My Employer Is Asking Me To Break The Law Or Commit A Crime. What Do I Do?
Many employers break the law. Rather than play by the rules, they choose to cheat to gain an advantage over their competitors. Common examples of are:
- Violating OSHA health and safety regulations;
- California and Federal Wage law violations;
- Falsifying Records;
- Violating staffing requirements;
- Falsifying truck driver logs
- Pressure to violate hours of service rules and speed limits;
- Customer issues such as fraud;
- False advertising;
- Theft of client property.
Such lawbreaking is often rationalized as innocent or no-harm, no fowl, while more obvious conduct is better characterized as greedy and harmful. Some conduct is obviously criminal, while other conduct may fall into gray areas.
Is your employer violating the law? Do you need a severance agreement or non-compete agreement reviewed? Our Labor Attorneys can help.
If your employer tells you to violate the law you must carefully consider your own responsibility-and liability. Just because wrongdoing is directed by an employer, does not immunize an employee from personal responsibility. Just as we all learn a basic notion of what is right, and what is wrong, we almost all have the ability to know when our employer is committing a crime. When faced with a decision to either walk away from a job, or go along with an employer’s illegal plan, an employee must quickly assert their red line in the sand.
Employees Should Never Break The Law
When faced with an employer that insists on breaking the law, an employee should make the decision that they will not go along with the scheme. However, the reality is that most employees are under financial pressure to keep their job. It is fundamentally unfair for an employer to put an employee in such a position.
If confronted with a situation of being asked to break the law, an employee should report the request further up the chain of command. If the superiors refuse to address the employee’s concerns, then the unlawful request is usually part of the workplace culture. This situation will usually not be resolved favorably for an employee in the long run. But, the employee should ask themselves, “Why would I want to work for a dishonest employer?”
The employee should keep detailed notes of discussions with any of their supervisors regarding conduct that may be illegal and the steps the employee took to complain. The notes should not be kept on a workplace computer. The names of any witnesses should also be noted along with the date and time. Caution- the employee should not make illegal secret tape recordings, particularly in California, where it is a crime and could result in criminal or civil action. All parties to the recorded conversation must consent to be recorded.
The next step may require that the conduct be reported outside the company, to law enforcement, the Labor Commissioner, OSHA, Department of Fair Employment & Housing or other agency. Deciding to report will be a difficult decision. But, by not reporting, the conduct can harm others. Additionally, going along with illegal conduct may damage your reputation and ultimately negatively affect your career.
It is important to understand, that most employers when confronted with an employee’s complaints about illegal conduct, will likely do nothing about it. In most cases, they already know about the conduct from prior complaints. Many employers will decide the get rid of the complaining employee. The employer is really faced with three choices:
- 1. Stop breaking the law and embrace the employee
- 2. Fire the employee; or
- 3. Make the employee quit. Employers rarely take the first choice. They rarely take the second choice because it would generally be evidence of retaliation. Employers frequently take the last choice because they have decided to get rid of the employee but don’t want the reasons to be obvious. They will look for every reason to find fault with the employee. They will create false write-ups. They will deny pay raises and promotions. They will ostracize the employee and make the workplace as uncomfortable as possible, in the hope the complaining employee quits.
Employees may have legal protection through whistleblower laws, and frequently have the right to bring a lawsuit. But, bringing a lawsuit may not be the best in the long run either. It could take years to resolve, it could be expensive and stressful. However, most employees terminated for whistleblowing can look themselves in the mirror every day and know they did the right thing.
In short, once the employee realizes that an employer is dishonest and engaging in breaking the law, the employment relationship is likely doomed. The situation will rarely improve, but could get a lot worse. If you have been requested to violate the law by your employer, you should immediately seek advice from a qualified employment attorney.
Sacramento, CA 95821