Volkswagen: Will Employee Amnesty Help Understand What Happened?


Volkswagen is trying to get to the bottom of its emissions-cheating scandal. To achieve this goal, it recently announced an amnesty program for employee informants. Amnesty will expire at the end of November.

The company has yet to explain publicly who was responsible for installing software in 11 million diesel vehicles that was designed to disguise the output of nitrogen oxide, a pollutant harmful to the lungs. It has also recently admitted that it underreported the levels of carbon dioxide produced by about 800,000 of its diesel and gasoline vehicles in Europe and that had it exaggerated their fuel economy.

In a letter to employees, Herbert Diess, chief executive of the division that produces Volkswagens, said people who provided information would not be fired or face damage claims. Mr. Diess cautioned, though, that the company could not shield employees from criminal charges.

Ironically, the offer applies only to workers who are covered by collective bargaining agreements, therefore it excludes top management. It is unclear how often corporations in the United States offer job amnesty to employees in investigations because typically there is little public reporting about the inquiry. The investigations are conducted quietly within the company, and there is often an effort not to alert large numbers of employees to avoid the possible destruction of evidence.

By offering job amnesty, Volkswagen hopes to accomplish two things: Demonstrate to law-enforcement agencies that it is pursuing all avenues in its internal investigation, and reach out beyond the company’s executive ranks to better understand what happened. By setting a tight deadline, Volkswagen may be trying to pressure people with knowledge to speak up soon.

It is an interesting business tool being used in Germany. The question remains how effective it would be here in the United States. We already have whistleblower statutes, but the question remains, what effect would amnesty have after the issue has become public? It would be great to hear your thoughts on the subject. Please forward them along.

Thank you,

Michael K. Gillis, Esq.


1150 Walnut Street

Newton, MA 02461

Phone: 617-244-4300

Fax: 617-964-0862


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