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When an auditor was inspecting our workplace I was told to go hide in another room from him. I have never, and would never do anything that would create an issue. I find being told to go hide very hard to take. Next time this happens I am going to refuse. Do you think I would be right in refusing this, or is my boss allowed to tell me to hide? When asked why the explanation was "In case they start asking questions."

closed as primarily opinion-based by Retired Codger, paparazzo, jimm101, gnat, Lilienthal Apr 15 '16 at 13:58

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 45
    In one of my job, it was very clear that no one should talk to auditor unless asked to and we were to be careful what we would say when an auditor was around. If the auditor heard anything that seem to then shady (even if everything was done properly), we could be in trouble. It's like not talking to the police without a lawyer. – the_lotus Oct 20 '15 at 11:21
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    This story springs to mind. – Tobia Tesan Oct 20 '15 at 12:25
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    "Animal welfare" audits probably means that your workplace works with animals professionally? That usually is not a side activity. Whether it's in an animal shelter or in the meat processing industry, failing a welfare audit probably wold have caused a shutdown of the facilty? – MSalters Oct 20 '15 at 12:49
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    Were you singled out? Would they have reasonable cause for assuming that you might say something that would jeopardize the audit? For example, I could see them doing this with an employee who is vocally critical of the company, or has a terribly inappropriate sense of humor (akin to joking about bombs in the airport security line). Or maybe you know something they'd prefer to keep secret. (I'm not justifying anything, just pointing out possibilities. It's hard to answer this question without some hint about the why.) – Monica Cellio Oct 20 '15 at 15:11
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    "I have never, and would never do anything that would create an issue" - that suggest you have a rather naïve understanding of what external audits done by professional auditors are all about. Most people who have been involved in such audits would jump at the chance not to be involved in the next one, however "blameless" they are personally. – alephzero Oct 20 '15 at 16:17
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Just an alternative viewpoint as compared to the other answers: There are very good reasons why you would keep an employee from talking to someone from the outside. Typically example: when we do have press visits you have to carefully watch what you are saying since it can show up in print the next day. Same for legal disposition (say for a patent dispute) or an tax audit.

This is not about trying to hide bad stuff: These type of interactions typically have very specific and non-intuitive sets of rules and therefor require special training and preparation. So it's pretty normal that you restrict the interaction to people who have the proper training. There is really nothing nefarious about it: you just want to avoid that someone slips in their enthusiasm of getting interviewed and all of a sudden next years product plans are in tomorrows paper.

This being said, that must be properly communicated to everyone involved and that clearly did not happen here. "Go in there and hide" is a very inappropriate instruction. I think your best course is to talk to your boss and find out why. It may have nothing to do with you personally whatsoever.

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    All true, but how does this apply to an auditor? I've had auditors over, and some junior programmers were explicitly told what they should do when approached by the auditor: answer "i'm new here since <date>, have not worked on <project> and did not have <training> yet.". We didn't want them to speculate, but there's no reason to hide them from the auditor either. (Obviously, it was acceptable for us to have those non-trained employees in that situation. In situations where safety training is a prerequisite to even be on the workfloor, this wouldn't have worked.) – MSalters Oct 20 '15 at 12:44
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    Non-intuitive rules are the name of the game in ISO-9XXX audits. If the OP hasn't been prepped on what to expect and how to respond to auditor questions appropriately, it is totally reasonable for them to be asked to step out during the audit. That said, one can see how being asked to leave would be disturbing to someone that wasn't expecting it. – teego1967 Oct 20 '15 at 12:53
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    Depending on the nature of the audit, it can only hurt you. Even if you have nothing to hide, saying something that is taken out of context or misconstrued becomes a he said/she said with the auditor, which you will lose. And even this answer might be a little too hard on your boss: its entirely possible he expected you to tacitly understand this when he told you to hide. Clearly from the other answers (and even this one) that expectation was unreasonable. – Jared Smith Oct 20 '15 at 13:07
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    @MSalters, in the auditing situation which you cite, preparation for those new employees was relatively simple. There are are other cases where anyone in the work area is considered "fair-game" by the auditor. If someone hasn't been sufficiently prepared they really shouldn't be there for an audit. – teego1967 Oct 20 '15 at 13:31
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    @Relaxed it may have nothing to do with the rules or training whatsoever. Consider the case that employee x has always called a certain procedure 'frobnicating'. This is employee x's name for the procedure, its official name is something else in company documentation. Auditor asks employee x what he/she does. "Oh, I frobnicate the widgets". Unbeknownst to the employee 'frobnicating' is an actual procedure that is illicit. Now the auditor has proof of wrongdoing. This particular example may seem contrived, but its so easy for information to be misconstrued or taken out of context. – Jared Smith Oct 20 '15 at 18:35
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Note up front:
You are misinterpreting that it has something to do with you (I have never, and would never do anything...). As Jane commented, yes, something fishy is probably going on, but it has nothing to do with you personally.

