This is related to another recent question, where someone asked what are the consequences of committing copyright infringement when your boss tells you to do so.

A slighlty different case: Your boss asks you to do something that you think might be illegal, but you are not sure about it. You talk to your boss, he says he checked with his legal department and it's fine, and he even gives you this information in writing.

You do what your boss asks you to do. And it is indeed something where the average person wouldn't know for sure if it's legal or not. Problem is: The action was indeed illegal. What are the consequences for you if this is found out, given that you relied on a written statement from your boss that it is legal?

1 Answer 1


This is going to depend on the jurisdiction, and on the specific law. many laws require a "guilty mind" or at least "intent" for someone to be found guilty. Here it seems that the employee (say "A") had no intent to violate the law. A relied on the statement of B, the boss. Moreover, B provided A with a legal opinion (or at least a purported legal opinion, it is possible that B lied about this) and it is not unreasonable for A to have accepted this.

But some laws impose strict liability, regardless of intent, as I understand it. If the law in question does that, A may not have a good defense.

Moreover, A did suspect that there was a violation of law here. Would the classic reasonable person have made further inquiry to learn if the conduct was in fact illegal? If so, A may be at some risk.

So the only safe answer is "It depends". Of course the authorities might choose not to prosecute A, particularly if A will testify against B. But that is quite unsure.

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