I’m the administration manager handling human resource (HR) for a factory with 500 workers. Last week, an inspector made a surprise visit and discovered many issues. He suggested that a favorable report is possible in exchange for a substantial amount of grease money. When I discussed the matter with the chief executive officer (CEO), he advised me to “settle” the issue without delay. I take it to mean he wants to bribe the inspector. Is this the right thing to do? — Miss Deal.
When in doubt, don’t. Go back to the CEO and clarify his intentions. Examine your personal values. How do they align with the values of the CEO and organization? And why would you risk your job to be party to a crime? The answers to these questions are easy if your ethics are well developed.
Bribery is downright immoral and patently illegal. Indeed, you are in a difficult spot if the CEO wants to bribe an inspector. If that happens, prepare to look for another job soon. The potential consequences are not worth it.
I have not heard stories of corrupt labor inspectors in a long time. This happened to me in the 1980s when I was the personnel supervisor at a telecommunications company. The inspector said he was willing to settle for the “SOP” in exchange for a favorable report.
I’m not sure what he meant by SOP, or “standard operating procedure.” Fortunately, it was not standard procedure for us to bribe people, much less government officials. I told the inspector that we were ready to face and correct any adverse findings.
He got the message right away and proceeded to list many violations, including imaginary and flimsy ones. Not satisfied, the poor guy tried to sell me insurance, which I courteously declined. Instead, I thanked him for the visit and gave him a company-branded umbrella and t-shirt.
This proved to be the exception; there are many honorable and respectable people in government. Nevertheless, management must be ready at all times to deal with good or bad inspectors. Here are some pointers:
One, inspections are often triggered by anonymous tips. It does not matter if you have 50 or 5,000 workers. A tip may come from anyone, including contractual employees or manpower agency temps. Even without such a complaint, be prepared.
Two, treat the labor inspector with respect. Don’t ignore the inspector. Make the visit as comfortable as possible. But don’t forget to ask for the inspector’s identification and mission orders.
Three, download a labor inspection checklist. Even if you think your company is compliant, it’s a good idea to study the 13-page checklist, which is available on the labor department website.
Four, cooperate fully on requests to examine records. It’s also possible the inspector may choose to interview random employees to verify your claims. Don’t volunteer anyone the inspector has not chosen.
Five, penalties for violations are reasonable. Even you don’t think so, being cited is a good reminder of your company’s obligations. Someday, a violation will turn up and your company will have to pay.
Last, persuade your boss to reject the bribery route. If you can’t do that, it means you haven’t established yourself as an authoritative and credible management partner. A friend who is a lawyer in charge of HR at a medium-sized bank would describe your predicament as despicable and a “sad event” in your career.
When I discussed your case with a high-ranking official at the Labor department, he recommended entrapping the inspector. Unfortunately, many HR executives will not go along with this suggestion. One longtime professional who retired three years ago as a senior vice-president for HR at a multinational bank said the bank’s foreign CEO would not tolerate even the appearance of bribery. Further, it is possible entrapment may endanger the CEO’s standing with the immigration bureau.
Another seasoned HR professional who has served with several major companies in a career of more than 35 years thinks it’s not advisable to participate in an entrapment operation unless the intent of the inspector is to unfairly shut the company down.
Another said it’s the job of the Labor department to police its ranks without the involvement of people from other organizations.
In conclusion, accept this piece of wisdom from Jose Angel Gurria, former secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD): “Integrity, transparency and the fight against corruption have to be part of the culture. They have to be thought as fundamental values.” If you happen to work in an organization without those values, prepare to resign as soon as you can.