Answer:
Yes, your boss is allowed to tell you what to do (on work-related issues). He is your boss, and it's probably in your contract one way or another (usually phrases as "Employee can be expected to do X (or: other than X) in case Y").

Outright refusing it can cost you your job.

You should however, after the first time this happened, ask why you had to leave - and tell that it makes you feel uncomfortable.

There are several reasons why you should discuss this:

Integrity: You suspect something fishy is going in and you do not want to be part of any lie.

Self-interest: The reason you should discuss this is that it may impact you. It's one thing that your boss asks you to do something you do not quite understand, but it's another thing when it has consequences for you. I can imagine scenario's like "The auditor gets the impression that you were not there when you were supposed to be", or "The auditor did not get the answers he wanted and will come back asking specifically for someone knowledgable (you)". All speculation, but your boss seems to want to maintain a lie and that comes with a cost (which should not be yours). Your boss makes you an accomplice.

Misunderstanding: It could still have an innocent or justifiable reason - see Hilmar's answer for thoughts on that.

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    Honestly, they aren't very clever about it. They could have easily given you an errand or something out of the office to do while the auditor was present, or any number of other things rather than "hide", which raises so many red flags I don't even know where to start. The more I hear, the more I would strongly suggest you consider looking for a new job. – Jane S Oct 20 '15 at 10:26
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    @Lilly You may want to watch yourself jumping to conclusions. We don't know the ins and outs of our workplace and situation but "I believe he is following", "someone who would degrade me at any chance", and "most likely the desired intention" are not facts (especially that last one sounds farfetched to me). – Jan Doggen Oct 20 '15 at 12:34
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    It is perfectly fine to refuse your boss if you have a good reason, so that is not "an answer". The OP is reacting to feeling excluded and wasn't given an explanation. It really was not a big deal that she was asked to step out (the OP obviously isn't aware what to expect in an audit), but it could have been handled better with simply an explanation. – teego1967 Oct 20 '15 at 13:06
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    "Yes, your boss is allowed to tell you what to do." He most certainly isn't. He is allowed to ask me to do things, and if I don't do them he can create certain consequences from a very limited set of options. It's a relation of trust between two adults. – Peter Oct 20 '15 at 15:16
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    Incidentally, it should be pointed out that handling an audit professionally means having discussed all that with everybody beforehand to define who will talk or interact with the auditor. I see why you wouldn't want junior employees to volunteer information or talk to an auditor unless that's absolutely necessary but actively hiding is hard to justify, no matter how hard you try to conjure some innocuous explanation for it. – Relaxed Oct 20 '15 at 16:12
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TL; DR

Your post is not unbiased. In most cases, workplace issues are a mix of facts that are objectively verifiable, and interpersonal issues which are often subjective and generally favor the employer. You need to separate the facts and the interpersonal issues at play, and then carefully review your practical options (if any) for taking the initiative to improve the workplace environment for yourself.

In the end, you may improve the situation by opening a constructive dialogue with your company management, but they are unlikely to simply hand you the resolution you seem to want. Furthermore, you certainly run the risk of taking a single incident and turning it into a job-ending interpersonal issue, so you should evaluate all of your options very carefully to ensure that you are approaching the matter from a professional and constructive basis.

Analysis

When an auditor was inspecting our workplace I was told to go hide in another room from him. I have never, and would never do anything that would create an issue. I find being told to go hide very hard to take and it upsets me.

