Fraudstyles of the Rich and Famous

As news breaks about fraudulent bribery payments by the wealthy and celebrated to officials and coaches at prestigious colleges to obtain admissions spots for their children, the lingering question resurfaces: how do the privileged continue to embroil themselves in such public scandals?

What about other wealthy people who make financial contributions to colleges and universities conveniently timed around their own children’s acceptances? While in certain situations fraud has not been alleged, these instances still raise the specter of unfairness, inequity, and the question of deceptive practices—for both the “contributor” and the benefitting institution.

Clearly, a sense of entitlement permeates many of these individuals. But a more compelling inquiry is whether these individuals even recognize the questionable nature of their actions.

Fraud is generally defined as the intentional use of deception to obtain something of value or deprive another of that value. Bribery amounts to a form of fraud, where the bribing party seeks to hide their payment for an unfair benefit. For instance, bribing a university official to get your son or daughter admitted can deprive that university of the opportunity for a more qualified applicant, and it robs superior applicants a fair shot at gaining admission. Over the years, the understanding of bribery has expanded from direct cash payments for reciprocal benefits to also include indirect, non-cash “contributions”, such as charitable donations and even employment of relatives.

An interesting parallel exists between these pay-for-admittance cases among the elite and what regularly occurs within business. Certainly, the business world is rife with classic cases of fraudsters swindling the naive and gullible out of their money. But another spin on fraud also exists, one less understood. Many employees find themselves either the unwitting perpetrators of fraud or unwilling accomplices in such schemes.

For instance, employees may feel pressured by managers to commit fraud for their employer’s benefit, even though these employees receive nothing of value themselves, other than avoiding a job loss that would otherwise occur if they disobeyed orders. Recall the many Wells Fargo employees who managed to retain their jobs by following orders to open fictitious accounts for unsuspecting customers.

Other employees commit fraud simply to “go along to get along.” I recall a speaker during my graduate business school days who recounted his story of going to jail for helping a vendor to commit financial fraud, even though he claimed no direct benefit. The only seeming benefit to him involved helping a valued vendor out of a tight invoicing situation—albeit repeatedly.

These recent reports of the wealthy and famous engaging in bribery to obtain a lucrative slot for their children in the better colleges don’t sound much like dubious characters meeting in seedy motel rooms to exchange briefcases of unmarked bills. Rather, it’s possible a more subtle “self-deception” is at play. Much like the well-intended employee who gets caught up in something they did not ask for and did not want, the college admissions scandal also suggest parents rationalizing their efforts, though seriously questionable, to help their children by leveraging their status. (Not that their actions represent good
character modeling, of course.)

Syntrio’s new course, “Business Fraud: Avoiding Deceptive Business Practices,” goes beyond the obvious
fraud of employees who purposely steal from their employers or businesses that conduct an ongoing
campaign of deception. The course also addresses the fact that employees can sometimes get enmeshed
in fraudulent schemes either without personal benefit or due to work pressures. Sometimes, it’s the
subtle, sly, creeping situations that trip up a good person, putting him or her onto the wrong path.

Does Your Harassment Training Need a Makeover?

The #MeToo movement grew exponentially due to the availability of the internet as an avenue for victims of harassment to express their protest of bad acts and actors in the workplace. Like any internet phenomenon, the movement has spawned a backlash against training programs provided to employees (and perceptions about the reasons training is actually given). It wouldn’t be the internet without a daily article about why training is ineffective or a “top six reasons why your harassment training will fail” garnering retweets, likes and links in internet generated blog posts (like this one).

While the general consensus that harassment training as currently constructed has some truth, and the motivations behind spending millions of dollars on training can rightfully be questioned, where the criticism articles go wrong is their failure to emphasize the approach taken by online and live training providers as opposed to highlighting the “boring” and “thoughtless” approach taken by many lawyers and internet training providers tasked with providing one and two hour trainings for groups of managers and employees.

Where we differ from other industry providers is in our unique approach 

Syntrio prides itself on taking the criticism of the e-learning industry to heart and implementing changes in our products in response to changes in the times and tastes of employees across all industries. Where we differ from other industry providers is in our unique approach aimed at resonating with the user to change his or her behavior regardless of illegality as a means of actually preventing incidents.

