}

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

When A Boss Demands That You Do Things Which Are "Extras"


I heard an outrageous story from a candidate that I thought would be worth sharing.  A young lady, barely three years out of school, came to see me.  She had only been with her ad agency about two months. When I asked why she wanted to leave her company so soon, she was reluctant to tell me, but I pressed her because she had been there for such a short time. Ultimately, she told me. It seems she reported to a very senior executive who asked her to do things which went way beyond her job spec.
 
After several uneventful first few weeks, aside from doing a slew of personal errands (laundry, dog walking, grocery shopping, getting lunch etc.) almost every day, she was also handed credit card, taxi and shopping receipts and asked to complete this executive’s expense reports every week. She was told to be creative and put it all down to various clients – my candidate’s choice. After the first week, my candidate told this executive that she was uncomfortable doing the expenses for obvious reasons.  In no uncertain terms, she was told that it was part of her job and if she told anyone or refused to do them, she would, "suffer greatly".

She also told me that the personal errands could take between an hour and three hours every day and this diversion caused her to both work late and to be late in getting her work done. And the boss  actually criticized her for being late.

Tough situation.

I didn’t think this stuff actually happens any more. But apparently it does. 

My advice to her was to look for a job immediately.  In the meanwhile, she is worried about being blamed for fudging this person’s expenses, which will surely happen if someone questions the expense reports.  The problem is that if she tells finance or her boss’s boss she will be fired and she cannot afford to be out of work.  She is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.
Further, I told her not to worry about the personal errands, as long as she is looking for another job.  Doing a boss’s personal work is not that unusual, unfortunately, and, in this case, it is not the priority.

Does anyone have any experience with this kind of issue?  I actually wasn't sure what to tell her to do or how to handle.

19 comments:

  1. Tell your candidate to contact a lawyer as she is committing fraud and embezzlement when she does her boss' expense reports as she is being directed. She could end up in jail. I would not trust her boss' boss either. Her boss needs to be fired, Your client should leave but that still leaves her exposed for past expense reports that she filled out improperly.

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    1. Just spoke to a lawyer about this post. He told me that while it is fraud, if the candidate does not sign it, it is still the boss who is responsible. Of course that does not protect the candidate from a vindictive boss if the boss is caught. But you are right about not trusting the boss's boss. Thanks for chiming in.

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  2. I wouldn't say that this practice is "commonplace" but it happens more often than you think. If anyone questions the boss' expenses, he has plausible deniability because the junior person prepared them. And that's no accident.

    Paul, you might be uncomfortable with my suggestion, but here goes: I think you should contact the senior HR person at her agency and say, "I need to bring someone to you in a 'whistle-blower' scenario. I need your professional assurance that there will be no retaliation against this person for what they tell you."

    I think that the HR person will put the well-being of the agency ahead of the well-being of this young woman's boss.

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    1. Interesting suggestion. I have to think about it. Thanks.

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  3. I agree with Mark. I was going to ask where is the HR department in all this? Has anyone seen this show which airs on Sundays 'AMC' it is called 'Mad Man'. Had I been a working adult in the sixties I wouldn't have lasted in any job. I think this young lady should leave her job; especially since it is early in her career; no one should be subjected to working in a hostile environment. I am surprised that there aren't any procedures for what to do when working in a hostile environment. So, definitely the Human Resources department should address this young woman's concerns but she needs to be the one to go to them with her concerns. I pride myself on being able to help employees and letting them know of their rights.

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    1. She is in advertising and she does not trust her HR department. Since it is a private company there is no real protection. Her boss is very senior and she is concerned that the agency will side with the boss, who is very senior and very connected to clients.

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  4. I'd find out how senior her boss is. If he's exComm level, she's likely going to have to lump it until she finds a better gig. If he's a middle management tool, it's quite possible the discreet call to HR could be in order. I'd also consider legal action if I were her. Not so much from a proactive litigation perspective, but rather in the event she's terminated with prejudice, or if she's compelled to behave unethically under duress.

