In Good Conscience


With the current scandals surrounding Governor David Paterson of New York State and the several resignations of top staffers, the question of integrity in workplaces is a main focus.

Denise O’Donnell of Paterson’s staff is only one NYS employee who wrote in her resignation letter, “I cannot in good conscience continue to serve as…”.

Most Americans cannot afford to have such integrity. Most Americans need their jobs and tethered health insurance and have expenses like mortgages, children, student loans, medical bills, etc. This is not NOT good for businesses, which suffer when employee concerns are stifled by fear and when unlawful retaliation is used to silence legitimate employee concerns and complaints. Tell YOUR Story here.

Most Americans are afraid to exercise their rights to make internal and external complaints in their workplaces despite claims that “retaliation will not be tolerated”. This is because of several realities:

1. Unlawful retaliation does happen, often because those who unwisely decide to retaliate convince themselves that in fact, they’re not retaliating. They will often delusionally convince themselves that the employee who has identified unlawful and/or unethical behavior has been “disloyal”, completely forgetting that when they agreed to conduct business in the US, they agreed to abide by all relevant employment laws, including those that prohibit whatever the concerned employee has spoken up about. When this occurs, it is a clear sign of what Henry Thompson, PhD has identified as “Catastrophic Leadership Failure” (TM) which is related to diminished Emotional Intelligence. I have written about this on my Emotional Intelligence Blog.

2. Most Americans cannot afford attorneys to represent them.

3. Going to federal court with civil rights and unlawful retailation claims can be a gamble many employees are unwilling to take.

4. State Divisions of Human Rights will often appoint an attorney to complaining employees free of charge when their cases are strong, but there is no guarantee of this.

5. Other complaint resources for employees with integrity, such as Inspectors General, Attorneys General, and Commissions on Public Integrity, do not always investigate complaints they receive – and may in fact be unethically and/or unlawfully abandoning their own missions if they do not investigate due to conflicts of interest.

6. Though the gold standard of any workplace harassment policy will make any and all harassment (including “legal” harassment) unacceptable, there are many employees who are driven out of their workplaces via bullying or unlawful harasssment in response to having spoke up about unethical and/or unlawful practices. At times, this can be difficult to prove. However, it is again a sign of “Catastrophic Leadership Failure” (TM) for any workplace that allows such actions to occur. I have also blogged about such practices and how harmful they are to workplaces, employee health, profits, taxpayers, and shareholders on my post about Workplace Violence and Bullying.

Some Americans are lucky enough to have a skilled employment attorney in their family or who will otherwise take their case on contingency or at reduced fees. This is rare, however, and it is extremely important to have an employment attorney represent such claims; lawyers with other expertise are not going to know what is necessary to know in such cases.

Tell YOUR Story here.

How many American employees would be compelled to resign in protest of ethical or other violations in their workplaces if they could afford to do so?

How many American employees would be compelled to internally address unethical behavior by their peers and leadership if they knew there would be no consequences in the form of retaliation?

In a perfect world, there would be no consequences or unlawful retaliation for employees speaking up about unethical and/or unlawful behavior. However, we all know that there often is unlawful retaliation.

Human Resources, Compliance, and Legal executives have additional ethical and professional responsibilities to speak up about unethical behavior. This is part of what being a Credible Activist is all about.

Aligning with business goals does not include engaging in or turning a blind eye to unethical or unlawful behavior.

The costs to businesses for employing unlawful retaliation are enormous; silencing employees denies the organization of receiving crucial feedback about its operations and prevents Competitive Corporate Governance* (TM).

But what about when there are risks related to speaking up? What is a Credible Activist to do?

Denise O’Donnell could afford to resign. Her resignation was part of a prominent story in the New York Times.

Courageous credible activists resign from companies “in good conscience” every day. But their stories are not in the New York Times, so we don’t hear about them, the details, or the outcome.

And that’s a shame.

When corporations are able to prevent the truth about their unethical and/or unlawful practices being made public and known, they are then able to continue those practices. These are practices that harm employees, employers, families, and corporations, which is why they are unethical and/or unalwful.

Those who allow unethical practices to go on, who turn a blind eye to the abuses of civil rights violations, who cover up unethical behavior, and who unlawfully retaliate against employees who speak out against these abuses deserve to be under the same public and formal investigative scrutiny which David Paterson is now experiencing.

Human Resources, legal, and leadership professionals have a responsibility to speak out against such abuses. Will American corporations truly protect those who exercise their responsiiblity to speak out about civil rights and ethical violations or will they allow and enable unawlful retaliation?

There is a myth that those who pursue complaints addressing civil rights violations have a goal of “making money” when actually these are people who have been gravely wronged and who are merely exercising their rights and fully deserve to be made whole – and in most cases file such complaints as last resorts and when in a position where doing so is their only choice after communication attempts within organizational parameters have failed and resulted in unlawful retaliation.

However, it is often much more than being made whole, and is just as much about making it known to as many people as possible what behaviors their corporation allowed to go on, turned a blind eye to, chose to reward and not punish, and/or allowed to continue despite civil rights and ethics laws that govern American workplaces.

