Agnieszka Lisiecka, interviews

Agnieszka Lisiecka: Staff must know the rules in force within the company

Litigation Portal: If employees violate the law, is that a dangerous situation for the employer?

Agnieszka Lisiecka: Definitely. If staff are dishonest, and there is theft or embezzlement going on within the company, it destroys discipline and is harmful to the company.

Even more dangerous are situations where staff act to the detriment of customers or suppliers. As a rule, the employer alone is liable for injury to a third party. The employer may seek indemnity from the employee only if his or her liability has been determined by a legally final judgment. Even then, there are certain restrictions. Unlimited indemnity up to the entire amount of the loss may only be sought if the employee acted intentionally. If the employee was at fault but did not act intentionally, the employer may seek indemnity only up to an amount equal to three months’ wages, not the actual loss and not lost profits. The disproportion between the actual loss and the cap on indemnity can be huge. An employee’s action to the detriment of a customer may be especially damaging to the employer, because it can ruin the company’s reputation.

So it would be nice to know whether employees are breaking the law. How can an employer obtain this information?

Honest employees who suspect abuses by co-workers should share their knowledge or suspicions with the employer. But staff are often reluctant to stick their necks out. Sometimes, for example, their immediate supervisor is involved.

This is why companies need an internal ethics code. The employee needs to know what rules are in force within the company, what behaviour is considered unlawful or unethical from the point of view of the organisation.

The regulations must not be a dead letter. Staff awareness and sensitivity to ethical issues are crucial for implementation of an ethics code. First, it is important to make the ethics code a source of employment “law,” by incorporating it into the workplace regulations or individual employment contract. Second, staff must in fact read the ethics code, with confirmation in writing. Training and regular reminders concerning the ethics code help, too.

Whom should an employee turn to if he or she has suspicions, and what if that person is involved?

One solution that has been gaining in popularity recently is to introduce “whistleblowing” procedures to encourage staff to report abuses within the organisation. In short, one or more individuals are designated to receive any reports of irregularities that are discovered. They then investigate the matter. There are various approaches. The procedure may operate at the company or group level, or this function can even be outsourced. It is important to maintain a certain level of impartiality on the part of the persons who handle such reports, and a certain minimum level of protection for the whistleblowers themselves—staff who report irregularities. Employees clearly need to know exactly what the procedure is and whom they should report to, whether they can remain anonymous, and so on. When employees are aware of these aspects, they are more likely to follow the procedure and the employer is more likely to find out about irregularities.

Sometimes methods are used involving a reward for honest employees who report abuses.

In Poland, for historical and political reasons, methods that encourage “tattling,” even for a good purpose, remain unpopular. Such systems need to be applied carefully, because they can also give staff an opportunity to make false reports, violating the reputation of other employees.