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Being asked to "find the grey areas" by the CEO. Advice much appreciated.


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#1 NotWithoutIntegrity

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Posted 03 June 2020 - 04:21 PM

I'm not sure if this is the right board to use for this topic. I'm using a throwaway account for privacy purposes, but I've gotten amazing help from folks here in the past and I'm hoping I can get some again. Here's the cliff notes version of my dilemma: I work for a small company (less than 30 employees, but we pulled 3.5 million in receivables in 2019, we ship across the US and Canada). We make a ready-to-cook product and we've so far never been registered with the FDA as a food manufacturer or been FSMA compliant. Our product is mixed and packaged in a warehouse lacking proper ventilation and air conditioning (in Arizona); employees are trained on zero sanitation measures (we don't even have a sanitizer in the building, everything is cleaned with pinesol or equivalent) and it's only in the last year that we've gotten folks into the habit of wearing hats/hairnets. We even have an "annex" location without running water where select dry ingredients are handled that isn't even registered with the county. On the main location, we do routinely pass our county health inspections, but only narrowly. 

 

We hired someone in 2018 who had compliance experience from a previous job and hoped that he would help us get all this under control but through a convoluted series of events that didn't happen and he quit early in 2019. I stepped up voluntarily to pick up where he left off and have been working devilishly hard to get my HACCP and PCQI certs through AIB, write all our SOPs, create a HACCP plan, etc. For the CEO, this is all a necessary evil in order for him to continue selling (especially now as we have some large national clients interested in working with us, but they're asking for copies of our HACCP paperwork). When I say he could truly care less about why it's important to be compliant, I mean it genuinely. He simply doesn't care. 

 

Early last week the CEO, a sales person and myself had a short meeting about a new client and their requests. Due to our facilities limitations and some pretty clear requirements by the FDA, we are not able to accommodate this request without lead time to make the product to order. I was asked to "find the grey area" so we could "make it work". This made me uncomfortable as I felt he was asking me to lie and/or do something illegally - and I said as much. I was then told "if you can't do it, I will find someone who will". 

 

Since this interaction things have not gotten better and the atmosphere has changed from one of "figure it out, or else" to "you don't know anything and we don't need to listen to you". It's pretty clear I won't be working there much longer and I've been taking steps to see my way out quietly, but I'm concerned about the liability of my name being on all the SOPs and HACCP plan paperwork, which will be completely ignored (and is currently being ignored). I worked really hard to fast-track as much knowledge as I could and get those certs. I don't want to lose them over the CEO's inability to comply. Any/all advice is so so welcome. This whole thing is such a heartbreaking mess.   :c 

 

 



#2 olenazh

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Posted 03 June 2020 - 04:36 PM

Any documentation written while you've been working for a company is a proprietary property of that company. 



#3 NotWithoutIntegrity

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Posted 03 June 2020 - 04:46 PM

Thanks @olenazh -- I wasn't thinking of taking the paperwork with me, but I was concerned that I would somehow forfeit the certifications I'd earned if the company wasn't operating correctly. 



#4 olenazh

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Posted 03 June 2020 - 04:52 PM

I used to work for several companies, wrote multiple documents and earned certifications, and believe me - it's been already 5 years since I stopped working for those companies, but neither government, nor CB, nor any other authority contacted me questioning or objecting documentation/certification written/gotten by me. So, don't worry, do your work properly and honestly, and let worry those who's after you:)



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#5 Setanta

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Posted 03 June 2020 - 04:58 PM

I KNOW this is much easier said than done, but if you leave before they 'ask' you to leave, it MAY show better for you.

You can say in good conscience that their unwillingness to do the right thing was the reason you left.


-Setanta         

 

 

 


#6 SQFconsultant

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Posted 03 June 2020 - 05:08 PM

We have found ourselves working with companies like this - both of which were adventures to say the least, one made it and one decided to let it go because their owners/managers had similar issues like your ceo does.

 

Now to the issue - I would write a letter detailing your experience with the company, keep the original safe and sound and send the other to the ceo once you depart from the company.

 

Before doing so, I would seek the council of an attorney - as I foresee the company heading towards a brick wall with regulatory actions being taken against it in the near future.

 

As to the certifications, you would not lose those unless they were assigned to the company name and not your name.  As long as they are in your name you can request new certs from the producers, may have to pay a small fee, but doable.

 

We recently had a QA Manager call us and explain that he was seeking a consultant to come in and turn the company around, we can do that - however, he then went on to tell us about how everything is a facade safety wise at the company with product being shipped before getting test results, with non-gmo product samples from outside the company being sent out for testing to be in compliance with a non-gmo certification, thus they were shipping gmo'd product instead, utter loss of control of just about everything including chemicals, pests, rats, and you get the picture.

 

He went on to say they had never registered with the FDA, no PCQI, no FSMS, no HACCP plan except for one that was written on a napkin while out drinking with a potential customer (which they did not secure.)

 

His next question was - should I just plan on exiting here or do you want to come in and help us.

 

I told him the only way we would even consider coming in would be for the company to shut down first and since that would not happen we suggested his plan on exiting would be best. He did and to protect himself he detailed everything, consulted with an attorney and sent a copy of the letter to the owner of the company, the primary investors and held onto a copy.

 

Six months later the company was shut down from a series of regulatory issues and others - the QA Manager was in the clear.

 

I suggest you get clear.


Kind regards,
Glenn Oster
 
GOC Group | +1.800.793.7042 | Serving the Food, Food Packaging & Food Storage Industry
SQF Development, Implementation & Certification Consultants
Serving the beautiful United States of America - all of it!

http://www.GlennOsterConsulting.com  

 

 


#7 TimG

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Posted 03 June 2020 - 06:53 PM

First, if you are truly worried this could impact your future, I would second Mr. Oster's suggestion to pursue some type of legal advice.

I would suggest you start a journal and start documenting things like you mentioned in your post. It doesn't need to be too detailed, something like "I informed the owner XX on XX about XX and his/her response was XX". When doing this, I would suggest you keep a copy of the email chain to back this up. You are doing this for 2 reasons.

First, if there is any legal repercussions, you cover your butt by showing YOU didn't make the decision to blatantly flaunt the law. Second, when you leave the company (you said it's pretty clear you won't be there much longer) you can document this in a letter of resignation explaining to your company (CEO) WHY you resigned. List the facts that brought you to the reason behind resigning based on data points in your journal. This is your future butt coverage in case they kill some kids and tell the FDA "Well we were just doing what the old food safety person told us to!"

As far as you losing your certs, that's very unlikely. They belong to you not your company. In most cases it doesn't even list your company on them for just that reason.



#8 NotWithoutIntegrity

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Posted 03 June 2020 - 08:16 PM

@SQFconsultant and @TimG

 

Thank you both so much! I started a journal of interactions this morning and will keep it updated as well as looking into legal CYA options. 



#9 MsMars

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Posted 03 June 2020 - 09:18 PM

What a tough spot to be in. You've already received excellent advice from others, so I don't see the need for an echo of that from me other than: Get away. Quickly.






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