How Healthy Corporate Culture Stops Whistle-blowers

How Healthy Corporate Culture Stops Whistle-blowers

The word whistle-blower can trigger many different feelings for Americans. Much of the nation has very dichotomous feelings about whistle-blowers, either lauding them as heroes, or vilifying them as saboteurs. Individuals at the center of these whistle-blower stories are cast in different roles depending on the route that external media decides to take. While spectators decide for themselves whether the whistle-blower had good intentions or otherwise, the real question we should be asking is what kind of corporate culture within their organization allowed these events to transpire?

Whistle-blowing is not to be confused with “leaking,” another term that often appears in these narratives. In short summation, whistle-blowing is actually defined under the Whistle-blower Protection Act, describing a disclosure of information that an employee “reasonably believes” demonstrates “a violation of law, rule, or regulation; gross mismanagement; a gross waste of funds; an abuse of authority; or a substantial and specific threat to public health and safety.” These actions amount to misconduct, and are actionable. “Leaking” describes the act of indiscriminately releasing company information, regardless of whether or not that information constitutes some degree of ethical violation. The term “leaker” can also be ascribed to a legitimate whistle-blower in order to discredit them.

In reality, it is a myth that most whistle-blowers are “snitches” who go directly to external sources like the press or watchdog groups to report their organization’s problems. In most cases that have been denoted as “whistle-blowing” there are documented attempts by the whistle-blower to try and resolve the issue within their corporation or organization. It’s when those attempts to resolve the issue internally are exhausted that whistle-blowers often find themselves without recourse, and go to the media in order to get their story out there.

This is why those who work in corporate ethics and corporate compliance recommend a healthy corporate culture in order to prevent whistle-blowing from occurring in the first place. Healthy corporate cultures promote a climate of excellent communication in the pursuit of a common goal (usually outlined by a corporation’s established values or mission statement). When an issue is brought to the attention of leadership, and they are inspired by a company’s mission statement to do something about it, that is where true corporate progress occurs. The effects of a healthy company culture can actually be cyclical. When an employee reports an issue or misconduct to leadership, they might expect to receive some push back. However, when that employee is carefully heard, and taken seriously, it can foster a sense of value in the workforce, as they now know they are agents who can effect change. This inspires a higher level of engagement in employees, which leads to higher rates of productivity, which in turn leads to happier leadership, who are then more inclined to reward employees for their hard work. That all increases morale on behalf of the entire workforce, leading to a healthy company culture.

When the goal is teamwork and collaboration, there is no need to turn to external sources to shed light on an issue. A healthy company culture will create a climate where internal issues can be discussed and resolved through teamwork—not through media attention and public outrage. Whistle-blowers are not heroes or villains, depending on who you believe, but rather a symptom of dysfunction within a corporation or organization that cannot afford to be ignored.

Investigating Non-Compete Violations

Investigating Non-Compete Violations

non-compete violationWhen growing a business, executives and owners have to go the extra mile when it comes to protecting trade secrets. In the pursuit of their company’s business, a common practice for corporations of all sizes is implementing non-compete clauses in their employees’ contracts. This ensures, should an employee leave the company for any reason, they cannot utilize trade secrets for the purpose of building a similar business of their own. It’s in a business owner’s best interest to be preemptive in protecting themselves from client poaching, theft of company secrets, and possibly even slander when it comes to current and former employees who violate their non-compete agreements.

Though they go by several names and the laws concerning them vary state to state, non-compete agreements are generally a legally-binding contract between an employer and an employee, whereupon acceptance of a job offer by a company, an individual agrees during their employment and following their termination they will not enter into any competing business for a predetermined period of time. Whether it’s working for a company’s top competitor, or striking out in their own business, non-compete agreements protect trade secrets, sensitive company information, and prevent competing businesses from poaching successful employees with promises of a handsome pay-raise in exchange for the expertise they might have gleaned from their time at their previous position. This kind of information can range from client bases to business operations to future products and services. The duration of the non-compete agreement following an employee’s termination have to be well within reason, as no employer can permanently preclude a former employee from any line of work.