Even assuming that you have provided an exact quote, and that your supervisor's exact words were "go hide from the auditor", there are potentially legitimate reasons for asking unqualified employees to stay out of the cross-hairs during an audit.

Unless you are an authorized spokesperson for the company, or your role or job was itself the subject of the audit, then your unauthorized presence represents both risk and liability for the company. Your unauthorized and potentially untrained responses to a sensitive audit could have serious legal and financial repercussions for the company, so unless you are playing the role of a whistleblower or have knowledge of legal or ethical wrongdoing on the part of your employer then you really have no legitimate business quarrel here.

The heart of your concern seems to be about feelings. You found the instructions "hard to take" and had an emotional response (e.g. "it upsets me.") While this may be good grist for the mill for a conversation with your supervisor about the nature of audits and your relationship with the company, the company is not generally obliged to put your feelings or opinions ahead of its own interests except in very narrow legal areas such as discrimination or harassment, the nature of which will vary quite a lot from region to region.

Review Your Options

Unless you have a legal accusation to make, then you should:

  1. Accept that your feelings are not the primary concern of the business.
  2. Acknowledge that being a professional sometimes requires that you put the needs of the business ahead of your own feelings, unless they violate ethical or legal requirements.
  3. Request an explanation from your supervisor about the incident, and discuss ways to handle it in future in mutually-satisfactory ways.
  4. Accept that you may not have a legal leg to stand on, and that making a fuss could create an uncomfortable work environment for you.
  5. Decide if you feel strongly enough to risk your job, and then speak up if the answer is unequivocally "yes".
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    It is clear to me now that my feelings are getting in the way of the facts. If this situation arises again I will not think anything of it. However, I have undergone extensive training explaining exactly what to do when asked questions by the auditor and I am one of very few employees who are actually fully qualified. With your factual analysis and some of the other comments I have a greater understanding of the situation now. I was given an explanation when I asked why I had to leave but the explanation was not the whole truth. For some reason that set off some feelings, I am only human – user43075 Oct 21 '15 at 9:49
  • @Lilly would you mind updating the question with the explanation of the conversation with your employer? – n00b Oct 21 '15 at 17:39
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Being asked to go hide sounds suspicious but at the end of the day, it might be just a joke. My response would be that "Maybe I should go hide at home?" and see if I get a paid day off work.

Unless you're aware of something specific that is happening that an auditor would be interested in, I wouldn't worry about it. If the auditor deems it necessary to talk to you, they'll follow protocol and ask your boss.

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    :) "Go hide" .... three hours later, come back. "Where were you?!" "Well hidden!" – CGCampbell Oct 20 '15 at 15:24
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    @CGCampbell this is the funniest comment I have ever seen on the whole SE. – Salvador Dali Oct 21 '15 at 19:33
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Let me add a different viewpoint:

Imagine the auditor asks you a question about your workplace, where you know that the honest answer would have negative consequences for the audit - maybe not a total failure, but an earlier re-audit. Would you want to be put in a situation where you have to make an ethical decision about the value of honesty?

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    I would rather not be put in that situation, that is one positive way of looking at it. I would prefer to be a trusted member of the team like everyone else though. – user43075 Oct 20 '15 at 11:05
  • "I was asked not to express my opinion directly to the auditor." "I am not authorized to express my opinion outside of the company" or a variation thereof. In some contracts it's even prohibited in writing. Okay, legal wording is different, but you get the point. Nobody can force you to express YOUR opinions, unless in court. They can blame it on the boss, but an audit cannot fail for reason of not telling your opinion. If they fail it for that, your company could go to court and win easily. The above is only my opinion. No pun intended. (I'm not a lawyer) – Neolisk Oct 20 '15 at 23:51
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    There's no ethical decision to be made. Lying to the auditor is not ethical under any circumstance, period. The auditor is there for a reason, and if the business hasn't been conducting itself as required to pass an audit, then that's the only ethical failing (and it belongs to the business). Lying to the auditor (or willingly participating in what is clearly a scheme to hide information from them) just adds a personal ethical failure on top of the business's. – aroth Oct 21 '15 at 11:45