Case Studies

Please note: Some but not all of these concerns have a basis in fact. For those that have a basis in fact, the names have been modified for confidentiality reasons and circumstances have been altered to avoid recognition. Others are constructions. The purpose of the case studies is to demonstrate how wrongdoing can occur in the workplace and the potential benefits to employers and employees of using the services of Raiseaconcern.

 

Get stuffed........

Mary was an employee in the meat and poultry section in a large supermarket chain. One evening she noticed James, her boss, who was the manager on the butcher’s counter, stuffing fillet steaks into a turkey. She thought this was unusual but didn’t pass any remarks. Later she noticed him chatting to a colleague as he made some purchases at the checkout. His basket included a turkey.

Mary was very suspicious of this behaviour but she had no proof that the fillet steaks were stolen. Her suspicion and concern was compounded by the fact that in a recent staff meeting, the store manager had advised that the butcher’s counter was losing money and some meat seemed to be unaccounted for. She could not raise the matter with her boss, James, and did not feel comfortable raising it with anyone else, as James had worked there for 10 years and was well liked by everyone.

The supermarket chain had retained the services of Raiseaconcern so Mary registered and submitted her concern using the secure online service.

The matter was investigated by a manager from another store and James was found to be stealing meat to the value of €400 per week. This had been happening over a two year period.

James was subjected to the supermarket chain’s disciplinary process and subsequently dismissed.

Mary received feedback through Raiseaconcern but her identity was never known to the supermarket chain, to James or to her colleagues.

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Making the bonus... at all costs

Dermot was the Regional Director (Ireland) for a global supplier of automotive spares. He had a small team of 10, including 6 sales managers. The remuneration of the team, including Dermot, was highly incentivised. If net profit in the Business Unit was in excess of €5m annually, Dermot and the sales managers received a bonus of 25% of their base pay and a bonus pool of €20,000 was made available for distribution among the four administrative staff.

Vernon, who ran the accounting system, noticed that the unit price being charged for their main product was increasing steadily. He thought this was strange as he knew that unit prices were fixed for 24 months. He did nothing further about it as he was busy in the run up to year end. Vernon was even more surprised when, a few weeks later, he learned that, despite the competitive environment, the Business Unit had made their financial targets for the year and that the team, including himself, would qualify for a bonus. That night they went for drinks to celebrate and he overheard a discussion between the sales team about how clever Dermot’s 'idea' had been. This aroused his suspicions.

The next day, Vernon examined the figures again and discovered that some customers were being overcharged for their main product. This, apparently, accounted for the strong annual profit. This presented him with a dilemma. Clearly a number of people in the office knew that prices were being manipulated – however, he didn’t know if his boss, the Financial Controller, did. A number of people, including himself, stood to benefit from bonuses of varying amounts.....and he really needed the money to pay arrears on his car loan. However, he was concerned that if the issue surfaced, he might be accused of being complicit.

He discussed the matter with his partner and they decided together that the right thing to do was to raise a concern. The parent company, which was based in Germany, had engaged the services of Raiseaconcern.com so he registered and raised his concern on the secure website.

Within days, internal auditors from Germany arrived. They quickly indentified the discrepancy. It transpired that Dermot, the Sales Directors and the Financial Controller had orchestrated the fraud, targeting hand-picked clients.

Dermot and his sales colleagues were subjected to the company’s disciplinary process. Full restitution was made to all retailers who had been overcharged and the event passed off without any adverse publicity. No one ever suspected how the matter came to light.

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Conflict of interest

Mary worked as a personal assistant to Barbara, a senior manager in the collections and arrears unit of a mortgage lender. After a few years working with her, Barbara asked Mary to do some extra personal work during working hours. One of these tasks involved keeping the accounts for Barbara’s various rental properties and lodging the rent to a bank. While this was not really appropriate, Mary didn’t object. Barbara was not the type of person to say 'no' to.

Mary was intrigued that Barbara had built up such a large portfolio of property. When processing the various rents received, Mary noticed that Barbara had acquired a new property and she immediately recognised the address. It was a ‘buy-to-let’ property recently sold by a customer of the mortgage lender who was in arrears.

Mary thought this was strange. She knew that there was a regulatory requirement that all potential conflicts of interest to be declared and that this was covered in internal policy. She suspected that this was a transaction which might come under this policy, but she had no recollection of having seen any correspondence on this – but then again it may have been marked 'Private'. She let the matter rest but later that year she overheard Barbara on the phone one day talking to an auctioneering firm about another property which a client of the mortgage lender was under pressure to sell. Her concerns were re-ignited.

Mary’s employer was registered with Raiseaconcern. Mary was unsure of what to do so she called the helpline and they advised her to formally raise a concern, using the secure online service.

Having initially received an acknowledgement, she was notified that her employer's Internal Audit Department had been appointed to investigate the matter. They forwarded a request via Raiseaconcern for the addresses of all the properties in Barbara’s portfolio. This information was easily to hand on the mortgage lender's system so Mary provided it. All communications were via the Raiseaconcern secure website so Mary’s identity was not revealed.

