When the CEO refuses to stop dishonesty

Flickr user Jim the Photographer

Dear Evil HR Lady,

Your most recent post about plagiarism reminded me about the CEO of the company I'm working for right now. The company is an online seller and I have to say that some (if not most) of the products we sell are from questionable sources. There isn't a single day that goes by that an employee from logistics or from other departments send an email saying that an item was found with a questionable label or that the packaging seems to contain some familiar words and names. Like very familiar names.

So eventually, someone in the department sent an email to the CEO along with a list of recommended actions to be taken in order to stop and prevent such practices - and at least give the company some dignity in front of our customers.

CEO said no action should be taken unless someone files a complaint. So right now, the company's products are all there for the whole World Wide Web to see. I'm not really surprised by his decision actually. I found another website that copied our content (half of which I wrote) verbatim and all he said was "It happens."

So what advice would you give to an employee like me when it's the Big Enchilada himself setting the standard for such despicable ethics?

Thanks for any advice you can give.

I do suffer from a bit of naivety when it comes to ethics.  I just can't help assuming that the only reason mistakes like that happen is that  they are just that--mistakes.  And mistakes happen, but once we know about them, we clean them up, right?

Well, apparently not.  Apparently there are many people out there who intend to go about life being dishonest and only stop if and when they get caught.  This makes me fear for humanity.

I also detect a bit of laziness in your CEO.  The whole concept of "it happens" when someone stole his content indicates that he's not too focused on doing the best for the company itself.  (And yes, it damages your brand if people steal from you, if for no other reason than customers might think you're the one doing the stealing.)  And it only takes a few minutes to submit a DMCA take down notice.  

So, what we might have is a clueless boss, rather than a completely unethical one.  He may think, that truly, what he is doing is no big deal.  After all, he doesn't consider someone stealing his content to be a big deal.  Why should the companies he's cheating feel it's a big deal?

So, what should you do?  It depends on who you are.  If you're a VP you should write up a list of the legal consequences for continuing to engage in this practice including applicable fines and or jail times.  Then you should discuss it repeatedly with the CEO.  (I am, of course, assuming that what you have described is illegal.  If it's not illegal, but rather just un-preferred then that is a different story.)  If he refuses to hear, then you need to report the illegal activity.

I realize this will result in you not having a job.  Realize also that you'll be better off bringing this to the proper authority's attention yourself then you will be when one of the other employees brings it to their attention.  Or when one of your customers complains, not to your customer service department, but to the Attorney General's office.

If you're a low level person, without direct access to the CEO you should make a formal complaint to your boss.  Document what the problem is as it relates to your job.  Present a plan to fix the problem.  Ask your coworkers to join in with you.  The more pressure there is the more likely change is. 

Your CEO may believe that this is the only way to be profitable.  If it isn't, then work with your coworkers and your management to develop a plan that can show profitability and compliance with the law.

If none of this works, prepare to find a new job and report it to the appropriate authorities.  As a low level employee you probably won't be held legally liable for any of this nonsense, but you may be. 

Will whistle blower laws protect you?  Depends on where you live.  Different states have different statutes.

But, the one thing you cannot do is to continue working in a company that engages in illegal activity.  Not only could you get in legal trouble, but you are compromising your own self in favor of a company which not only doesn't have your best interests at heart, it doesn't even have it's own self interest at heart.  And who wants to put up with that?

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