Everyone Else Does It!
Steven Cesare, Ph.D.
A business owner called me the other day to talk frantically about his co-owner’s ongoing frustration with the local labor market, regional pay practices, and disregard for federal law enforcement. Apparently, during a recent meeting between the two owners, the majority shareholder grew emotionally exasperated with the company’s persistent inability to fill vacant landscape positions, the relentless pressure to pay current employees more money lest they leave to work for the competition, and the confluence of both factors on company revenue, profit, and value.
During his protracted screed, the majority owner often stated that innumerable interview candidates consistently and convincingly claim other local landscaping companies do not require I-9 documentation, pay their employees in cash for overtime work, and guarantee them at least 10 hours of overtime each workweek. At the point of cathartic climax, the majority owner had a Howard Beale moment and shouted “Everyone else does it! They never get caught. Why don’t we do the same thing?”
Naturally, his emotional wail could not be countermanded with rational evidence. He was obviously well past the point of listening. Nevertheless, here is that rational evidence that he refused to entertain.
Willfully violating federal immigration laws seldom turns out well for business owners. Novice historians are all too familiar with the 2017 Asplundh Tree Experts, Inc. case in which the Pennsylvania-based tree clearing company, agreed to pay $95 million in forfeitures and fines related to illegal I-9 practices and employing unauthorized workers. The citation noted company executives were “willfully blind” to a system that “tacitly perpetuated” re/hiring unauthorized workers. Sounds like the majority business owner should be getting ready for a new fitted orange jump suit soon.
Leaving the realm of the Homeland Security Administration, let’s move to our friends at the Internal Revenue Service.
You probably have never heard that phrase before: “friends at the Internal Revenue Service.”
Because they don’t exist.
Federal tax fraud, tax evasion, and adjoining penalties and fines are not conveniently dismissed. As the minority owner stated to me “Russian Roulette has better odds.” Akin to federal tax laws, are obviously state payroll tax and income tax issues. The odds just got worse.
Is anybody else getting a little warm all of a sudden?
Having heard the rational evidence before, the majority owner told his minority partner business partner that he was going to start paying company employees with cash beginning the following week. At that point in time, I told the minority owner to call the company Accountant and Attorney immediately, to either try and shed some sanity onto the majority owner or to develop some kind of package excluding the minority owner from potential prosecution. Failure to act suddenly and formally would place the minority “owner” in the same prospective lawsuit with the majority “owner,” when the charges are filed against “their company” since they both had personal knowledge of their willingness to violate myriad state and federal laws.
While the majority shareholder’s perceived plight evokes a degree of emotional consolation and professional understanding, it does not negate the set of responsibilities inherent within his personal honor, business ethics, and leadership role. Once a person forsakes virtue, s/he ceases being the person s/he once was, and will now, rapt with self-imposed desperation, begin to believe s/he too can get away with anything because no one else ever gets caught.
Keep in mind: It’s not about what “everyone else does”; it’s about what you do.
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