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My boss wants me to do shady things.
January 14, 2006 10:46 PM   Subscribe

How do you refuse to do something your boss asks of you without jeopardizing your job?

For the first time I find myself working for a company who's ethics and standards on things make me uncomfortable. I work in the accounting department, and my boss often asks me to do her dirty work- nothing illegal like keeping two sets of books, just things I feel are wrong and am not comfortable with.

For example- when a customer has overpaid, or has a credit balance, we don't inform them. We do not send out credit memos, we let the customer "see them on the statement." However, if a customer has a credit balance, we don't send them a statement at all. After a while, if the customer does not order again and the credit balance sits there, my boss asks me to write it off, instead of sending them a refund or at least contacting them. Obviously the problem with this is that if a customer has made a bookkeeping error and is unaware they have sent us too much money, they won't know about it, because we aren't sending them a statement, and in fact go out of our way to hide the fact from them, so we can just keep the money after a few months if they don't ask for it back.

All of my previous jobs, I worked for companies who would immediately contact customers if they had overpaid somehow and offer them a refund, or ask if they wanted to just use it as a credit. And this is only one example of the kind of shady, dishonest things she asks of me.

How do I best go about approaching her with this and letting her know I will not do these kinds of things? Up until now I've just passed these occasional requests on to other co-workers who don't really care, but it's becoming more frequent and I can't keep shifting my workload. I realize that should anyone question it, it would fall on her head and not mine, but I am just not comfortable with this.

I also can't afford to lose my job right now- I have a brand new car payment and an 11 year old greyhound with thyroid cancer undergoing chemotherapy (about a $3k vet bill), and the job market around here is, like most everywhere, not that great right now. I am looking, but I have to have something else lined up before I leave this job. Another point of note: people get arbitrarily fired from this company for no good reason all the time, and SC being an "at-will" work state, there wouldn't be much I could do about it should they let me go.

So is there a good way for me to get around this, approaching my boss or otherwise, or should I just suck it up and do as she asks until I find something else?
posted by Meredith to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I would investigate the laws surrounding customer overpayment. In many areas, you're legally obliged to notify in case of overpayment, and pay it back with interest.
posted by Jairus at 10:50 PM on January 14, 2006


...not that this helps you with EVERYTHING, but if you're really worried about losing your job, then you want to make it seem like the law is the problem, not you.
posted by Jairus at 10:50 PM on January 14, 2006



I also can't afford to lose my job right now- I have a brand new car payment and an 11 year old greyhound with thyroid cancer undergoing chemotherapy (about a $3k vet bill), and the job market around here is, like most everywhere, not that great right now. I am looking, but I have to have something else lined up before I leave this job. Another point of note: people get arbitrarily fired from this company for no good reason all the time, and SC being an "at-will" work state, there wouldn't be much I could do about it should they let me go.


Sounds to me like you answered your own question here.
If you can't afford to lose the job, then you certainly don't want to give your boss a reason for letting you go until you have something else lined up.
posted by juv3nal at 10:55 PM on January 14, 2006


First of all, do not post things like this using your real name and location.

If you are a member of a professional association, check to see if this violates your membership. Then put the focus on that.

Check your state laws and see if you can put the focus on that, as Jairus says.

Start up a "screw you" fund. Everyone should have one of these. You want to have some cash behind you so that you can quit your job if you ever need to do so.

Shop your resume around, just in case this employer won't budge.
posted by acoutu at 10:58 PM on January 14, 2006


(WRT to my first sentence, just change your Mefi profile. You can't escape the Google cache, but help yourself as much as you can.)
posted by acoutu at 11:04 PM on January 14, 2006


Suck is up until you have paid your vet bill, and meanwhile look for another job.
posted by bingo at 11:39 PM on January 14, 2006


I think you're going to have to live in the gray area until you can get out. Some companies actually specify that unused credits will be taken off your account within a certain period of time, so it's not like this is unprecedented. Although it sounds like your boss isn't being upfront with your customers, which ends up sucking for you, because this probably isn't the only way they're getting screwed.

Also, DOCUMENT THE HELL OUT OF EVERYTHING. Copy emails to your home address. Keep track of any conversations you have with her about this and other matters. If they end up firing you, it might be enough to get you some recourse.

And get out, ASAP; working with people like that - even if you don't have to carry out those tasks yourself - is soul-sucking.
posted by stefanie at 11:44 PM on January 14, 2006


It sounds like the things you are being asked to do a reversible - for example, a customer with a credit balance is owed the money, even if it has been a year or two since an overpayment occurred.

I think that the best thing in your circumstances is to keep careful notes - maybe even drafts of letters - that you can (more or less anonymously) send to customers (and anyone else who has been cheated), after you have left the job and have a new one. That way, you can set things right. (In fact, the letters, in this case, might even suggest that since the customer ask for interest on the money owed.)

If you don't think that your boss is getting directions from the head of the company, you could also send a letter - after you have left and have a new job - detailing what your boss directed you to do.

