The American Greed Report: Is your boss a crook? Here’s what to do

CNBC Scott Cohn
July 8, 2017

It is pretty much unavoidable. At some point, you will work for the Boss From Hell unreasonable, abusive, maybe even dishonest.

In many cases, your options are limited, primarily to finding a new job.

But if you honestly believe your boss is committing fraud, you can report it. And federal law gives workers more protection than ever against retaliation by said Boss From Hell or anyone else at the company.

“There is a safety net,” said Tammy Marzigliano, co-chair of the Whistleblower and Retaliation Practice Group at employment law firm Outten and Golden in New York.

Specifically, the Dodd-Frank law, passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, gives broad protection to employees who report suspected illegal activity.

“It allows them to freely complain and to identify these activities, and if the employer in return retaliates against them, whether they demote them, they ding them on their bonus, they terminate their employment, they get legal protection as a result of that,” Marzigliano said.

But the law did not take effect until 2010 too late for many employees of the quintessential Boss From Hell, Troy Stratos, who is the subject of the latest episode of CNBC’s “American Greed.”

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Suspect a corrupt boss? Here’s what not to do    

Regardless, and despite the legal protections, you still need to be careful about turning in your boss. First, if you are acting on a grudge or you just don’t like the way your boss treats you, stop right here.

“If they think, ‘My manager is just a bad person, he’s mean, he yells, I’m going to complain about it,’ that’s great and that’s fine, but that won’t give you legal protection against retaliation,” Marzigliano said. “So the first step is to really identify and make sure that the complaints that are being made are considered protected under the law.”

Still want to go forward? Here are some tips.

Know where to complain

Wherever possible, follow your company’s procedure for reporting potential wrongdoing. That will help preserve your rights as a whistleblower.

“Complain to your boss, to HR, to compliance, to legal, to really escalate this up to the chain of command and make a formal complaint about what you believe in good faith to be a violation of the law,” Marzigliano said.

If you don’t feel comfortable working within your company’s channels, you could go directly to the authorities. That could be police, your state’s attorney general, the FBI, or in the case of publicly traded companies, the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Another feature of the Dodd-Frank law was the creation of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower, which collects tips from employees and other members of the public about potential securities law violations. If the SEC recovers money as a result, you could be entitled to a portion of the proceeds. To date, the office has awarded more than $150 million, including a record single award of $30 million in 2014. As required by the law, the recipient like all whistleblowers is anonymous.

Do not take the law into your own hands

A common misconception is that you must have proof of the fraud before you complain.

“All they need is a reasonable good faith belief that it exists,” Marzigliano said.

That means you have witnessed conduct or seen documents that lead you to honestly suspect that a violation has occurred even if you don’t know the specific law or regulation that you think may have been violated.

Then, leave the investigation to the investigators.

“They should never take documents from the employer because it opens up a whole can of worms,” Marzigliano said. “A lot of legal issues, they can be accused of theft of property.”

That may even include your own e-mails, which could be considered company property. If in doubt, ask your company’s legal department. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, consider consulting with an attorney of your own.

Be a good worker

Resist the temptation to slack off because you resent your boss’s conduct. You may be giving him an opening to get around the antiretaliation laws.

“Now all of a sudden you gave them a legitimate reason to let you go because you slacked off, because you didn’t care about what you were doing, because your report was sloppy, because you didn’t get work in on time, because you didn’t show up for a meeting,” Marzigliano said. “It’s important to continue to work really hard. To do the best job. To be the best employee that you can be. And to get that information to the right people, so they can take care of it and they can investigate it.”

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