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    1. The boss is very senior and, as i said previously (see above, written by me after you sent this), she does not trust HR and she believes that management will side with the boss, who is very important to clients. Unfortunately, I have seen this before. In one case an agency was sued for sexual harassment about a dozen times (no exaggeration) before they decided to act and dismiss the offender because they were afraid of client relationships.

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    2. There's a great book called "P&G 99." Speaks to the principals and values that made Procter & Gamble what it is. Much of it has to do with business, but there's a great piece on ethics. Turns out P&G bought Crush (if memory serves) a carbonated soft drink maker. When the assets were turned over, P&G discovered a corporate art collection that wasn't accounted for in the sale. Turns out the sellers forgot about it and didn't exempt it from the sale. P&G were legally entitled to keep it, sell it, burn it or do whatever they want with it. What did they do? They contacted the seller and returned it. Why? It was the right thing to do. Shame too few follow such an example.

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    3. Great story. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Anyone ever see the movie, "The Devil Wears Prada", with Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway? Kind of says it all. BC

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  6. If its a private company and this is a senior person with client relationships, she's just gotta vamoose. Period. Forget expensive lawyers. Just write it off as a bad bet and move on. Right now.

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  7. What happens when a prospective employer asks why she left after just a few months? How would you counsel her? What if the prospective employer calls you?

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    1. Difficult situation. I would and have told her to tell the truth. She should say that they were demanding that she do things which were unethical. If pressed, she should tell them what it was.

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  8. Years ago I had a boss whose life was falling apart; mostly it appeared, because of alcoholism. Both his wife and girlfriend had kicked him out, his other girlfriend, the agency creative director, was sticking with him for the time being.

    But he couldn’t live with her. So he asked to live with me, or at least use my address as his home. His request was inappropriate, though desperate. We weren’t friends. I said no.

    Luckily, I wasn’t the only one at the agency affected by his drinking. So I told my boss’s boss, the agency president, about the request.

    The president, who was a recovering alcoholic and forgiving of those with drinking problems, said I did the right thing. Sharing the shenanigans was the professional thing to do. My loyalty was to the agency, not only to my boss, whose behavior was compromising my work. It turned out my remarks added to the building case to get rid of him.

    That happened several weeks later when he was summarily fired by the president in a hilarious scene as we stood in an elevator at the client’s office after a tense meeting.

    The president barked something like, “I don’t give a fuck how you get back to NY. You’re fired and I’m not paying for your airfare.” My boss, forlorn and alone, turned and went on his way.

    We never saw him again, which worried his creative director girlfriend enough for her to enlist me in a cursory search of several police departments in NY and Ohio (where the client was headquartered). Perhaps in asking me she overstepped her bounds?

    Isn’t it almost always the case Paul that management knows who is bad and why, and that things eventually work out as they should. Isn’t entirely possible the agency knows this boss is doing inappropriate things with expenses and this worker? What’s not known is whether or when they wish to act on it.

    The young lady should transfer or quit, but as happens in life, and certainly in advertising, she is learning how the world really works and that’s worth quite a lot.

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  9. I'm astounded to hear that this still goes on in 2015! I also would have suggested a meeting with HR but most of the commenters here suggest that since this is a private company, her only viable option is to leave. Paul, if anyone can find her a better situation, it's you!

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  10. As soon as she has another job lined up, she needs to go to HR directly to give her notice and tell them exactly why. I would also make sure she documents EVERY incident; every email, keep a journal of every errand, make copies of every expense report he has her create. He's clearly billing the company for personal expenses. This way when she does leave, she can provide copies to HR and basically say "hey, it's up to you now if you choose to do the ethical thing with this." At least she'll have a clear conscience. And if somehow she is made to be a fall guy, she'll have detailed documentation.

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    1. Anon: she is much too moral for that.

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  11. Or she could do the anonymous thing and send old fashioned snail mail to the agency president, CEO, and even the client if expenses are billed back to them. Remember Grey and all the folks who went to jail for overbilling print jobs to clients?

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I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

 
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