Within days Barbara was placed on paid leave of absence. Mary was kept updated by Raiseaconcern, during the investigation and at the conclusion they confirmed that her concern had been well founded.

It transpired that Barbara and her partner had been buying up properties of distressed borrowers of her employer at below market value. Naturally enough, she had not declared this under her employer’s conflict of interest policy as permission would not have been forthcoming. There was a strong suspicion, which was never proven, that there may have been collusion in effecting the purchases at favourable prices with an auctioneer employed by the mortgage lender. When the investigation was completed, Barbara was subjected to the firm’s disciplinary process and later dismissed. The matter was referred to the Gardai for further investigation.

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Ethnic discrimination...

Eleanor worked in a busy outlet of a fast food chain. One afternoon, when in the bathroom, she met Elewina who was very upset. When asked why she was crying, Elewina explained that a colleague, Karl, had shouted at her and used racist and rude comments to her in front of colleagues. She said that this wasn’t the first time that this had happened.

Eleanor observed what was happening in Elewina’s workstation for a few days. She noticed that without any provocation, Karl would subject Elewina to outrageous verbal abuse.

Eleanor spoke privately to the floor manager about this behaviour which she described as abusive and unacceptable. Despite promising to tackle the problem (and Eleanor wasn’t sure if he did or not), it persisted. Eleanor spoke to him again and he made a similar promise – again with no change in Karl’s behaviour. By this point Elewina, who was very distressed about the matter, was actively looking for another job.

Eleanor registered with Raiseaconcern, whose services were used by the fast food chain, and raised a concern regarding the lack of action on the matter. The Human Resources Department immediately commenced an investigation and spoke to the people concerned. Karl was quite taken aback, particularly when advised that this matter had been raised by an unnamed concerned colleague. He stated that he did not realise the impact his behaviour was having. He immediately apologised to Elewina.

Karl was subjected to the disciplinary process and received a written warning about his behaviour. The floor manager admitted that he had not acted on any of the occasions when the matter was escalated to him as he thought it would “settle down”. He too was subjected to the disciplinary process by reason of his mismanagement and offered a choice of demotion and relocation to another branch or the opportunity to resign. He opted for the former but he too received a written warning specifically stating that any attempted retribution would result in immediate dismissal.

All staff received training on dignity in the workplace where the impact on workers who suffered abuse of any nature was discussed. The working atmosphere improved significantly as a result and staff attrition reduced. Eleanor took comfort from the fact that she had recourse to Raiseaconcern.com in the event that there were any adverse repercussions from the floor manager, who would have guessed it was she who raised the concern. Thankfully, there wasn’t as he took seriously the threat of losing his job.

 

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There’s just not enough time...

Alan worked for a multinational insurance company managing the Internal Controls Unit. This company had a very strong reputation for fast, efficient service and a high standard of customer service. The Internal Controls Unit played an important role in ensuring that the sales practices for all insurance policies were appropriate and to a high standard; that the policies sold were suitable for the customers and that sales agents, a large part of whose remuneration package was commission based, did not engage in mis-selling.

The company was doing well. Sales were increasing and, following a strong efficiency drive, costs were being held flat and even reduced in some units. Headcount was being closely managed.

Alan, who had been with the company five years, was meticulous about his work. He ran a very efficient unit which had a strong reputation for quality control. However, he was becoming increasingly concerned that due to increased business volumes, the level and frequency of control checks being undertaken was not sufficient. He applied for more staff when the annual budget was being prepared and set out what he considered to be a compelling business case. However, the Head of Operations turned down the request and stated that in line with other cost cutting initiatives, not alone could Alan not increase his staff, he would have to reduce it by two. Alan appealed the decision to the Chief Financial Officer but lost.

In a carefully prepared paper which detailed the additional regulatory, reputational and financial risks being taken, Alan raised a concern through Raiseaconcern, whose services were contracted by the insurance company. The matter was investigated by the Internal Audit Department who found that the additional risks being run were outside the insurance company’s risk tolerance. They also found evidence that, due to pressure to make more sales, the insurance agents had been engaged in inappropriate sales practices. This had not been picked up by the Internal Controls Department as the relevant tests had been discontinued on foot of staff cutbacks.

Alan felt vindicated when he received feedback that his concern had been well founded and that action would be taken to address the matter.

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Safety is sacrosanct...

George worked as an usher in a large cinema chain. Management at the cinema were having ongoing problems with unruly patrons who, during film shows, would open the emergency exits from inside. This caused the alarms to go off and sometimes panicked the patrons. A number of incidents of pick pocketing and stealing from handbags were reported after such events.

After happening a few times the practice stopped. George initially thought that this was because the perpetrators had just stopped misbehaving. However, one evening when George was checking the premises prior to closure, he noticed that all the emergency exits were, in fact, now locked.

