Business is dirty. It always has been and it probably always will be. Maybe you can handle most of it, but one day something is just too big, too wrong and you’re uncomfortable about it. What can you do? The realm of possible illegalities by employers is too long to express in a comprehensive answer. There are however a few constants that remain if you find yourself caught in any uncomfortable situation at work- especially one where you believe what is happening is punishable by law.
The realist in me has to tell you that unfortunately, as with many “shoulds” in life, accountability for employers is often a practice that should be more strictly monitored. Unfortunately, it just isn’t. OSHA laws, for example, are often disregarded when it means production might be slower. When profit is at stake, business leaders often craft as many cover-ups and work-arounds as they can. I hope this isn’t shocking to you, as it is very common.
If it is, however, let me extend a welcome to the real world of work. With that said, I am not condoning these activities or suggesting that you idly sit by and accept this as the condition of employment. Not all employers break the law- some even work extra hard to abide to each letter. However, you will most likely find yourself at a job someday, disappointed in an activity you observe. If you’re uncomfortable, here are some action options to consider and a few tips to keep in mind.
First, I suggest that you do not immediately quit. Depending on the state, any separation from employment considered a quit will render you unemployed and without eligibility to collect unemployment while you seek new work. Telling the unemployment referee that you “knew” X, Y and Z illegal behavior was happening will most likely not be documented and simply denied by the employer. Your employer will especially have nothing to fear if you never addressed the issue previously and there was no documented evidence of concern. You will lose and be out on all fronts.
Likewise, storming out and causing a scene for your employer will get you nothing but a bad rap via references for future employment. You never know who your current employer might know in your industry. If they want to protect their reputation (especially if they know you might know something of their illegal acticites), who knows what lengths they may go in order to bad mouth you. Instead, quietly and confidentially begin a search for a new job and, to the extent that you’re comfortable, act like you know nothing.
Second, be sure you know if your state is an “at will” state. Illinois, for example, is one of those states. Being an “at will” state means that an employer does not have to provide any justification for firing an employee. Should the employer find out that you know what you know, or if whatever situation develops or worsens to the point that the employer begins the process of closing the business, you will know how quickly you should be moving. You might consider hiring an attorney to track you through the process depending on what you may or may not be able to take from the situation. This can prevent future damage to your career or income during any transition period.
Lastly, trust your instincts. If you feel unsafe, if you feel your integrity as a professional is being compromised, do what you feel is best. Try to keep the previous tips in mind so that you save your career image as much as possible, but when all else fails- trust your instincts.
IMAGE: Courtesy of Fast Case