation for how they handle this. For all you know, the marketer is about to be fired over this, and obviously no one would be keeping you in the loop about that. You're concerned about this ethics miss but that doesn't make it your responsibility to resolve.

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    "This is not a big issue." - I think any kind of organised culture of dishonesty towards the public should be regarded as a big issue, not least in any kind of regulated sector. It's also quite right that something is seen to be done about it - such as reprimanding the marketing director, and reversing the dishonest influence exerted upon the public - otherwise the OPs complaint should additionally be about a culture of concealing dishonesty when it is found and acknowledged, and that is even more serious again.
    – Steve
    Commented May 21 at 7:37
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    IMHO it becomes a big issue if the "fake reviews" contain factual errors or deliberate attempts to mislead (e.g. "I know the packaging says diabetics shouldn't take this product, but I did and I've never felt better"). If it is purely about attempts to up the score I would see it as smaller. Commented May 21 at 12:34
  • @Steve Did you stop reading at that line or do you have better advice than persuade their manager and quit fighting if they can't?
    – djechlin
    Commented Jun 2 at 18:05
  • @JoeStevens at that point it's a compliance issue and I'd have some assurance that certain individuals in the company would care. I still wouldn't undercut my manager over it.
    – djechlin
    Commented Jun 2 at 18:06
  • @djechlin, no I read your answer to the bottom line. That's why I included the part about how there should be something visibly done about it, since you concluded by essentially saying the OP should not expect to hear any more about it. You seem to be promoting a culture of unaccountability which is completely contrary to the proper order of things, certainly in a regulated profession. There should now be a minimum of either an explanation to the OP why the company officially does not agree the reviews are fake and he is mistaken, or there should be a withdrawal of them.
    – Steve
    Commented Jun 2 at 19:50
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For unethical companies; "Ethics" is what they will fire those they want to fire over, while those in control can (and will) do whatever they want.

This puts you in a bad spot, where you are both obligated to report it, and yet the company might not comply. With this combination, the best approach is to ensure that you have reported it in documented ways, and keep backups of the documents offline at home, should an investigation ever occur.

Beyond that, I wouldn't push the matter much further, provided you used the company's correct reporting procedures.

I too worked in a highly regulated industry that seemed to take great liberties with some of the regulation points. Eventually they were caught, and for their violations, they paid some pretty massive fines. That said, the fines were a drop in the bucket compared to the money they made, and it seemed like they were in the business of (in addition to that industry) violating the regulations for profit.

This kind of behavior is part of the reason why there is a ranking of "best to worst" banks. The ones at the top would take your complaint seriously and act on it. The ones nearer the bottom would generally blow it off they way you are seeing. That said, many of the most successful companies have histories of breaking the law, because they are run by people who trust that the fine is always less than the money obtained.

So, in short, follow the procedures they recommend, and keep a paper trail outside of the company's reach that covers your actions. Additionally, you might want to hire a lawyer (don't use any company counsel) for a few hours to properly consult you on how to protect your interests should the company decided it's better "fix" your reporting than to "fix" their violation(s).

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Where exactly are these fake customer reviews published?

If they only appear on your company website, this is still clearly unethical but probably not a big deal and will have little to no consequences if found out.

If they are published at some external place than whoever maintains that place will have rules about customer reviews. These rules will in all likelyhood say that fake reviews are not acceptable. First report internally that you are breaking these external rules. If you are told this is fine, you can decide whether you want to report this to the external place.

You wrote you are in a highly regulated industry, if these customer reports are something you are legally required to publish, there will also be rules about this and there is some government agency whose reponsibility it is to enforce them. So this works essentially the same as publishing at some external place.

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