As the Think Progress article linked above eloquently states, all too many training providers are focused on long lessons in black-letter law while failing to illustrate the practical implications of bad workplace behavior. Indeed, there is more to cultural change than knowing what is “illegal,” rather employees need to be instructed on how civility in the workplace can improve the overall experience for one another.

Improving workplace culture to a level of total inclusiveness

Syntrio’s video and text-based scenarios illustrate more than just the fine legal points of harassment law. Indeed, our training programs are aimed at changing or improving workplace culture to a level of far more than tolerance, but to a level of total inclusiveness. By doing so, employees feel comfortable reporting any and all perceived misconduct, not just potentially illegal misconduct. This approach makes the workplace a better place to spend time and in turn, a safer place to do so as well.

We invite you a demonstration of our approach to learning, from full-scale training programs to micro-learning courses to very brief ethical snapshots, we know you will have a refreshed look at what training can be when it goes beyond a law school lecture and into a tactical discussion on improving workplace culture.


Syntrio is a leader in the human resources and employment law fields (as well as ethics and compliance) and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of harassment, discrimination and other employment law issues your organization may face. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards employment law training program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content
.

 


Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our discrimination, harassment, and prevention of retaliation online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on corporate compliance that impact your company.


Written by, Jon Gonzalez, Esq., Chief Counsel for Syntrio

 

New California Independent Contractor Standard Complicates things for Employers

Employers have long used independent contractors for a variety of means. Perhaps your business has a project-specific job set to run a fixed length of time that can only be done by a specific type of individual, who you will not need after the job is done. Perhaps your business likes to substitute contractors for employees to avoid the administrative hassles involved in hiring employees and paying the associated payroll taxes that go along with their employ. One of the foregoing situations is an appropriate use of a contractor, the other is not. In a new California Supreme Court decision, the state’s highest court has added some clarity as to when and how an individual can be classified as an independent contractor.

When employers misclassify employees as independent contractors, they can be liable for significant overtime penalties, but also for denied benefits (given to regular employees) and other significant exposure that can make a seemingly small problem a big mess. In Dynamex Operations West v. Lee, the California Supreme Court set forth a new standard known as the “ABC” test for properly classifying a worker as an independent contractor. While “ABC” sounds simple, make no mistake, this new standard will make it much more difficult for California employers to prove that someone working for their business was an independent contractor and not an employee.

The ABC Test

The ABC test presumes employment under the California wage and hour laws unless a business can prove that all of the following conditions are met:

Factor A

Factor A requires the business must not dictate the control and direction of the employee’s work. This means contractors must be free to set their own hours and totally come and go as they please. Many companies run into problems with this step when they require contractors to be involved in regular or semi-regular meetings, for example.

Factor B

Factor B requires the entity to prove that the contractor’s services are outside the usual course of the entity’s business. The best example of this is an accounting firm who needs someone to cut the grass outside their building once a week. Such work would not fall within the purview of accounting, and therefore would pass factor B. Alternatively, where a tech company hires a contractor to do some coding on a website for its client it is a lot more difficult to prove the work was outside the usual course of the tech company’s business.

Factor C

Finally, factor C requires a business to prove the existence of a contractor’s independent operation such as a business license, tax identification, incorporation, and work for other customers or clients.

When taken in conjunction you can see that California has done its best to do away with the use of independent contractors. If you have employees in that state we strongly encourage you to contact Syntrio today to schedule a demonstration of our California wage and hour training. Further, no matter what state you may operate in, it would be of great benefit for you to review your policies and procedures, as the use of independent contractors as a substitute for employees has fallen further out of favor under the federal scheme as well.


Syntrio is a leader in the human resources and employment law fields (as well as ethics and compliance) and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of harassment, discrimination and other employment law issues your organization may face. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards employment law training program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content
.

 


Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our discrimination, harassment, and prevention of retaliation online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on corporate compliance that impact your company.


Written by, Jon Gonzalez, Esq., Chief Counsel for Syntrio

 

Vermont Passes New Sexual Harassment Law

In the latest example of “keeping up with the Joneses,” last week Vermont passed new legislation aimed at reducing (and publicizing) incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace. Similar to laws passed in many other states in the wake of the #MeToo movement, Vermont’s new law guarantees independent contractors, volunteers, and interns a working environment “free from harassment,” just as it does regular employees.