Even this approach is not without risk - your former boss probably will figure out that you were responsible for customers all of a sudden asking for the money they owed, but hopefully there would be little that they could do when you have a new job.

Another thought - in this example, when credit balance accounts are written off, are you sure that it's for the benefit of your company, and NOT for the benefit of your boss? In other words, does you boss have some way to remove the money from whatever account it is transferred to? (Because, in this case, there are few standard accounting checks and balances that would identify this type of fraud.)

Even if you don't write any letters, DO keep records (a [private log is fine) of when and what your boss asked you to do that you thought improper. If someone decides to blame someone, you want it to be your boss. (Which means that listing other people who have also been told to do improper things by your boss, with details, is very important.)

And to answer your original question - I doubt there are any magical words that will let you refuse to do what your boss wants without jeoparding your job. If there is someone higher up in the company that you trust (this doesn't sound like the case), you might try a confidential meeting with that person to ask for help. But if what is being done is unethical, and not really illegal, then professional standards are going to say (at best) to raise the issue to a higher level, and if that fails, resign.

Which is why trying to save some money, and continuing to look for a new job, is really the best approach.

Good luck - you're in a tough position, but it could be worse - a lot of people are asked to do illegal things (like cover up dangerous working conditions, or overlook padded expense accounts).
posted by WestCoaster at 12:00 AM on January 15, 2006


Say no. If they threaten you with firing, threaten them back. Usually, having something shado on your boss is good to keep you at your job until they figure out how to safely kill you.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:11 AM on January 15, 2006


I don't like the idea of copying documents to your home email. If you do, don't use the company mail system since this gives them a trail and tells them exactly what records you do have. Better to back your mail out to your mp3 player occasionally. I do agree with the document everything sugggestion.
posted by rdr at 2:16 AM on January 15, 2006


For questions like this, IMO you should use the Anonymous poster function, esp. since you give your full name and location in profile.
posted by junesix at 2:33 AM on January 15, 2006


If you do things like sending company documents to your home email, or alerting customers to the credit they are owed, you may be opening yourself to risk of legal action against you. You work in the accounting department. Aren't there laws and regulations against using proprietary company information after leaving a company? Customer lists and amounts owed surely count as proprietary?

I don't know much about this stuff, but the thing about mailing customers a heads-up seems like a bad idea.
posted by agropyron at 2:45 AM on January 15, 2006


Chemo for a dog are you kidding?

Basically what you're saying is that your dying dog and new car is more important than your personal ethics. If you want my advice, get your priorities straight and the rest becomes incredibly clear.

Anyway, you apparently already know you want out of this terrible company, you just haven't left yet.
posted by raaka at 2:48 AM on January 15, 2006


I was asked to do extremely shady things for a job once, to the tune of seriously ripping off individuals rather than companies. I was a student with no parental contact, living hand to mouth, and couldn't afford to quit. Seriously, it would have meant homelessness for me.

I searched hard for another job, found one quickly, and then contacted the postal inspector and told him what was going on (it's surprising how much authority postal inspectors have - do NOT tamper with snail mail!). They made a criminal case, I testified, and those guys went away for a long time. I think I did the right thing.

The moral of the story is, try your absolute best to get a new job as soon as you can, then make things right after you've left. For example, if you suspect your boss is just pocketing the cash after writing it off, report to her boss. I wouldn't recommend writing letters to clients, though. You definitely don't want to get a reputation as a loose cannon in your entire industry.

I don't find the example you give all that morally outrageous. You say there are other activities, however. And yeah, my suspicion would be that your boss is pocketing the cash rather than putting it back into the company.
posted by hazyjane at 2:57 AM on January 15, 2006


M - A couple of things. First, I'm sorry that you've found yourself in this position. It's a difficult one, and its a shame that your boss things cheating can lead to prosperity.

Think about the imprints you're creating by helping to steal. First of all, you're obviously uncomfortable with this - to that extent, two things are happening -
1. you're adding to your own worries (and, with your dog, sounds like you have a lot right now)
2. you're creating seeds for other people to steal from you (think this one over - know that what you do comes back to you and that similar consequences come from similar actions)

Second of all, this is just bad business. I don't know what industry this is, but I can certainly tell you that if I, as a customer, found out a company that owed me a credit didn't pay me, I'd never do business with them again. Neither would my friends or business associates, after I talked with them. Your boss is slowly killing the business through these actions.

I'd suggest a couple of actions. First, follow Astro Zombie's advice and keep careful records of the times your boss asks you to behave unethically. If at all possible, get a list of customers who have been stolen from and take this list home.

Second, stand up to your boss, but in a very nice and unthreatening way. When she asks you to do this, let her know you're uncomfortable - something along the lines of "well, XXX, I'd be uncomfortable not sending Mr. so-and-so a statement, since we took more of his money than is due us, and its rightfully his. I can understand you not wanting to spend the money processing and mailing the credit statements, though, so could I just supress this statement and give him a quick call?". You need to find a way to do this without 'accusing' her of stealing, and let her appear 'in power'. Focus on the customer interests you're trying to meet, not the positions involved.