Not every company experiences difficulties by virtue of a former employee violating their non-compete agreement, and some companies do not see the need for non-compete agreements at all, but the consequences of trade secrets being used to steal a company’s business can have devastating effects, ending in the worst possible circumstances with a business closing and an owner in debt. Even if a company is able to quash a non-compete violation in court, the cost to the company in legal fees can be astronomical, especially for smaller businesses. That’s why it’s important for owners and executives to be preemptive and proactive when it comes to potential violators. Luckily, a private investigator can help at all stages of a non-compete violation investigation.

Human resource employees are the salt of the earth, and can have a great influence on how a company develops based on the individuals they select for their workforce. However, human resource employees are not lie detectors, and do not always have access to legitimate, comprehensive background screening tools. Background screenings and checks are among the most common service associated with private investigators. If there is something suspect in a candidate’s past, licensed private investigators have the tools and experience to find it out. Private investigators can pull a candidate’s criminal history, financial history, and interview persons in their lives who can speak to character and work ethic. They can also spot patterns in a person’s work history or lifestyle that could be high-risk factors in a hypothetical non-compete violation—things like transience, long periods between positions, or financial destitution.

Some malingering employees can’t wait to be terminated before violating their non-compete agreements. It’s not uncommon for these individuals to exploit trade secrets for their businesses own gain while on company time and dime. While on a business trip, an individual might use company per diem to buy drinks for a person who could be a potential investor in their new business. Employees might use company supplies to supplement their project, such as printers, fax machines, computers, and other equipment. Private investigators can conduct diligent investigations within a company’s workforce to root out the source of the theft. Private investigators can interview witnesses, including upper management and other staff, review vital documents like bank records, and conduct surveillance of the company’s operations as needed to expose the perpetrator. Their objectivity makes them an ideal candidate to conduct such an investigation because they do not have a stake in the outcome.

There are many circumstances under which a business owner might come to suspect a former employee has violated their non-compete agreement. Word might have traveled through business circles that a similar business is starting up. Employees might start disappearing in clusters. Clients may suddenly decide to sever business ties in favor of a new contender in the competition. Whatever transpires, one thing is certain—documenting and exposing this exploitation is imperative, because the consequences can be costly. Retaining a qualified private investigator who specializes in corporate crises is crucial to resolving non-compete violations quickly, before the exponential costs begin to erode profits. Private investigators can perform surveillance on suspected former employees to document their movements, record with whom they met, and collect evidence such as pictures of a brick and mortar establishment, marketing materials, vital documents, and filings with the Secretary of State. Private investigators can send undercover operatives to infiltrate a workforce to get information the business privy only to employees. They can also enlist the aid of a confidential informant—an individual already within the company to provide information. This requires quality interviewing skills and developing a natural rapport with potential witnesses, both important qualities in a qualified investigator.

When non-compete violations are at their ugliest, not only do violators seek to siphon off their former employer’s business by exploiting trade secrets and knowledge of their operations, but they can also play dirty by exposing this information publicly. Another method involves deliberately spreading lies about the competition in order to drive business towards the former employee’s company. That’s known as slander and it’s legally actionable. Documenting the perpetuation of these lies and proving they are in fact false are crucial in these cases. Diligent fact-finding is the cornerstone of any private investigator’s expertise. Private investigators can conduct cyber investigations to track down the users behind profiles that post false negative reviews, follow rumors back to their roots, and forensically track how information left the competition and made its way into the former employee’s business nucleus. They can implement many of the strategies aforementioned: surveillance, interviewing witnesses, documenting evidence. Slander cases tend to have a divisive they-said, they-said narrative, which is where a private investigator’s objectivity becomes invaluable once more. Private investigators have no stake in the solution of an investigation. Their independence coupled with their expertise and resume make them spectacular witnesses in any subsequent litigation.

