In The Workplace

I’m the newly-hired accounting manager at a factory with 118 workers. Recently, I discovered that we aren’t paying the right social security premiums for employees above the minimum wage. This means the right amounts are not being deducted from those in higher brackets, which means the employer premium counterpart payment is smaller than it needs to be. What can I do? This is cheating and I don’t want to be a part of this. Please give me your advice. — In Turmoil.

In Woody Allen’s movie Annie Hall (1977), the director has his protagonist say: “I was thrown out of New York University for cheating on a metaphysics test. The professor caught me looking deeply into the soul of the student seated next to me.” Even if it’s only a movie, the lesson can’t be ignored in real life.

Our acts or omissions in real life could resonate over long periods and could affect our future. If you can recall your first grave mistake, you will know what I mean. But you can only make a decision if you know and understand your personal values.

Decades back, I was consulted by Dindo (not his real name), another reader who was in the same situation. He was an accounting clerk and a serious Christian. I told him the same thing. After one week, he resigned without lining up a new job. He told me he’s ready to be honest with his prospective employer by telling them why he resigned.

Did he get a new job after that? Unfortunately, no. When he mentioned that he was turned off by a cheating employer to his interviewers, the interview was terminated almost instantly. He heard nothing from them after that.

Does this mean that all employers are in the same boat? Maybe, but even if all employers are cheating, this should not prevent you from continuing with the job search.

Even if all employers are dishonest, does it mean that Dindo needs to stop looking for a job? What are his options? Maybe not much beyond continuing to search for an employer who may share your ethical standards. I’m sure there is an ideal employer out there.

“Ethics has always been of the utmost importance in the workplace,” says Bruce Weinstein in his Forbes article, “In the Workplace of the Future, How Important will Ethics be?” (2021). “It is about to become even more so.”

If that’s the case, decide based on your personal values. If you don’t agree with how your company handles the social security premiums, then do whatever is necessary to correct the issue until you resign from that potentially toxic situation. But first, you must exhaust all administrative remedies with your boss.

Send a confidential e-mail to your boss and explain your position. Then propose to rectify the problem. It is possible, however remotely, that top management doesn’t know about the problem, though it could also be feigning ignorance.

On the other hand, if your boss shares your ethical standards, then rejoice and gladly correct the problem. Don’t drag your feet.

Even if your boss refuses to acknowledge your e-mail, at least you will have documentation that you acted. Then follow up personally to inquire whether top management has been informed about the problem. If the boss agrees with your findings and approves your rectification proposal, then you’ve resolved 50% of the issue.

The challenge is how to explain the situation to the affected workers. You can’t avoid this because they may be surprised by the increase in premium deductions. But that’s better than perpetuating the issue without doing anything.

An organization that cheats its workers is also likely to cheat the government and its customers. The gravity of this problem is bigger than you might imagine, and may lead to other issues like tax evasion or deceiving customers about product quality.

Brace for the bigger issues. There could be other instances of dishonesty or illegal activity in your company. If there’s smoke, there’s fire. Watch out. Find out about all the issues that could also bring you down.

The choice is ultimately yours. If you choose to leave that organization, it needs be for good reason. After all, the eighth commandment reminds us not to steal. It might be one of the more difficult commandments to follow, considering all the temptations around us.

Again, the choice is yours.


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