New job, need guidance. Accountants? Bookkeepers? Smart folks?

All hypothetical, of course: :slight_smile:

Bernice has been out of work for over a year. She has experience with bookkeeping, accounts receivable, etc. She lands a job with a non-profit alumni organization that is based in the U.S. but supports organizations within one country overseas.

Bernice likes the job and the people, but she is uneasy about the way they conduct their business. She is asked to input donations that have little or no itemized paperwork; these donations are collected in the U.S. via fundraisers (usually) and sent overseas. On nearly all of them, no receipt, itemized or not, is received in return. Some of these date back to January, 2009. When questioned, the boss says something along the lines of ‘I will get them’ or ‘they’re coming’.

When Bernice took this job in January, 2010, the books had not been balanced since May, 2009.

Here is one specific example. A fundraiser was held by Mrs. Jones. She raised $10,000. She gave the funds to her brother (Mr. Smith), who then put the entire donation on his credit card, to be credited to the organization and then sent overseas. Mr. Smith says that Mrs. Jones will just give her the money and he will pay off that amount on his card.

Note: the person who previously held Bernice’s position quit because she was concerned about this sort of activity.


What are the chances that they are merely disorganized, as opposed to criminal?

Is Bernice right to be concerned?

What should she do? (she really needs this job)

Would quitting affect her eligibility to collect unemployment?

If there is something criminal going on, and it is investigated, is Bernice on the hook?


I’ve worked as an auditor for hotels and I have found a lot of theft.

The two things in the two years I had the job was

  1. It was sloppiness that failed to catch the theft
  2. If the people you point it out to, don’t care, they’re in on it
  3. Most of the people I caught had been written up or otherwise disaplined for stealing before. You don’t write someone up for stealing you fire them

My advice to Bernice is to do things straight.

Don’t cheat, don’t fudge. If an irregularity comes up, ask about it. Then make sure she documents everything in an email to her bosses and she should BCC herself at a personal email, (set up a special gmail or hotmail account).

She should play it dumb. Don’t accuse but ASK?

For example, "I may have been out of the loop for a bit, but have the laws changed? Why are we doing this like this? I’ve never done it before? I think it might be illegal? Would you like me to check into this further?

She’ll find out ASAP whether or not it’s on the level.

There’s not much you can do if you need a job and no one cares. I had one job where Parking Revenue to the tune of $500 was missing. Not the Front Office Mgr, not the Controler, Not the Parking Manager nor the General Manager, cared. Everytime I asked, I got “Mark we trust our employees.”

I left the job for other reasons but nothing was ever done. Now you tell me if I can document missing money for 6 months (at least) of $500 a month (at least) and no department head cares, that they aren’t all in on it.

But I just documented everything and did everything with emails. That way I reckoned if I got let go, or in trouble, I could claim, I did all I could. Honestly, you can’t do anymore than point out the theft or error.

About quitting vis a vis unemployment, I would call an employment atty. I was going to say call the unemployment office, but I’m afraid you might get a different answer from each person you talk to, none of which would be binding.

Any company not fudging the books should be keeping scrupulous records. It sounds very unlikely that they’re just sloppy.

I did bookkeeping for a building contractor who had done a number of jobs under the table to avoid taxes. When audited by the state dept of rev. and the IRS, bank records showed large deposits with no corresponding sales records on the books. Owner was fined a small fortune in addition to taxes on unreported revenue - every deposit was assumed to have been revenue from unreported jobs, and was taxed accordingly. I was able to show that I had only worked there a short time and could not have been complicit, thankfully. The worst part was the owner was terminally ill, died a few months after the audits, and his widow is now on the hook.

I appreciate the responses.

Bernice shares this job with a co-worker who has been there two years. She emailed the co-worker and suggested a meeting between the two of them, the accountant, and the manager/owner; this takes place tomorrow.

On the positive side, the response from the co-worker was very straightforward. She said yes, we need to tidy this up and make sure we’re doing things properly. She thanked Bernice for taking the initiative. Both the boss and the accountant were cc’d.

Bernice, by the way, is a wreck. She’s losing sleep and worried about landing herself in jail.

Thanks again.

I don’t envy Bernice. I’ve been a non-profit accountant for several years and one of the reasons I like it is because of the much higher transparency and accountability requirements that are or should be part of the business. I did leave one place when we got a boss who wanted me to hide things from the auditors and get into some very murky waters I felt were very unethical.

I assume there is an outside annual audit? Can she take a look at the most recent one and see if the auditors have any qualifications in their letters or notes about the company documentation? As the bookkeeper, I would not imagine she would have any personal exposure, but it sounds like the company accountant, executive director, and the Board treasurer need to get their act together. Either they are letting things go, which never turns out good, or they are just sloppy and unprofessional, which can look almost as bad.

Unfortunately, Bernice is in a bad position. If she really thinks there is something illegal or unethical going on, she can be a whistleblower and get a lot of shit over it (unofficially), or not, and risk getting pulled down with the baddies. Or she can do what the last bookkeeper did and get another job pretty quickly. The last option is if she feels there is a Board officer she feels she can trust to take her concerns to, although it is my experience that anything she says will go right to the Exec Director.

In movies, this is the point where they ask Bernice who else knows about this, she answers, “no one,” and then they bump her off. Not to worry her any further, of course.

Outstanding advice, Mrs. Cake. Thank you.

Very reassuring, needscoffee. I’ll be sure to pass your assessment on to Bernice. :smiley:

Bernice is right to expect a minimum level of internal controls to exist within this organization. A failure for proper controls, and shoddy accounting, can put the organizations non-profit status in jeopardy, resulting in donors contributions not being tax deductible. The board of this non-profit should be very concerned about these types of issues.

She should “ask the questions” and keep asking if she doesn’t feel like the answers are satisfactory. If necessary she could contact a board member and raise her concerns to them.

I don’t think that someone that quits is eligible for unemployment benefits.

Well, actually, her primary concern is whether she’s going to find herself wearing striped pajamas if any ‘creative accounting’ comes to light (even though she’s not the one being ‘creative’).

<devils advocate mode=on>
Do these overseas supported organizations have any political or religious ties, no matter how tenuous? If so, has Bernice done any research about the foreign support being provided?
</devils advocate mode>

I see your point - and I hadn’t thought of that - but, no. It’s a very friendly country.

Something else comes to mind with the movement of cash overseas without the proper records: money laundering and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Doesn’t matter if the country is a friendly country. Even the bad guys have accounts in friendly countries.

I’m sure Bernice doesn’t want the office of Homeland Security coming in.

There are certainly conditions whereby you can quit a job and still qualify for unemployment. Sexual harassment, unsafe conditions, etc. Because of the uncertainties of Berniece’s situation, I would definitely talk with an employment attorney ahead of time so you’ll know where she stands. (For example, if she files a claim with unemployment, they will choose either to challenge it or pay out. If they challenge it, could she potentially be looking at a defamation suit?)

In case anyone is still interested…

Bernice had her meeting today with her co-worker, the accountant and her boss.

All were very supportive and agreeable. The boss said she has every right to question anything that seems improper, and that they have been sloppy with the record-keeping. The boss stated that it is Bernice’s responsibility to keep after him when documentation is missing or late.

Bernice is keeping all records of these conversation, is keeping her job (for now), and is relieved and sleeping better at night.

She is also, however, actively looking for another job.

Thanks to all for the advice.