When a company has a non-compete agreement in place, it’s important that executives and owners are proactive when performing a risk assessment on a potential employee. It’s important that a healthy company culture fosters good comradery, honesty, and a policy of “if you see something, say something.” Building a case against a former employee who violated their agreement can be time consuming at the expense of company resources. Dealing with the fallout from litigation can bring a reliable business to its knees. Private investigators can assist in all phases of any non-compete agreement violation, and retaining their services will go a long way towards a body of objective evidence and testimony that can resolve a company’s crisis.

If you have suspicions that a current or former employee has violated their non-compete agreement, contact Lauth Investigations International today for a free consultation on how we can help you! Call 317-955-1100 or find us online at www.lauthinvestigations.com. 

Carie McMichael is the Media and Communication Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. She regularly writes on investigations, missing person, and other topics in the criminal justice system. 

On the Line: Exposing Theft in Manufacturing

On the Line: Exposing Theft in Manufacturing

On the Line: Exposing Theft in Manufacturing

When your business is in manufacturing, you are the steam engine on a locomotive of consumer progress. Product quality and efficiency start with you—producing the best results so the next link in the chain has a reasonable chance of success. This means hiring the best people to work in your plant is paramount to clearing the black. Human Resource departments dedicate themselves to recruiting the best of the best for their company, but even the most qualified and dependable candidates can give you ugly surprises with dishonest behavior, including malingering, fraud, and most significantly, theft.

All industries experience internal theft lowering their profits, but manufacturing is one of those most heavily affected. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) has reported in global industries, internal theft accounts for more than $3.7 million of eroded profits every year. The ACFE has determined, for manufacturing and production industries, the median loss is $194,000 per company.  There’s no short of manufacturing industries who suffer this loss, but to a thief, some are more lucrative than others. The top five manufacturing targets of thieves are pharmaceutical, metal, cargo, electronics, and cigarettes. The opioid crisis in the United States is not only responsible for millions of dollars of theft in pharmacies, but also in the plants where drugs are manufactured, or the warehouses where they are stored. Warehouse and plant workers often swipe units of electronics and fabrication materials for use in their own homes. These items can go for a small fortune on the street, or they can be resold on the black market to avoid being traced.

The larger the theft, the quicker it is noticed, but no company should have to wait for a large loss to implement prevention strategies. Any high-ranking employee or human resources employee can recognize the signs of internal theft, if they know where to look. For example, employees might report recent loss, or seeing product in unauthorized locations. Employees may be exhibiting suspicious behavior, like repeated rendezvous in the parking lot, or the surrounding area. Outlandish material possessions, such as new cars, designer shoes, and expensive jewelry, might suddenly be a regular part of the employee’s life. Low morale is one of the most common causes of internal theft, as employees who feel undervalued suddenly rationalize to themselves they deserve to take something from the company for their hard work and sacrifice.

manufacturing theftAs such, human resource departments are always reshaping their recruitment process to ensure they hire only quality individuals to be a part of their team. And this goes for all ranks within a workforce.  While a lower-level employee may not be noticed themselves, higher-level employees are the ones poised to cause significant loss to the company with their status and access to important company records. When everyone is a suspect, HR must implement procedures and methods of prevention that not only educate employees on the warning signs of theft, but also craft a culture that promotes honesty—if you see something, say something. These preemptive measures can be things like a comprehensive employee handbook, specific training to recognize signs of theft, effective security and monitoring systems, and a confidential tip line so that employees can report suspicious behavior without fear of reprisal. In manufacturing industries where groups of employees are assigned to their own sections, it’s important to have regular team meetings to maintain contact with the workforce so policies to protect the company can be reviewed and modified to improve and protect daily operations.

However, despite having a plethora of prevention methods in place, bad apples can still slip through the cracks of due diligence. When all attempts to handle a theft in-house have failed, there is still recourse. Many companies feel the need to handle all matters of theft internally, using teams of Human Resource employees or their own in-house investigator, but in-house operatives often lack the cohesive experience that comes from working in private investigations. The initial instinct might be to use an informal, in-house operative. Unfortunately, using an in-house operative has the potential to backfire quickly. If this investigator is known to the company’s workforce, their undercover efforts to sus out the culprit can be exposed easily, allowing the perpetrator to modify their methods, or disappear entirely before being identified. Poor investigations cannot only leave the perpetrator with an out, but can also exacerbate a workforce’s low morale, as employees become suspicious and paranoid.

