“Hey boss? There’s something wrong with these deposits. There’s money missing from each of Jane’s deposits.”
“I know. I want to make it look like she’s stealing money, so I have an excuse to fire her. Keep quiet about it, and I’ll give you her job and split the money with you.”
Sounds ridiculous, but the conversation above took place a few days ago between my boss and I. I’d worked for the company for a few months, and done pretty well: they’d already trained me as something of a managerial assistant – officially my job title and pay stayed the same, but I had more responsibilities than the average worker, and the bosses considered me one of the better employees of the company.
Normally, Jane (name changed to protect the innocent) handled the money, but she was away on vacation, so it was my job to look through the deposits and make sure everything was in order. Jane was an indispensable employee, but had recently asked for – and received – a raise, a fact our mutual boss apparently came to regret.
I quit on the spot. Obviously, if my boss was the type to frame an employee for theft just to settle a score, he wasn’t the type of individual I wanted to work for. In that regard, I was lucky: after college, I’d moved back in with my parents, so I didn’t have to worry much about things like rent or utility bills, and my only debt was a relatively small student loan – I’d manage to save enough in an emergency fund to make my payments on that loan for the next six or seven months. It means being unemployed at a time when jobs are hard to find and people everywhere are in tough financial situations, but I can wake up with a clear conscience.
The first thing I did after quitting was call Jane and let her know what our boss had tried to pull. I haven’t heard from her since, so I don’t know what she’s done in the meantime, but she thanked me for the warning.
But I can’t quit my job. What should I do?
That’s a tough question. It depends on the severity of the ethical dilemma and your financial situation. If you can afford to quit, do so. If your boss is unscrupulous enough to ask you to do something unethical, they’re probably unscrupulous enough to let you take the fall for it if you displease them. If what they’re asking you to do is in fact illegal, you could even be arrested or fined for it.
If you can’t afford to quit, try to stay as uninvolved as you can. Understand that refusing to do what your boss asks may in fact get you fired. But see if you can delay things until you can make arrangements that would allow you to get out. If you can, make copies of offending documents or record conversations so you have some sort of legal recourse. You might even consider delegating the task to another employee, depending on your scruples. At your earliest opportunity, get out. Even if it means taking a job that involves a reduction in pay, it’s probably worth it, so long as it pays you enough to get by.
Consider your options: you may need to cut back on expenses. Some loans, student loans in particular, give deferments if you are unemployed, so long as you are actively seeking a job. Landlords and creditors can often be negotiated with, if you explain the situation.
Your priority is to get out of the situation as promptly as possible. In my situation, it was obvious to me that I would become a target if I refused, so I simply chose to quit. I offered my services to Jane as a witness should she decide to press some sort of case against our employer, but that’s the most I can do, and I doubt any case will be pressed: it would boil down to my word against his.