Good luck! Know that in doing the right thing, you'll plant seeds for success in your future. One of the primary things I look for in people I hire is honesty. If your boss doesn't understand that, its a pity. If she 'fires' you for your refusal to do this, I'd check with her boss before I left the door, then check with a lawyer for other options - failure to commit an illegal act should not constitute grounds for dismissal.
posted by gage at 3:11 AM on January 15, 2006


Ummm....some okay suggestions here. But really, the best thing you can do is follow the simple ones:

Find a new job, now. Keep doing your old one, and most likely be uncomfortable with it, until you get your new one. If they do worse then these things, you won't be able to take it up the chain. If your boss is pocketing the money, you are likewise screwed, as unless there's a huge trail that points to her, not much will probably get done. And by huge trail, I mean big flashing neon lights reading 'She did it!' with a big arrow pointing to her head.

Basically, anything and everything you do to attempt to fight this, will be risking your job. So, don't fight it if you don't want to risk anything.

Aside from that, I think a call to your Local or State Attorney General's Office might not be a bad idea. They do handle some consumer issues, and if this is a big company, they might enjoy taking them down for potentially illegal practices. I did some searching for state laws regarding this, but didn't find much. It may indeed fall under general Unfair Trade Practices, especially if your company has competition in the state. This would technically only apply to the act of hiding / disguising the credits due.

Either way, it seems to me as this is stealing. Unless your company has some policy that states that if these customers call back in a few months and declare they want their money back, that it gets back to them in some form. You can't really just operate on 'whoops they overpaid, it must be a tip'. But I could certainly be wrong.

Oh, and take off your full name, location, AIM, occupation, lat/lon, email, and homepage from your MeFi Profile. Now. Don't wait, just do it. You have a blog, and you mention MeFi on it. If anyone at work even somehow gets word that you may have a blog and anyone happens to go to Mefi and reads this, you are sooooo screwed. You'll be fired. Thankfully, you did not mention the name of the company or your boss. If you did, then you'd also be looking at a possiblity of being sued in civil court. Remove ALL of those, because every one of them can identify you personally through your name, your location, or through your blog (email address included).

I cannot stress this enough. As soon as you read this, remove them. And next time, PLEASE post this anonymously for your own protection.
posted by Phynix at 3:39 AM on January 15, 2006


If the boss cheats her customers, she's probably going to cheat you, if there's any way she can. Move on when you can.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:18 AM on January 15, 2006


Aside: why is this posted to "travel and transportation"?
posted by madman at 5:11 AM on January 15, 2006


Alright, everything in my profile removed. I probably should have posted this anonymously, but I am 95% certain just about everyone above me at work can't find their way off the AOL homepage, let alone would ever make it here. But still, that was kind of stupid. *sheepish smile*

Thanks for your advice, everyone. (Except raaka- wtf? Yes, chemo for my dog, and no, I'm not kidding.)

This is posted to travel and transportation because it's right above work and money in the drop down list, and I am an idiot.
posted by Meredith at 7:46 AM on January 15, 2006


I am 95% certain just about everyone above me at work can't find their way off the AOL homepage, let alone would ever make it here.

No, but their lawyers can.
posted by matildaben at 11:39 AM on January 15, 2006


Aren't there laws and regulations against using proprietary company information after leaving a company?

There are certainly rules laws against using this information for one's personal gain. Using it to notify those who have been taken advantage of, or using it for law enforcement purposes - no, that's not against the law.

Certainly, doing anything with this information before leaving one's job is taking a risk of firing.
posted by WestCoaster at 1:55 PM on January 15, 2006


nothing illegal like keeping two sets of books, just things I feel are wrong and am not comfortable with

Customer overpayments that remain unclaimed are likely covered by your state's abandoned property laws. [e.g. Kansas] There are strict time limits and notification requirements, and even then your company doesn't own the overpayment. It must be paid to a state administrator, who will then take over notification responsibility, and eventually it may be absorbed into state coffers depending on various factors.

In other words, you shouldn't just notify the customers. You should notify your state attorney general's office. It is also likely that your state has a whistleblower law that offers some protection.
posted by dhartung at 2:42 PM on January 15, 2006


I'm sure that much of what has been stated above is absolutely true. However, immoral doesn't always constitute illegal. I don't know how big your company is, but I'm sure that whatever they're doing has been done with the advice of lawyers. Those guys know all of the loopholes that allow this company to do the things it does.

Do you have any supervisors that you actually like? I would bring it up sometime during relaxed conversation. You'll probably learn that they don't like it either but feel the need to tow the company line. If you DO ask, don't be judgemental, just be curious.
posted by snsranch at 5:57 PM on January 15, 2006


I don't know how big your company is, but I'm sure that whatever they're doing has been done with the advice of lawyers.

Don't bet on it. Companies of all sizes do illegal things all the time. Even if they know they are illegal, they count on not getting caught. I can easily think of a half-dozen large companies that got federally busted. The number of smaller companies that break the law must be huge.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:18 AM on January 16, 2006


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