Hiring a private investigator to investigate an internal theft has a wealth of benefits for business owners. Most obviously, an external, third-party investigator will be a fresh, unknown face to a company’s workforce. This “new blood” can freely move about the company inconspicuously. Their new hire status coupled with expertise in interviewing subjects will allow them to question other employees without suspicion. Private investigators also have a better chance of thoroughly investigating middle to higher management. As previously stated, these are the employees with the most access—able to alter inventory sheets and cost analyses. Over a period of time, a private investigator can hide in plain sight, keeping meticulous records on conversations and reporting surveillance findings that can be cataloged for any terminations resulting from the investigation.

manufacturing theftTerminations under messy circumstances like internal theft can often have legal repercussions, on both the side of the employer and employee. Companies may feel inclined to prosecute for the losses to the company, or an employee who feels they were wrongly terminated may sue. Internal investigators who have improperly handled an investigation can be the lynch pin that brings any legal proceedings to its knees. Improperly gathered evidence or illegal methods of fact-finding will compromise the company and their position in terminating the employee. Terminated employees can argue the company fired the wrong person in the interest of finding a solution, or argue the termination is vindictive action. However, an external operative like a private investigator has no stakes in the outcome of any investigation. Their only loyalty is to the truth, and as such, their investigation is dependent on facts, not company politics. Private investigators are impartial third-parties, which leaves very little room for a thief to argue wrongful-termination.

When producing a quality product, the integrity begins in manufacturing. Regardless of the type of product being manufactured, theft at this level of production is profitable to an organized thief—especially one who knows how to cover their tracks. Keeping the investigation in-house certainly has public relations benefits, but ultimately, one of the tenets of quality private investigations is confidentiality. Confidentiality between a private investigator and a company will allow them to deal with the theft discreetly, but thoroughly. Their third-party status means they have no dog in the fight, and their solution will stand up to the highest level of scrutiny.

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Active Shooter Training in the Workplace

