Question:

As the HR manager for my former company, I was responsible for enforcing all policies. Although our CEO and the three other principals signed the policy against making cellphone calls or texting when driving, it was an open secret they did. During the first month I worked for this company, both the CEO and a principal spoke at an all-managers’ teleconference while each drove to a location in a different area of the state.

I reminded the principals many times of the no cellphone usage while driving policies. They all nodded, but still broke the policy. Those who reported to the principals them knew it, and often broke the policy as well.

During my last month with the company, our sales manager had an accident while on the phone when driving to a customer’s site. Our CEO urged me to testify this manager acted against company policy by talking on the phone when driving, lessening our liability.

Even though I’ve resigned, I know I’ll get pulled into this legal problem should things turn ugly. I’ve hired an attorney who tells me I’ll need to tell the truth and that I have exposure because I didn’t enforce the policy, which is listed in my job description as one of my responsibilities.

This infuriates me. I had no control over the CEO or the principals, any one of which could have fired me for pushing too hard.

How exactly do other HR managers get those who rank above them to obey policies?

Answer:

In your next company, you may be able to get senior management compliance by proving to them the risk they take on by openly violating their company’s policies. Because their managerial positions define them as company role models, they render their company’s policies worthless paper when they violate them.

Business owners and managers falsely believe their company’s insurance covers any judgment or settlement against their company should they be sued for an employee’s negligence. Not true.

Here’s the reality for the situation your last employer finds itself in. Although the company may have a commercial general liability policy, it may not cover accidents for employees driving their own vehicles. The accident victim can hold the driver’s employer liable for the employee’s negligence if the employee acted within the scope of employment, for example, the employee has an accident when running a business errand.

If the employee doesn’t have insurance and the employer gets sued, the company has to pay attorney’s fees and any settlement or finding of liability out of pocket.

Meanwhile, you wisely retained an attorney. Your interests and your former employer’s interests may not align. You need to tell the truth. Otherwise, you perjure yourself.

Finally, as HR, when your principals won’t adhere to their own policies, you can still act to enforce the policy for those under the level of principals. You may even write an exception into the policy for principals so that the remainder of policy retains its teeth.

2 thoughts on “Rule-breaking CEOs

  1. Thanks for your comments and distinctions here. It is difficult when top management doesn’t obey its own policies. I would hope that the person who sent this case has a partial defense in that the poster seems to have commented on the need to follow the policy. It would be interesting to see how a policy exempting senior managers would turn out to be written in practice and what effects it would have on other staffers.

  2. Agreed and great point. I wouldn’t feel comfortable authoring such a policy unless there was an incredibly important reason. I also know that many organizations want protective policies against driving while talking on cell phones on the book to “protect them” without realizing the dangers of not following them.

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