George was immediately conscious of the Health & Safety risks. However, he was afraid that if he reported the matter to the local manager (who, most likely, had authorised locking the doors), he might lose his part time job. His job was crucial as it was paying his way through college.

The cinema chain had not engaged the services of Raiseaconcern.com but George ‘recommended an organisation’, stating that he had a concern to raise. After a call from Raiseaconcern.com, the cinema chain registered and George raised his concern, knowing that Raiseaconcern would protect his identity.

A Health & Safety Check was immediately commissioned by the cinema group owners and the locked doors were discovered. In view of the seriousness of the issues, the owners felt obliged to report the matter to the Health & Safety Authority. This resulted in an inspection and a radical overhaul of procedures and practices across the group as a whole. But it was a small price to pay for avoiding the disaster that could have occurred.

George received feedback that his concern was well founded. As the inspection could have been routine, no one even considered how the issue came up. George was relieved that he took action as he would never have forgiven himself had there been a fire or some other emergency and he felt he owed it to his employers to raise such an issue, which they were clearly unaware of.

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Being on the inside track...

Claire was an accounting trainee in the Financial Control Department of a public limited company. She was friendly with Ruth who worked in a similar position and who, to Claire’s great envy, recently bought herself a new sports car. While they were socialising one night with friends they enquired from Ruth how she could possibly afford such a nice car. Ruth responded that she and her partner made a lot of extra money trading shares.

Some months later, following a major acquisition by their employer, its share price rose significantly. Ruth, who liked to boast to her friends, told them subsequently that she and her partner were going on an exotic holiday abroad. She confided that her partner had “made a killing” on the company shares following a tip she gave him so he was treating her to the holiday.

Claire knew from her studies that insider dealing was a very serious matter. While she had no proof that Ruth or her partner were engaged in such practice, she did know that Ruth had been assisting with running the financial projections for the new acquisition. She decided to raise the matter with Raiseaconcern.com who managed her employer’s whistleblowing programme. She included all her suspicions but stressed that she had no proof.

An investigation conducted by the company’s external auditors followed and Claire subsequently received confirmation that her concern was well founded. Her employers had operated poor systems and controls around keeping insider lists and informing those who had inside information that they could not trade their company shares while in possession of such information. Ruth had indeed passed inside information to her partner, who worked in a stock broking company, and he had traded shares and profited from this information. The matter had to be reported to the Central Bank and to the Gardai.

While the sums involved were not large, both parties were subjected to criminal penalties. Ruth also lost her job.

Claire’s employers were also fined by the Central Bank although the fine was mitigated because they reported the matter and co-operated fully with the regulatory investigation.

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An incentive to do business...

Sean was a long serving electrical engineer in a company that had a number of large manufacturing plants. One of Sean’s responsibilities was to oversee the review tenders and allocate contracts to electrical firms for supply of various services and electrical components. Sean chaired a small review panel for this purpose which also included Michael, the financial accountant and John, the legal adviser, both of whom were junior to Sean.

The company’s principal electrical services contract for maintenance and repair was due for renewal and was put out to tender. On the final date for receipt of tenders the panel met to review them. All panel members were surprised that the existing supplier did not submit a tender. Sean proposed that they would defer a decision until the following day and in the meantime he would contact the existing supplier to ensure they hadn’t forgotten the due date.

The following day, a tender arrived in from the existing supplier with a note of apology for confusing the due date. The tender appeared to be significantly better on service level although more expensive than the others. Under the scoring system used to assess tenders it was the most competitive tender. Sean, who was vastly experienced and tended to have a strong personality, drove the debate, commented favourably on the existing service, made no mention of the delayed tender and proposed that the contract would be offered to the existing company. No one disagreed.

Some weeks later Michael was in the city at night and noticed Sean and his wife in the company of the Managing Director of the electrical services provider entering an expensive restaurant.

As a result of all of this, Michael wondered if there was more to the relationship between Sean and the service provider than met the eye. However, he was afraid that if he broached this with Sean he would use his strong personality to ridicule the suggestion of impropriety as well as reminding Michael that he had been a party to the decision to accept the tender.

Michael decided to raise a concern securely with Raiseaconcern whose services were used by his employer. In an investigation that took place discreetly over the following months Sean was found to be accepting bribes, inducement and inappropriate hospitality from a number of suppliers. He had been interfering with the tendering process in a number of different ways over the years. As a result, his employer had paid inflated prices for many services to the tune of over €3m.

Michael’s identity as the person who raised the concern was never suspected. He received an update via Raiseaconcern every two weeks during the lengthy investigation so he knew that the matter was being reviewed. When the investigation was completed, he received confirmation that his concern had been well founded.

Sean was subjected to the company’s disciplinary process and dismissed. Legal proceedings for recovery of costs overcharged were initiated against a number of suppliers and the Gardai were informed.

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This project has been supported by Kildare Local Enterprise Office which is co-funded by the Irish Government and the European Union under Ireland's EU Structural Funds Programmes 2007 - 2013.