Active Shooter Training in the Workplace

Active Shooter Training in the Workplace

active shooterSo far this year, there have been 297 mass shootings in the United States. Seeing as how November 1st is the 305th day in the calendar year, it would appear that the spike in active shooter events in recent years will not slow down any time soon. While schools redefine their safety protocols and implement programs that prepare students for these events, employers throughout the United States are also beginning to understand the importance of preparing their workforce for an active shooter event. The year of 2017 broke the record for the most mass-shooting deaths every recorded—112 deaths, well exceeding the amount in any other year in recorded history. In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics published a report that showed another spike in workplace homicides. According to them, there were 83 workplace homicides in 2015, a number that skyrocketed to 500 for the year of 2018 alone. A terrifying 79% of those cases were the result of an active shooter. As a result, the desire for employee active shooter training has never been higher, with NPR reporting that as of 2016, 75-80% of employers are seeking qualified active shooter training to protect their workforce. The Department of Homeland Security has a myriad of resources on their website for dealing with active shooters. One of them is a pocket-card that outlines the characteristics of an active shooter event, “Victims are selected at random. The event is unpredictable and evolves quickly. Law enforcement is usually required to end an active shooter situation.”  Active shooters may fire at random, using no discernible criteria for their victims, but that arbitration should not be misunderstood. Perpetrators are deliberate, focused, and simultaneously detached from their task, creating a fatal perfect storm. active shooter The Department of Homeland Security also have their own guidelines to how private citizens should react during an active shooter event: Run—hide—fight. Run At the onset of an active shooter event, individuals should immediately identify an escape route, most likely a fire exit. While keeping their hands visible, they should leave their belongings behind and run to safety as quick as possible, assisting others if needed. Hide Once they’ve reached safety (or if escape is impossible) the Department of Homeland Security recommends hiding immediately in a location out of the shooter’s line of sight. Individuals should block the door or manner of entry into their hiding spot and silence their cell phones and pagers. Sit very quietly and wait for first-responders to find you. Fight The Department of Homeland Security lists this option as an absolute last resort in the event of an active shooter in the workplace. Your life should be in immediate danger, and you should be well-positioned to act with physical aggression and incapacitate the shooter. Many third-party security companies also endorse the methods of Homeland Security, but there are others that take a different approach. Laurence Barton, a workplace violence expert, recommends employers seek training programs that promote a culture of safety and preparedness—not fear. In lieu of careful research regarding active shooter training, many employers opt for the simple, cost-effective route by showing employees the prolific training video produced by the city of Houston, which features graphic depictions of employees being shot. “When some companies have created these videos that show blood and guts—that’s not in any way the kind of learning that stays with people. In fact, it repulses them…employees get scared,” Barton says, “I just don’t believe scaring people is the way to teach them. It just promotes anxiety.” Aric Mutchnick, the president of a risk management firm called the Experior Group, agrees with Barton, “Cops or military guys like to have it very realistic because they think the more real it is, the more they can find out. That is true if you’re a tactical team, but you can’t apply tactical training to a civilian population.” Mutchnick points out that the equal distribution of choice laid down by the Department of Homeland Security—run, hide, or fight—is not only dangerous, but unrealistic, “It should be 90 percent run, 8 percent hide until you can run, and then as for fight, really? Are you kidding? I don’t know how you would even train on that.” Companies like Experior Group also recommend that a base knowledge of firearms should also be part of the training, not so employees can operate firearms, but so their knowledge can inform their escape. Civilians who are ignorant of basic firearm operations can easily be paralyzed by fear because they are uncertain of a weapons range or magazine size. This gives an active shooter ample opportunity to change their position and reload without fear of retaliation. active shooter Frozen with fear—it’s something we can all relate to. After all, many working people today are not acclimated to the viable, potential threat of an active shooter in the workplace. Aggressive, hyper-realistic training can compound the anxiety triggered by the increased probability of being involved in an active shooter event. That’s why Barton and other like-minded professionals epitomize on a feeling of safety, with straightforward and honest training that will leave any employee feeling prepared. “The chief learning officer has a huge opportunity to lead a discussion about workplace safety. [Employees] are yearning to be informed about how the world is changing and how threats get processed at work…You want to have a subject matter expert who works with law enforcement and can speak the language of all employees.” One thing that employers often overlook when considering active shooter training programs is a company that curtails the training to their individual brick and mortar location. As part of what they call “red ball drills,” Experior Group will evaluate the property to identify the specific issues that might present during an active shooter event. “The problems of a commercial building are not the problems of a hospital or a school,” Mutchnick says. “Run, hide, fight is s giant blanket they throw over the problem as a response, but it doesn’t deal with any site-specific issues.” All training dispensed by Experior Group is tailor-made for the culture and physical context of any business. When these issues have been identified, the instructor can direct employees the best manner of exit, should they have that option. active shooter The last thing to consider when choosing an active shooter training program is the credibility behind the operations. Some of the most prolific risk management and security companies are headed by former members of law enforcement or the military. This experience with weapons and chaos not only validates the content for many employers, but also leaves employees empowered with credible knowledge. However, former navy seals and swat team leaders are not the only option when it comes to the instructor. Lauren Perry, the vice president of operations for Trident Shield, often addresses training groups. Her specific style and feminine touch opens the dialogue in any room, allowing individuals who might not respond to an aggressive, alpha males to remain engaged in the training, retaining the information that might one day save their lives. Many employers often grapple with the cost of active shooter training for their employees. With many training programs averaging in the realm of thousands of dollars, employers often question whether or not active shooter training is even necessary. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 says, “Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace that is free from serious recognized hazards.” The rise of active shooter events in the United States is most certainly recognized, with every event further inflaming the political world and conversations surrounding gun control. Given the statistics we’ve seen here, it appears as though it’s not a matter of if an active shooter even will occur, but when. Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. She regularly writes on private investigation and missing persons topics. For more information, please visit our website. 

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