back to article Ex-director accuses iRobot of firing him for pointing out the home-cleaner droids broke safety, govt regulations

A former iRobot employee is suing the manufacturer for firing him after he highlighted alleged failures to comply with regulations. Janusz Pankowski claims the robo-vac specialists unfairly dismissed him from his position as director for compliance back in May 2018 following a row over whether products were erroneously labeled …

  1. IGotOut Silver badge

    Acid test...

    Find devices from the time period before and during he was employed. He wins.....then the relevant authorities sue the hell out of the company.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Safety?

    The headline says that the products broke "safety, govt regulations". While it seems like it did break government regulations, the article itself didn't mention safety.

    So I searched the linked case doc and all I can find is that they didn't test/certify the product under the safety regulations. So it's probably a stretch to say that they broke them, most like "didn't even bother to see"?

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Safety?

      From the court document:

      "At a subsequent meeting on March 15,2018, Pankowski reiterated the statement he made during the earlier meeting that his team could not approve the product because it did not meet safety requirements and doing so would place consumers of the product at a safety risk and expose iRobot to liability."

      And:

      "iRobot ... refused to provide required safety and labelling information with the products it sold"

      Emphasis mine. Hope this helps.

      C.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Safety?

      It is a legal requirement in many jurisdictions to ensure the devices meet safety standards. Not testing means you can't legally sell in that jurisdiction.

      I've worked for companies that get one device / one generation of device tested, then change components or release a new product and they don't retest. They are also out of compliance, but they still sell based on the old certificates they received for older models.

      Or they put extra things in place to get a certification (IT security), then, as soon as the certificate is issued, the whole "pointless updates and documentation cr*p" is then dropped like a hot potato, until the certificate needs to be re-issued, at which point there is a mad dash to get the documentation to show that the procedures were followed.

      1. Loatesy

        Re: Safety?

        "I've worked for companies that get one device / one generation of device tested, then change components or release a new product and they don't retest. They are also out of compliance, but they still sell based on the old certificates they received for older models."

        Ah, the Boeing Business Model.

        1. ICPurvis47 Bronze badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Safety?

          Beat me to it!

      2. Tom 35

        Re: Safety?

        The "We can save 0.1 cents per unit" bean counters start cheeping out the product.

        1. Cynic_999

          Re: Safety?

          The other side of the coin is when a component unexpectedly becomes unavailable just after getting a huge order, and so the product needs a small modification to use an equivalent component of exactly the same functionality and basic specifications as the unavailable one.

          Although the mod is technically minor, it requires a new layout for the PCB and/or change to a plastic moulding (and so gets a new model number), which means tooling changes and a prototype run delays things.

          So now the customer is getting pretty tetchy and threatening to cancel. Do you wait another 4 weeks to get everything re-tested, or, knowing that the mod has made bugger-all difference to any aspect that needs testing, just sell it now under the old certificates and test afterwards ?

        2. NoneSuch Silver badge

          Re: Safety?

          The bean counters I worked with would calculate to four decimal places of a penny.

  3. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

    Guess he matched the product then

    Non-compliant director of compliance

  4. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Holmes

    See that Iceberg on the port bow?

    There is a lot more of it beneath the waves just waiting to do a lot of damage.

    How many more products that we posess (i deliberately avoid saying own because with all those subscriptions it is debatable as to who actually owns anything these days) have all those compliance labels but are actually non-compliant?

    A few decades ago companies would spend millions making sure that FCC regulations were met. The buzz that my radio makes when I switch on some modern IT kit tells me that someone somewhere is cutting corners.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: See that Iceberg on the port bow?

      From personal experience, I'd say I have little confidence in such labels and certificates.

      1. Thrudd the Barbarian

        Re: See that Iceberg on the port bow?

        When my engineering kit's sensors do the electric boogaloo I pull out my pocket dpectrum analyzer and do a sniff test. Yeah not work approved but I'm licensed and it kept me out of other people's trouble.

        More times than not it's sparky creativity but every once in a while it's kit broadcasting all over the spectrum at power levels that would make CB abusers drool.

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    He obviously misunderstood his position

    He wasn't hired as director for compliance, he was hired as rubber stamp director for compliance.

    The fact that the company spouts the good old "we take ... very seriously" clinches it for me. They will fight the charges vigorously until they settle of court to not be officially noted as guilty.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: He obviously misunderstood his position

      "They will fight the charges vigorously until they settle of court to not be officially noted as guilty."

      Or the alternative, increasingly popular these days. They get found guilty and issue a statement insisting they disagree with the court.

      1. Snowy Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: He obviously misunderstood his position

        I thought it was !it was a rogue engineer" and "lesson will be learnt"?

        1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
          Pirate

          Re: He obviously misunderstood his position

          "rogue engineers" is for when a company is caught cheering.

          "lessons will be learned" is for governments. Especially if children/deaths were involved, and usually that lesson is to learn to sweep these things under the rug better.

          Cynical? With my reputation?

          (pirate icon because they're quite rogue like, no?)

        2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

          Re: He obviously misunderstood his position

          "thoughts and prayers"!

    2. ShadowDragon8685

      Re: He obviously misunderstood his position

      That practice needs to be stopped: no more "we're paying the regulator a large sum of money to make the charges go away."

      It needs to be "you're guilty unless a jury says otherwise. You can own up to it and pay a lot, or fight it to the mat and lose your damn shirts."

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's easy to break regulations legally in the US

    For example the FDA required that devices used for medical diagnosis and data collection meet patient safety regulations, this is called "FDA Approval" but you can build devices that don't meet the standards for medical use and sell them as "FDA Approved" because the FDA has a much lower standard for biofeedback devices that are not designed for medical use. These devices are marketed everywhere as "FDA Approved". Read the small print in the user manual and somewhere it will mention that it has the biofeedback approval but never that it doesn't meet patient safety standards.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: It's easy to break regulations legally in the US

      You can also label devices as meeting electrical safety standard iec60601:2016 for Europe and be out of fda compliance because the fda still specify iec60601:2014

      1. Cynic_999

        Re: It's easy to break regulations legally in the US

        I wonder how many realize the irony of being forced to test to one out-of-date standard in order to meet a different standard? Though most (all?) test houses are happy to issue certificates for multiple standards based on the data provided by one set of tests. So there is little or no additional charge.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's easy to break regulations legally in the US^H^H World

      Do you have any idea how difficult it is to meet regulations globally with the same product? If you want to meet KC, CE, CEC, NEC, PSE, etc. all at the same time, it can be nearly impossible. As an example, all those fancy locking IEC power cables sold for datacenter use so kit doesn't come unplugged? Yeah... not eligible for KC (Korea) cert because they deviate from the official IEC specs for a C13 connector. Are they unsafe? Not at all. Are they electrically inferior? Nope. They just added a locking mechanism, and KC only accepts IEC, and IEC standard doesn't include a locking mechanism.

  7. Drew Scriver

    Pankowski's mistake was reporting the issues internally...

    I've been in the corporate world for a couple of decades now, and it has been my experience time and again that virtually nobody cares about safety, security, or laws.

    In the past I have followed the route of Pankowski and the number of times the outcome was positive were few and far between.

    I have concluded that the only way to address issues and get results is to go straight to the authorities (or the media) - preferably anonymously. However, once you have the reputation of being a troublemaker (i.e. someone who actually cares about safety, security, laws, or even corporate liability) you'll be the first one suspected of 'ratting' on the company.

    On the other hand, many authorities also don't care either...

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