Corruption, Lies and Audiotapes

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Corruption Employees often are at a loss about what to do about questionable management behavior or outright corruption at the companies they work for. Here’s some advice for two situations that were brought to my attention.

Q: I worked at an international company with 500 locations. Our store manager spent his time fishing, hunting and on his hobbies, with an hour a day on e-mails to make up his “workday.” He was so close to his boss that they invested in properties together, so there was no hope in having anything solved by going over the store manager to his boss. When we (the store employees) complained about things to one another, it traveled so fast to our manager we thought the room was bugged. Going over his head would have only gotten us in more trouble because of his relationship with his boss. As for the store manager’s (local) boss’s (regional) boss (district), he had to be aware that his management-level employees were not coming into work. Not surprisingly, morale was so low it was immeasurable. The entire district operated this way, so there was no safe way to bring the corruption to anyone’s attention.

A: Don’t assume that the company’s upper-level management, which is several times removed from the district’s activities, would know what is going on at a local level. Upper management often can be naive as to the activities and efficiency of lower-level managers, especially if sales meet the forecasts. During certain periods, some companies seem to succeed despite management. There might have been a way to correct the lack of management’s involvement in that district, but the question is whether a low-paying retail job is worth the time and trouble needed to accomplish it. A professionally written report documenting the dates and knowledge of management’s activities delivered to management outside the district could have brought attention to the behavior, especially if sales had been lower than projected. Then again, it’s much easier to leave such a job and find another or to do one’s job to satisfy one’s own self-esteem and ignore that others lack work ethics.

Q: After a few years, I left a job at which I had many disputes with the administration. I wondered what the administrators would say about my character if asked by a potential employer, so I recently asked a friend to call and get a reference about me. He used his real name so it would check out, and the administrator (whom I had gotten along with and used as a reference) told him a crock of lies about me, things that were not in my human resources file. He recorded the conversation, in which she sounds mean and petty. Can I sue her based on the recording?

A: It is not illegal to have a friend call for a reference about you, but his secretly recorded conversation cannot be used. If he had taken notes of her exact statements and given them to you, you could have turned over those notes to a lawyer to see what could be done to stop her. If the statements have damaged your chances for being hired elsewhere, you may have recourse. It is also possible that her petty accusations damaged her credibility and professional image more than they did yours.