Ordered to Break the Law

Do you have to do something illegal if your boss tells you to do it?  No.

There is more detail to give when it comes to whether you have to do something that is against the law if your employer directs you to do it, but first and foremost we want to be clear: Gold Star Law does not advise you to break the law, and our position is an unqualified “no” to the title question.

So assume your boss asks you to do something as part of your job that is against the law.  Maybe you’ve been asked to lie on paperwork that goes to a government agency like the IRS or Medicare.  Maybe you’ve been asked to violate safety laws such as how long you can drive without a break. Maybe you’ve been asked to commit a violent crime.  Whatever the request, assume you have been directed to do it and assume you know it is illegal.  What do you do now?

First, remember that people have free will.  The legal system assumes you do at least.  If you commit a crime, even at the direction of someone else, you can be held responsible for your actions.  That does not mean that the person directing you to do it is not also guilty- they very likely are.  It just means that “he told me to do it” is not a particularly strong criminal defense.

Second, you should know that the state of Michigan has a cause of action called public policy discharge which provides a remedy to employees who have been fired for refusal to engage in illegal activities.  That means that if you are told to do something illegal as part of your job and you say no, and you later get fired because you said no, you can sue your employer for having fired you because you refused to break the law.

Third, you should also know about whistleblower protections.  It is illegal to fire an employee for having reported illegal activity to a government agency, or for threatening to make such a report.  However, whistleblower protections do NOT cover employees who only make internal complaints.  So, if other people are doing illegal things and you complain about them to your employer but never threaten to tell the police or a governmental agency, you are not a “whistleblower.”

If you have been fired for refusing to do something illegal, or for reporting illegal activity to a government agency, call Gold Star Law for help.