The clock is ticking for Volkswagen workers to come clean about the company’s emissions deception

The countdown has begun.
The countdown has begun.
Image: AP/Jens Meyer
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Volkswagen wants whistleblowers inside the organization to come forward, and quickly.

Staffers with knowledge of the automaker’s emissions cheating have until Nov. 30 to come clean to designated Volkswagen representatives in order to receive immunity, the company announced today (Nov. 12), in a letter to employees. Those who tell all before the end of the month won’t be fired and won’t have damage claims brought against them by the company, but they could be transferred to another job. 

According to the letter—penned by Herbert Diess, head of the Volkswagen passenger cars brand—the offer of immunity only applies to employees covered by collective bargaining agreements and will not extend to external investigations that the company has no influence over. Diess also said that Volkswagen will notify investigating authorities about any employee who has shown a willingness to cooperate. “Past experience has shown this speaks in the employee’s favor,” he wrote.

The immunity offer, first reported by the Wall Street Journal (paywall), underscores how desperate the automaker is—amid pressure from regulators and the public—to quickly determine how widespread emissions cheating occurred, supposedly undetected, for years. It’s meant to speed up the automaker’s internal investigations, which are being conducted by US law firm Jones Day.

“I have pushed hard for the relentless and comprehensive clarification of events. We will stop at nothing and nobody,” Volkswagen AG CEO Matthias Müller said in statement, after a new infraction involving diesel models as well as gas-powered vehicles was discovered last week. “This is a painful process, but it is our only alternative.”

Volkswagen sent Quartz the following excerpt of the letter it posted to its employee intranet:

Cooperation program for the clarification process

Dear employees,

I promised our customers, the authorities, our investors, the public and you full and swift clarification of the diesel and CO2 issue. In this process, every single day counts.

For that reason, the Group Board of Management has approved a cooperation program to speed up the internal investigations, because we are counting on your cooperation and knowledge as our company’s employees to get to the bottom of the diesel and CO2 issue.

What does the cooperation program involve?

Employees covered by collective bargaining agreements who get in touch promptly, but no later than November 30, 2015 with the contacts we have listed in this letter and disclose completely and truthfully their knowledge of the circumstances as part of the investigation being conducted by the law firm Jones Day may rest assured that the company will waive consequences under labor law such as the termination of employment, and will not make any claim for damages.

The company does, however, reserve the right to take other steps such as transfer to another job, or to amend responsibilities.

As a precaution, we would like to point out that the company has no influence on any possible investigations into individual employees pursued by the authorities. In such cases, we will draw the attention of the authorities to the willingness to cooperate. Past experience has shown this speaks in the employee’s favor…

… We would like to thank you for your cooperation and support in the interest of our company.

Sincerely yours,

Herbert Diess

Volkswagen did not immediately respond to Quartz’s questions about what information from the letter was not contained in the excerpt.