What is a rogue employee? The online site Whatls.com defines it as probably originating from medieval English slang roger, for “a begging vagabond pretending to be a poor scholar from Oxford or Cambridge.” The first citations of the phrase “to go rogue” come from the 1920s, in reference to lone elephants that broke away from the herd and began to behave destructively.” In modern parlance it is generally recognized as an employee who shields his nefarious actions from management.

In the corporate world, “rogues” are most often referred to as breakaway employees whose actions put the company into hot water. This is part of a recurring myth that mean to absolve organizations from any blame in the face of a major problem; when such problems are the work of a rogue employee, no one in management could have known the rogue was up to misbehavior and, as such, management is blameless for the rogue's actions. The management, so goes the logic, is just another one of the rogue's victims.

The classic example is the fraudster who misappropriates money from the corporation. The rogue employee, as a defense, has also been seen in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) arena by those who claim that companies should not be liable for the illegal actions of their employees. However this position lacks three important distinctions from the self-aggrandizing employee-fraudster. First the company benefits, at least initially, from bribery and corruption, which result in benefits being obtained by the company. Second, companies are legally obligated to put into place effective internal controls to prevent bribery and corruption. Third, it is almost always the case that the company was on notice that something was amiss but either chose to look the other way or simply did not look period.

Typically companies will not be fussed if a sales person either initiates a sales spike or continues generates high-grossing business opportunities on a renewal basis. Indeed most likely this behavior will not only be encouraged, but also rewarded with more bonus payments to drive the desired business outcome and usually an increase in salary. This is why an effective compliance program must have a detect prong so that if the local management team blindly turns their collective heads away, hopefully someone will notice that something is askance. The truth is, rogue employees are rarely just that. More often, they are either acting with the tacit approval of management, or its willing blindness, and the “rogue” aspects of their behavior only become that when it's time for somebody to shoulder the blame.