Meta’s investigation of COO Sheryl Sandberg reveals lessons for all employees

Sunira Chaudhri

Sunira Chaudhri

Toronto Employment Lawyer

The investigation is reportedly considering whether or not Sandberg used company resources for personal projects, including tasking Meta employees with jobs related to her second book, tasks related to her wedding and her Lean In foundation.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Meta (formerly Facebook), is under investigation.

 

The famed author of Lean In, a career-based book that many women (including myself) read with interest, faces allegations of inappropriate use of corporate resources while at the tech giant.

 

Notably, the investigation, led by Meta’s lawyers, goes back “several years” and continues after Sandberg announced she would be leaving the organization this fall.

 

Sandberg famously held the COO position at Facebook, now Meta, for 14 years. She was also the first woman to sit on Facebook’s board.

 

The investigation is reportedly considering whether or not Sandberg used company resources for personal projects, including tasking Meta employees with jobs related to her second book, tasks related to her wedding and her Lean In foundation.

 

Sandberg was also subject to an internal review by Facebook’s parent company following allegations she pressured the DailyMail (a UK publication) to not publish articles regarding her then partner, CEO of Activision Blizzard, Bobby Kotick. Sandberg denied those claims.

 

While employees should not take advantage of company resources for their own personal benefit, most of us assume a COO, with lots of seniority and power, is given a wide berth.

 

The fact that Meta has launched this investigation suggests that either the alleged abuse of corporate resources was brazen and worthy of rebuke or that it is seeking to set a tone for other employees going forward. The issue with the latter approach is that if Facebook condoned or was aware of Sandberg’s alleged use of corporate resources, it is likely on shaky ground to reprimand her for it now.

 

Employees should consider what may be viewed as the use of a corporate resource to avoid similar allegations in the workplace.

 

They include:

 

Using employee time for another purpose – Employees should avoid directing subordinates to use work time to support their own personal projects. Unless it’s in their job description, it’s best to avoid assigning personal assistant tasks to employees on your team (like buying your son’s birthday cake). Also be careful to avoid using your own work time for another project if you haven’t disclosed it and received approval from your supervisor.

 

Meals and gifts – Expensing meals may land you in hot water especially if your company has a reimbursement policy. Follow it. Give a heads up whenever you can to your supervisor if you are expensing a meal and why (i.e. working late). If you receive a gift from a client or other corporate partner, you may be required to disclose it to your employer and, in fact, hand it over to the company for everyone to enjoy.

 

Benefits and Connections – You may have access to a powerful network of contacts and colleagues depending on your role and where you work. Be careful not to seek a personal benefit arising from these workplace connections. If there is a perk or benefit provided to your company (i.e. discount on a product) you could be seen to be abusing that company privilege if you use the perk for yourself.

 

On to this week’s questions:

 

Q. My workplace is dropping its vaccine mandate. Is there a law about what non-vaccinated workers will have to do before coming back to work?

 

A. Employers are required to provide a safe working environment to all employees pursuant to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. With the dropping of vaccine mandates employers should consider health and safety precautions, like testing and social distancing to respond to workplace health concerns. Otherwise, there is no formal law or regulation in Ontario with respect to the return of non-vaccinated workers. By and large employers get to decide what is reasonable for their workplaces.

 

Q. I was terminated after an investigation. My employer said it has cause for my termination. I didn’t know about the investigation until it was mentioned in my termination letter. Can my employer run an investigation about me without telling me?

 

A. Generally, employees must be given an opportunity to hear and respond to allegations of misconduct prior to the employer taking steps to discipline an employee. This is particularly the case if an employer intends to terminate an employee for cause. An employee can request production of the investigation file should the employee proceed to seek wrongful dismissal damages. Any employee terminated for cause should get some advice if they can.

 

Have a workplace issue? Maybe I can help! Email me at sunira@worklylaw.com and your question may be featured in a future column.

 

The content of this article is general information only and is not legal advice.

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