13. Criminal Liability


People rarely think about their conduct at work as being potentially illegal, or that imprisonment could result from poor workplace decisions. However, this fact is the reality. Organizations are fined, and executives are sentenced to jail, when business laws are broken. Many of the workplace violations are nonviolent crimes, such as fraud, property crimes, or substance abuse infractions. Regardless of the nature of the transgression or the employee’s motivation for committing the crime, breaking the law can lead to negative consequences for the business, its employees, and its customers. Businesses must protect themselves from the bad judgment and behavior of their employees. If an employee acting within the scope of employment commits a crime from which the business will benefit, then the business can be convicted of the crime, too.

A crime is a social harm that the law punishes. At the most basic level, criminal statutes reflect the rules that must be followed for a civil society to function. Like individuals, businesses can be both victims and perpetrators of crime. Crime affects businesses both from outside and inside the organization. Criminal activity “from the outside” may include property damage, theft, shoplifting, corporate espionage, fraud, and arson. Threats “from the inside” may include crimes such as embezzlement, computer crimes, and fraud. Businesses may actively perpetrate crime, through a bad corporate culture or through organized crime, such as money laundering.


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Business Law and Ethics Canadian Edition Copyright © 2023 by Craig Ervine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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