Lynne Curry: Office worker fired for telling the truth

Lynne Curry

Q. I got fired for telling the truth about my supervisor. I guess no good deed goes unpunished.

He used to take me to lunch and write the expense off as if I was a client. Then, I'd take him fishing because I had a boat.

We had a falling out a couple of months ago and he stopped the lunches so I stopped inviting him fishing. Last week I realized if he was having the company buy his and my lunches he was probably doing the same thing with a lot of other people. So I figured I had something on him I could take to the boss. I made the mistake of telling my office mate I was thinking of blowing the whistle.

This morning, I got fired and she got a promotion. So she and he both screwed me. I read in one of your columns about retaliation and want to know how to make my case. I know my supervisor is going to say it was my performance that was the problem, but he only made some stuff up about lateness and other things that he let lots of others slide on -- including my office mate.

A. Federal and state laws protect employees who voice concerns about legitimate issues concerning manager fraud. When unfairly retaliated against, these employees have a relatively easy time proving their cases and often win large amounts.

To win, you need to show your speaking up caused your firing. Employees help prove their cases by voicing their concerns in front of a trusted co-worker who "has their back," sending certified letters, enlisting the support of a senior manager or human relations professional or presenting clear facts documenting the retaliation.

If you had told your company's CEO your supervisor fraudulently claimed meal expenses you might have had a case. Instead, you appear to have enjoyed the scam when it benefited you and gossiped about potential whistle-blowing to retaliate against your supervisor.

Further, your supervisor can defeat your claim by showing he fired you for real performance issues -- unless you can prove these reasons were a pretext. If your supervisor produces documentation showing your performance problems predated your conversation with your coworker, it contradicts your claim that your almost whistle-blowing got you fired. A June 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling places the burden on plaintiff former employees of showing their supervisor wouldn't have fired them had it not been for the concerns they voiced. Can you do this, given that you knew your company paid for meals you ate as a fake client and didn't plan to make an issue of it until the gravy train ended?

I think you're out of luck, as is your supervisor as soon as your office mate leaks the information to your CEO. After all, if she'd out you, why not him?

Additionally, the IRS is cracking down on employee expense reimbursements as part of a wide-ranging audit crackdown on employment tax issues. If either the IRS or your company decides your supervisor falsely claimed meal expenses, it can disallow them, adding the luncheon treating to your supervisor's taxable income -- and placing your former company on the hook for related payroll taxes and penalties.

Perhaps it's time for you to do the right thing and let your CEO know the situation -- without expecting anything for it.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management- employee trainer and owner of The Growth Company Inc. Send questions to lynne@thegrowthcompany.com and follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10.

 


Lynne Curry