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Did Workplace Culture Encourage Unethical Behavior at Wells Fargo?

September 29, 2016

Recent revelations that Wells Fargo employees created millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts to meet sales targets may reflect a workplace culture that encourages unethical behavior, experts charge.

As FastCompany reports, Wells Fargo has claimed that 5,300 employees acted alone in opening up 1.5 million false bank accounts and 565,000 fraudulent credit cards on behalf of its customers. Federal regulators have ordered the bank to pay a fine of $185 million and restitution to its victims.

Wells Fargo, which allegedly fired employees who reported the unauthorized accounts, demonstrated “a classic case of systemic bullying,” said Andrew Faas, founder of the Faas Foundation, an organization that seeks to create psychologically safe workplaces.

He defines systemic bullying as “setting unreasonable expectations to get rid of employees who do not deliver and causing others to resort to questionable practices to meet the expectations.”

Reports that the company punished whistleblowers suggest a “culture of fear” and cast doubt on the credibility of Wells Fargo’s leaders, he said.

John Stumpf, the company’s chairman and CEO, has forfeited $41 million in unvested equity awards and his 2016 bonus, and will not take a salary during an upcoming independent board investigation, The Wall Street Journal reported.

A spokesperson for the bank said its policy states “that no team member may be retaliated against for providing information about suspected unethical or illegal activities, including fraud, securities law, or regulatory violations, or possible violations of any Wells Fargo policies.” — Greg Beaubien

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