Friday, May 12, 2006


A colleague at work takes you aside and tells you that your manager asked him if he could use his name on an expense report to justify an expense that really wasn't business-related. It's a minor expense -- say, the cost of a meal at a nearby restaurant. The colleague agreed, but felt uneasy about it. Now he has confided in you.

Do you feel obliged to confront your manager? to tell his boss? or to strongly encourage your colleague to do either? Or, because you weren't directly involved in the situation and you didn't actually see the expense report in question, is it best to do nothing?

Send your thoughts to or post them here by clicking on COMMENTS below. Please include your name, your hometown and the name of the newspaper in which you read this column. Readers'comments may appear in an upcoming column.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 609 Greenwich St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610.


Anonymous said...

Regardless of what one calls it, and regardless if it is "major" or "minor", stealing is still stealing. I will never forget a job I had during the summers when at High School. I worked at an orange packing house. A co-worker asked me if I would clock him out when I clocked out so that he could leave early and still be paid for the full eight hours. Even though we were friends, I said, "You,ve got to be kidding! That's stealing from the company that gave us jobs we need. That's a lousy way to show our appreciation!" The old addage "Do to others what you would like done to you" works in both the short and long term. One day one can look back with pride and no regrets.

Al Enderle
Santa Ana, CA
The Orange County Register

Anonymous said...

The Employee's Colleague confided that their Manager had asked that the Colleague's name be used for a small business expense Note:Small amount.
My response is for the Employee to advise his Colleague for him to tell the Manager that he regretted his cooperation with that seemingly small (but unjustified) expense.
The fact of the matter is that it was a bogus expense with a financial reward for the Manager.
The Colleague did cooperate for the first time and that colleague can be assured that he can expect future requests for more bogus claims.
It's theft plain and clear,which starts with a small amount. It will lead to bigger "violation of trusts" by which the Colleague will be drawn.This unfortunate situation will jeopardize the Colleague's position,as well as the position of the Manager.
"Nip the error in the bud,quickly!"

Submitted by :Bert Hoogendam
London Free Press

Anonymous said...

I would recommend to the colleague that he tell
the manager that he prefer not to get involved
with his thievery but would take no other action
myself. The manager sounds like a tiny little
manipulator who will likely bury himself on his
own sooner than later. If not, this sounds like a
work environment I'd rather not be part of in the
long run anyway.

Mark Peterson and Associates, LLC

Anonymous said...

In response to your e-mail, I would tell the colleague to confront the manager. I would not get caught up in a triangle involving an issue that originally had nothing to do with me. It only breeds complexity all around. I would tell the colleague to tell the manager that he's had second thoughts and would rather not have his name used for the expense.
That's my opinion.

Yours truly,
Brenda Levy

Anonymous said...

"Their is no right way to do a wrong thing. I would tell the colleague he should have a discussion with his manager and tell him that it is bothering "the colleague" and he should ask the manager to correct the situation. The manager should pay the expense out of his own pocket otherwise he is stealing.
Neal C. White
Atlanta, GA

Anonymous said...

Tell your colleague to go back to his manager and level with him as to his true feelings. As evidenced by his sharing the story, your colleague is uncomfortable with what he has done. He should ask the manager to remove his name from the false expense report, if not too late, or file an amended report.

Both you and your colleague should keep notes on the incident in case there is any retaliation from the manager.

If the manager refuses to make the adjustment then the colleague should take the issue to HR.

W. M. Luke Lukoskie
Vashon Island, WA 98070

Anonymous said...

The old adage, "two wrongs don't make a right" is so true, especially today! The colleague needs to listen to the "uneasy" feeling. It's his conscience trying to remind him that if he does nothing, he's essentially going along with his friend and friend's manager.

If I were in his shoes, I would go back to the "friend" who confided in me and tell him that the ball is in his court. He has a choice to make: either return to the manager and tell him that he must refuse to participate in doctoring an expense report - no matter what the amount, or you will be forced to take action. If the colleague can't or won't do what's right, the confidant/friend must.

