Protect your rights with allegations of corporate fraud
By Peter Small, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor
Employees accused of workplace fraud should contact a criminal lawyer as soon as possible to protect their rights in any future legal proceedings, says Ottawa criminal lawyer Céline Dostaler.
“With regards to the criminal consequences, you want to speak to a lawyer to figure out what the next steps are, and to make sure that you don’t make any statements that could harm you later on,” says Dostaler, founder of Céline Dostaler Professional Corporation.
“Often people call me and say, ‘My employer thinks that I’ve committed some fraud at work — what should I do?’” says Dostaler, who frequently handles corporate fraud cases.
Workplace fraud allegations are complicated by the fact that the accused are often anxious to keep their jobs as well as avoid criminal consequences, she tells AdvocateDaily.com.
Dostaler also advises speaking to an employment lawyer for job-related issues.
“You call your criminal lawyer to make sure that you’re not going to be charged or to protect any rights before you’re charged, and then an employment lawyer to ensure you can keep your job or prevent it from affecting future career opportunities.”
Sometimes employees hope that meeting with their employer to explain what happened will save their job and career, Dostaler says.
“It’s always nerve-wracking,” she says. “You might want to keep your job and say something just to appease the employer without understanding what you’re actually admitting to.”
To preserve their rights in any potential criminal proceedings, Dostaler advises clients not to start off by making any admissions of wrongdoing.
This is especially important before the size of the alleged fraud is known, because employees may admit to a larger misappropriation of funds than has actually been identified, she says.
“Don’t say anything because we want to make sure that we know what the charges against you are,” Dostaler says. “Once there’s disclosure, and the charges are laid, and we have a complete view of what the fraud would be, we can fix it at that point in time through the criminal process.”
Some clients have admitted to Dostaler that they have misappropriated funds and ask whether they should offer to pay the money back in the hopes of lessening the consequences.
It all depends on the situation, she says. Sometimes employers will regard an offer to repay money as an admission of guilt, prompting them to go to the police, she says.
Dostaler advises clients to set money aside, regardless.
“I tell them to start setting up those funds to be repaid as soon as possible and, hopefully, we can protect them from having a criminal record later on,” she says.
According to a recent study published by business consulting firm MNP, the most significant fraud damage done to Canadian companies is perpetrated by people in positions of trust.
The courts take workplace fraud especially seriously because of the breaches of trust involved, Dostaler says.
If the case goes to trial, it could be long and expensive for the client, she says. There are usually reams of documents to go through, and the defendant may have to hire expert witnesses, like accountants.
Dostaler advises her clients, once accused, to keep a diary and take careful notes of any significant interactions with their employer, and to preserve any evidence they can, including emails, copies of letters and other documents, even screenshots of important files.
“All of that information is useful for the future,” she says.