Changes to Settlement Agreements

Vermont no longer allows companies to prohibit individuals who have settled claims of sexual harassment with the employer from working with that organization in the future. This is a sweeping change that is unique in the country, in that it makes it easier for employees who resolve claims to return to their jobs, or work for the company where the incident occurred in the future.

Investigation Procedures Revamped

Investigation practices are also changing under the new Vermont sexual harassment law. Prior to the passage of this legislation the Vermont Attorney General did not have the specific right to visit places of employment and examine their harassment prevention practices. Beginning July 1, employers will need to watch out for representatives from the Vermont Department of Human Rights auditing practices or even ordering training sessions if they find deficiencies in organizational harassment prevention tactics.

Online Filing System Implemented for Charges of Harassment

Lastly, Vermont’s new law is making it easier for complainants to file charges of sexual harassment and discrimination by allowing charges to be filed wholly online. By eliminating physical steps to be taken, the legislature aims to streamline the process in hopes that more victims will come forward with allegations of harassment. Of course, whenever state legislatures take these steps it makes it easier for frivolous claims to also be filed, which is why educating your workforce on what harassment is (and is not) has become all the more important in the wake of the new law.

If you have employees in Vermont we encourage you to contact a member of Syntrio’s staff to learn more about training options that are available to you and your organization.

Syntrio is a leader in the human resources and employment law fields (as well as ethics and compliance) and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of harassment, discrimination and other employment law issues your organization may face. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards employment law training program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content.

 


Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our discrimination, harassment, and prevention of retaliation online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on corporate compliance that impact your company.


Written by, Jon Gonzalez, Esq., Chief Counsel for Syntrio

 

Retaliation Claims are on the Rise: How to Avoid Them

As reporting on suspected wrongdoing reaches historic highs, 2017 saw a 100 percent increase in retaliation claims. The 2018 Global Business Ethics Survey uncovered this shocking statistic. Driving the higher numbers are social and demographic trends, along with expanded employment laws at the state and federal levels that provide expanded protection of employees against retaliation.

The onus to prevent it, under U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations, is squarely upon the employer, making it illegal to fire, demote, harass or otherwise retaliate for these reasons against either job applicants or employees. Retaliation can be stealthy and difficult to catch, so employers must be diligent and methodical in efforts to prevent it.

There are several critical elements to doing so:

Ensure a robust policy and documentation process is in place.
Policies must be highly defined and regularly communicated to everyone in the organization. And the moment human resources or any member of management hears of a complaint, they must document every single detail—everything contained in the complaint, every action taken by the company, and every conversation had with other employees.

Maintain confidentiality while investigating and resolving a complaint.
The more members of the organization who are brought into the discussion, the more likely it becomes that someone will make a comment or take an action that could be construed as retaliation. Limit the players to those immediately involved, and stress strict confidentiality to each.

Work with both sides of the complaint.
Emotions run very high when misconduct is reported. When an employee files a complaint, take it seriously and with discretion, treat them with respect, and let them know the organization will not abide retaliatory behavior. At the same time, realize the employee against whom the complaint is filed will probably be quite upset and defensive. Remind him or her of what constitutes retaliation and its potential consequences for the company.

Training is imperative.
In recent years, legal developments have significantly broadened the scope of anti-retaliation protection and lowered the burden for establishing unlawful behavior. This has given rise to the spike in retaliation claims and has made them much more difficult to defend. It is critical to educate managers and supervisors.

Syntrio’s 45-minute course, Preventing Unlawful Retaliation, discusses the protections afforded to employees under various employment laws. Using scenarios and case studies, the course discusses the types of work-related activities that are protected by law, the types of behavior that can lead to a charge, and the risks of failing to take steps to prevent unlawful retaliation in the workplace.

 

Syntrio is a leader in the human resources and employment law fields (as well as ethics and compliance) and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of harassment, discrimination and other employment law issues your organization may face. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards employment law training program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content.


Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our discrimination, harassment, and prevention of retaliation online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on corporate compliance that impact your company.