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10.3 Minimizing Corporate Criminal Liability and Losses Attributed to Crime

Learning Objectives

  1. Explore strategies for businesses to minimize criminal liability.
  2. Examine whistleblower protections.

Figure 10.5 Burglary

Businesses can engage in affirmative actions to reduce criminal liability. Likewise, individuals do not have to sit by passively if they know that criminal activity is afoot. This section addresses specific strategies and laws that can help combat crime in the business world.

Businesses should conduct annual training sessions, such as ethics training, to help ensure good workplace ethics. They should develop company-wide codes of ethics, which serve as the organizational commitment to ethical behavior. This can go far toward developing a corporate culture that values ethical behavior and condemns unethical actions, by providing leadership that serves as positive role models for all employees. Some companies, such as Boeing, have instituted an ethics hotline, which allows employees to anonymously report unethical behavior so that it can be investigated. Additionally, federal sentencing guidelines in place for organizations state that organizations that maintain a rigorous compliance program to detect and report violations of the law, and voluntarily disclose those violations when they occur, are eligible for significantly reduced sentences and fines.

Sometimes, of course, things still go wrong. A person who observes illegal behavior in the workplace may choose not to participate in that illegal behavior. Such a person can even choose to become a whistleblower. WhistleblowersPeople who report the illegal activity of their employers or of their organization to authorities. are people who report the illegal activity of their employers or of their organization to authorities. Typically, the whistleblowers have observed some wrongdoing that may harm others, and they decide to “blow the whistle” to protect the potential victims or to simply stop the wrongdoing.

Whistleblowers face many challenges in the workplace, not the least of which is the stigma associated with blowing the whistle. Paradoxically, even though the whistleblower may be preventing harm to innocent people, other employees may view the whistleblower as someone who has betrayed the organization. Because of this, whistleblowers are often placed in a terrible ethical dilemma, because while they may observe wrongdoing, they may not feel comfortable in reporting the illegal activity. They may fear losing their job or not being able to find a new job. Prospects of losing one’s status, friends, or reputation can prevent many people from blowing the whistle, even though they may wish the behavior to stop.

Whistleblower protection laws prohibit retaliatory action against whistleblowers. Some statutes contain whistleblower protection provisions. For example, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act contains whistleblower protection, but the statute is not entirely devoted to whistleblower protection. The False Claims Act provides that anyone who blows the whistle on a federal contractor committing fraud on the government can personally receive a portion of any amount recovered, up to 25 percent. Despite these protections, many real-world whistleblowers have discovered that the laws are cold comfort for the realities that face them after whistle is blown. Check out Note 10.93 "Hyperlink: Whistleblower Law Blog", which lists many of the statutes under which whistleblower protections are offered.

Hyperlink: Whistleblower Law Blog

Check out the links on the right side of the Web page below. These are categories of blog entries, but they also represent a list of many federal whistleblower protections:

http://employmentlawgroupblog.com

Corporations can also avail themselves of safe harbor provisions in certain statutes. If they see criminal behavior and realize that they may be implicated in the criminal behavior, they can report certain actions to authorities, which will allow them to receive a lesser penalty, or no penalty at all. Only a few criminal statutes have safe harbor provisions, however.

Key Takeaways

Businesses can encourage ethical behavior in the workplace to help employees avoid illegal behavior through training seminars, ethical leadership, and codes of ethics. Whistleblower protection laws and provisions prohibit retaliation against whistleblowers. However, whistleblowers often experience negative consequences when they report the illegal activities of their organization to the authorities.

Exercises

  1. Find a corporate code of ethics by searching for “code of ethics” in your Internet browser. Is this a good code of ethics? How could it be changed? Do you think the employees pay attention to it? How would you ensure that your employees believed in and adopted your company’s code of ethics? Should employees who do not follow the code of ethics, but who do not break any laws or company polices, be terminated? Why or why not?
  2. Should whistleblowing be encouraged by businesses? Why or why not?
  3. Imagine a scenario in which you would choose to blow the whistle. How does that differ from a situation in which you would not blow the whistle?
  4. Develop an outline of topics that you would present to employees to train them to be vigilant against criminal behavior in your organization. How could you ensure that employees understood the training?