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How to Handle an Unethical Employer

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If you work for an employer who engages in unethical behavior, such as overcharging customers or hiring discrimination, you face several dilemmas. In addition to addressing the potential fallout of your supervisor’s actions, you must also understand how these actions might threaten your reputation and job. If you can’t distance yourself from the behavior, you might need to leave the company or report the situation.

Be Careful Who You Tell

Don’t go public unless you’re pursuing legal or disciplinary action. If the company finds out, you could lose your job, potentially damaging your credibility. If you decide to leave the organization, don’t discuss the subject with prospective employers. They might think you’re simply a disgruntled employee, and you’ll have no way to back up your claims. In addition, you could compromise a potential investigation or legal action. If you must address why you left, point to a neutral reason, such as seeking career advancement or looking for a corporate culture more aligned with your values.

Don’t Take the Blame

If your boss forces you into participating in practices you feel are unethical or questionable, avoid taking credit for the actions. Ask your boss to sign off on documents instead of approving them yourself. This protects you, while also forcing your supervisor’s hand; he doesn’t want his name attached to it. Also, document the behavior and keep copies of emails, memos or other communication from your boss. Maintain a journal in which you describe both your employer’s actions and your own. You can use this documentation as evidence if you pursue legal action.

Speak to Your Employer

Ask your boss questions about what he’s doing or asking you to do. Your boss is less likely to include you in schemes if he knows you’re savvy and understand the risks and implications of this behavior. Make it clear you’re not comfortable with the situation and don’t want to participate. Simply letting your boss know you’re on to the unethical behavior might discourage him from engaging in further inappropriate behavior. It also reduces your culpability, especially if you document that you approached your boss and attempted to resolve the situation.

Report the Behavior

If your employer’s actions threaten customers, employees, the public, the company or the industry, take action right away. File a formal complaint with senior leadership, regulatory agencies or legal authorities. Submit the records you kept as evidence. You might also need to hire your own attorney to guide you through the process and help you take advantage of whistleblower protection laws. These laws shield you from retaliation if your report fraudulent, illegal or unethical behavior.

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