What today's workforce seems to forget is that we all have a fiduciary responsibility to our employer. It's not our money to spend (or pad expense accounts with). The employer's money is not ours until we earn it, and part of that paycheck includes our fiduciary obligation to be honest. What's to prevent the manager from doing something bigger next time if someone doesn't step up to the plate and put the brakes on?

People often use friends or co-workers as sounding boards for what they already know is the right thing to do. Just do what you already instinctively know is the right thing and you won't have these nagging, unnecessary stressors clogging your mind (and your arteries).

Judy Finnson

Anonymous said...

I would advise the co-worker that he could be held criminally complicit for fraud for having agreed to the misreporting. He will certainly lose his job if it comes to light, but if he is questioned about it later, he should tell the truth (mostly) but note that the manager may have simply made a mistake by using the co-worker's name thereon.

Under no circumstances should the co-worker futher perpetrate the fraud by lying about the matter if so interrogated. The manager could sell the co-worker out, too. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the manager will be retained and the co-worker fired for cause, thereby being denied unemployment compensation and perhaps being unable to get new employment.

If the co-worker did not already know about it, he would have no reason to say anything (yet), so he should remain silent for the time being. He may wish to inform the manager that the report should be corrected, because he cannot back it up later on, but that may cause the manager to sell out the co-worker.

Total silence may be the best course of action, but no further misrepresentations.

H. Watkins Ellerson
Hadensville, VA

Anonymous said...

At least the colleague felt uneasy about it, which is a step in the right direction. Now, the colleague has a moral obligation to do something about it. What the manager did violates his/her duty to the owners and, thus, unacceptable. A fraud is being committed and now the colleague is a partner to the fraud. The first step is to handle the situation internally, directly with the person committing the fraud. This is a very delicate situation due to the power imbalance between the colleague and the colleague's manager. Maybe the manager made an honest mistake. If so, the manager has the opportunity to correct the situation on his/her own. Hopefully the manager does and all is well. If it's not an honest mistake, the manager is still provided an opportunity to correct his/her misbehavior. Naturally, the unethical manager could retaliate against the colleague. So I'd tell my colleague to make sure his/her performance appraisals are up to date and that s/he writes down everything about this dilemma, using as much documentation as possible to protect against retaliation. My real ethical dilemma is what I should do if the colleague decides to do nothing. If this happens, I would inform the budget people, and if I’m not pleased with the results, then the manager's boss. The company's reputation is at stake. A well-paid manager willing to cheat on an expense report is likely to cheat on other things with bigger ramifications. If this hits the media, many bad things can happen to the company. Therefore, the problem must be addressed.

Denis Collins

Anonymous said...

This is a situation that is "ready-made" for those organizations that have developed an "Ethics Hotline" system. The employee can call in, usually anonymously, and report the issue, and it will be investigated by the Hotline.

For those companies that do not have hotlines, the ethical violation can be reported personally by the employee, or anonymously, to a manager responsible for approving the expense report.

Jan Bohren

Anonymous said...

I would not allow the gossip to take pace at all. What was the purpose of the communication? NO good motive and no good result can derive from this. I would, if I had let this happen, tell the gossiper that by involving me he had made it incumbent on me to taker action, and that my preferred action was to point out to him that he had to speak to whomever it was who could correct the situation. If he did not, I would do so. clearly silence is complicity.

Look at Enron. Look at Hitler's Germany. Look as "accomplice after the fact" on say murder. it's not rocket science. You take part in what you condone.

E. Carroll Straus

Anonymous said...

A manager who asks a employee to use his name on an expense report to justify a non-business related expense, has endangered his position with the company, endangered your colleague's position with said company, and quite possibly yours. Employee theft is rampant in American businesses, and here is a glaring example of it. The use of company funds for nonrelated business expenses, unless it has been authorized through proper channels within the corporate chain of command, is theft. The colleague who allowed the manager to falsely use his name, is as guilty as the manager in the commission of said crime. You knowing that said crime took place is guilty of ommission of the crime, you knew a crime took place, and did nothing. In the end, the company could fire all three for theft, seek redress through the courts for the stolen funds, and lastly damage your reputation when seeking another position elsewhere.

Todd M. Brklacich
Murray, UT.

Anonymous said...

The person whom the manager asked to cover for him is
responsible for taking action, not a third party.