The boss may be misusing company funds, but what do you do about it?

QI work for a private company of 120 employees. Three years ago, the president became part owner and chief executive. Since then, he has twice frozen our pay increases, cut everyone's pay by 3 percent and suspended the company contribution to our 401(k) plan. At the same time, he was buying a $650,000 house and a very expensive BMW. Our big issue is his use of two company maintenance people at his private residence. They spend, on average, three days a week there maintaining the yard, finishing the basement and doing whatever else needs to be done, all on company time. Is there anything illegal in his use of these workers, and if there isn't, what recourse do we as employees have?

AHope Eastman, a Bethesda attorney who represents corporations in employment disputes, said her first piece of advice for the workers would be to "get a new job where employees are valued."

In this instance, involving a privately held firm, she said "employees really don't have any rights. There's nothing illegal about bad management. There's nothing illegal about being a jerk if you're an equal-opportunity jerk."

Nonetheless, she said, these workers might be able to raise concerns if they are certain that company money is being used to pay for the work at the boss's house. Eastman said the firm might have an anonymous complaint hotline.

She said the workers ought to weigh the benefits and risks of making a more public challenge, but they could also raise the maintenance spending with a vice president or other officer of the firm, to ask, "What gives?"

"If there is a strong corporate integrity program at this company, I would be more comfortable in suggesting to an employee" to pursue the matter, Eastman said.

Whatever tack they take, Eastman said, the workers ought to "think out all the possible consequences, to think how strongly they feel about something."

Eastman said that at a publicly held company, the complaining workers might have more protection against retaliation under the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which strengthened civil and criminal penalties against corporate wrongdoers in the wake of the misdeeds at numerous corporations in the past few years.

-- Kenneth Bredemeier

E-mail your workplace questions to Kenneth Bredemeier at Discuss workplace issues with him at 11 a.m. Wednesday at