By Russell Ethridge
I am a bookkeeper with a small company. My boss, one of three brothers who own the business, is married with three kids. Last month, he asked me to place a considerably younger woman, whom I have never seen in our shop, on the payroll. A work associate told me the woman is my boss’s mistress. I processed an expense account report for a tradeshow trip, and I noticed dinner receipts for two and hotel bills showing double occupancy. I knew his wife was home with the kids during the show because I saw her that week at the hockey complex where our kids play. His two brothers are absentee owners (both get paychecks) whom I don’t think would approve of their brother’s actions. Should I confront my boss? Should I tell his brothers? The amount is not huge, but it’s better than my paycheck. The work associate says my boss is an adulterer who is using the company’s money to fund his own indiscretions, and I ought to report it to his brothers.
Family businesses are often piggy banks for the owners who use them to fund all sorts of activities, including some which are marginally related, if at all, to the operation of the business.
While you have your suspicions, you have no clear evidence of illegal conduct (tax fraud, money laundering), and there are a variety of innocent explanations for your boss’s conduct. Perhaps Ms. X is a leading expert on quality systems, and the restaurant tab reflects a working dinner in preparation for a sales pitch the next day. Maybe the hotel bill shows double occupancy because his wife, who planned to come, stayed behind to take the hockey player to district finals, which no one expected the team to make. If Ms. X attended the conference, you might ask where her hotel receipt is. But, she may say she stayed with her old business school roommate, who happens to live in the town where the conference was held.