March 29, 2007

Former GE Attorney: Employees Can be Fired for Failing to Bring Concerns to Ombuds

In an article for Corporate Counsel Magazine, a former GE senior VP and general counsel discusses the inherent conflict for attorneys who are also corporate officers. Among other things, Ben W. Heineman Jr. asserts that corporations must have systems available for employees to elevate concerns. However, his perspective is antithetical to IOA's tenets and even ABA guidelines:
Whether through an ombudsman system, an internal corporate audit staff, or division GCs and line lawyers..., employees at all levels of the organization must feel free to bring concerns about financial, legal, ethical or reputational issues to the top. Employees must know that those matters will be fully investigated and resolved, and they must have no fear of retaliation. Indeed, they must know that they have a duty to raise such issues, with failure to do so resulting in serious sanctions, including termination. [Emphasis added.]

Heineman also says that corporate attorneys, finance and audit departments have an obligation to investigate any issue raised by ombuds. (Via Law.com; Related Ombuds Blog post Harvard Business Review on Ombuds.)

3 comments:

  1. Yikes! How could this possible be enforced while protecting the employees' confidentiality?

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  2. It seems that the perception of the ombuds as a tool for administration is pervasive. I wonder how we can change this on a grand scale.

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  3. What's even scarier is that they can be terminated when they do bring legitimate concerns to the Ombudsman. You're screwed if you do and screwed if you don't! It's a crap-shoot. I advise GE employees to adhere to the "Don't ask, Don't tell policy if they wish to not be retaliated against!

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