Kudos to Denise O’Donnell and all those other courageous credible activists who cannot in good conscience continue to serve in such organizations.

And kudos to those who are unable to resign, but who refuse to perpetuate unethical or unlawful practices — and instead communicate about them in their workplaces with the clear intention of remediating such practices. Often this is even more difficult than resigning, is not always welcome, and may result in unlawfully retaliatory consequences for those professionals who do speak up.

And kudos to those in organizational positions of power who have enough emotional intelligence to change course when conscientious employees and credible activists warn against taking egregiously unlawful and/or unethical actions. If only such changes in course had been chosen at Enron, at the SEC in response to warnings about Madoff, and in countless other completely preventable corporate scandals that have resulted in very real harm for millions of people.

One can only wonder how many times a day in the private, public, and non-profit sectors there are actions taken by high-level employees that jeopardize organizational effectivenss and the very foundations of legal protections from unlawful retaliation on which all American employees, consumers, taxpayers, and shareholders depend.

Smart Employers realize that it only takes one determined employee or former employee to expose wrongdoing and that retaliation should never occur.

What are your experiences in this area? Indicate whether you are an HR professional, an attorney, or if you have or have had any other job title – and let us know how having integrity in your workplace has been responded to. Have those with the courage to be Credible Activists been responded to with appropriate gratitude, with unlawful retaliation, or in some other ways?

How can we all support credible activists in the HR profession as well as in any and every profession in the American workplace?

Feel free to use a screen name if you are uncomfortable using your real name. Tell YOUR Story here.

Thanks,
Denise

*”Competitive Corporate Governance” is pending a trademark by Denise A. Romano and will be discussed in future posts.

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About Denise A Romano

Denise A Romano is the author of The HR Toolkit: An Indispensable Resource for Being a Credible Activist, published by McGraw Hill in 2010. She is a workplace expert and has a strong interest in government, business, workplace and personal ethics. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter. View all posts by Denise A Romano

2 responses to “In Good Conscience

  • JohnS

    I tend to be succinct. In my ‘day’ and experience, I referred to all happening in corporate business, politics, etc. as nothing more than “situational ethics”. That’s a polite way of saying: messing up people’s lives, destroying families and simply ridding one’s organizations some senior executive one simply does not like. Today, I’d call it petty, staking one’s organization deck [empire building] and so forth.

    Finally, I believe it’s becoming worse…no matter what sound-bites are publicly believed by most. js

  • Denise

    There is an epidemic of violations public safety, fraud, and corruption laws that are directly related to labor law violations in government entities and US corporations. Despite this Ethics Commissions, AGs & IGs are unresponsive to labor violation complaints in workplaces and government, even when proof is submitted, tax dollars are misused, and there are rampant ethics, safety, and other compliance violations. The EEOC, OSHA, and State Divisions of Human Rights are underfunded and understaffed, thus their responses to these complaints are almost always delayed and insufficient.

    Given that all government employees are required to report legal and ethical noncompliance, mandatory imparital investigations must be implemented without exception and accompanied by absolute prevention of unlawful retaliation against complaining employees. There must be a freeze on any termination of any complaining employee while a sound, impartial, unbiased and thorough investigation is completed, and even afterwards, retaliation against complainants must be prevented.

    Violations of EEO, OSHA, public safety, retaliaiton protections, whistleblower protections, ADA, union-protections and fraud/corruption prevention laws must be classified as serious crimes that result in prosecution. There is extremely insufficient protection for employees who use apropriate channels to report noncompliance in both government and corporate workplaces.

    Currently, legal compliance with US labor laws is essentially optional for corporate and government workplaces. Only employees who can afford lawyers have a chance of recourse. Most lawyers will not take cases on contingency, even if complaining employees can prove employer noncompliance with labor and other laws. When there is rare justice, it comes years later – often after unlawful termination and great damage to health, families, and finances.

    Most legitimate employee complaints are dismissed by noncompliant employers who unlawfully retaliate against these employees, terminate their employment and health coverage and pay them a small sum for which they are desperate and on which they are taxed. This money almost always comes with a gag order, the dismissal of the complaint with government authorities so there is never an investigation, and the continued employment of those guity of serial noncompliance and other violations of law, which remain unremediated.

    Many General Counsel attorneys falsely believe their duty is to protect the corporation by any means instead of ensuring legal compliance and remediating noncompliance according to non-retaliation laws. GCs who knowingly cover up unlawful practices in corporations and government entities must be addressed by the criminal justice system and BAR associations given the enormous financial fraud perpetrated upon taxpayers and shareholders when significant funds are used to unlawfully retaliate against employees who exercise their rights to complain about noncompliance. When this occurs in government entities, it is fraudulent misuse of taxpayer money.

    These crimes are epidemic and do require deterrence in the form of large fines, improved processes for complaining employees, and guaranteed sound impartial investigations into unlawful practices, even whenthere are settlements with complaining employees. Gag orders need to be made unlawful, regardless of settlements with employees.

    Please Sign this Petition @change : Demand Legal Compliance in US Workplaces http://chn.ge/bO31L8

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