The bubble-era use of IPO shares by technology companies to curry favor with executives of key customers could come under scrutiny in a civil action against 20 former Qwest ( Q) employees that reportedly is being considered by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

So called "friends and family" investment allocations are one of two issues being examined at Qwest by the SEC. The other is the alleged cutting of side deals between Qwest's accountants and partners that allowed for selective revenue recognition in transactions involving telecommunications capacity, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Qwest CEO Richard Notebaert barred employees from buying friends and family shares from customers in 2002. Prior to that, former CEO Joseph Nacchio allowed the investments as long as they were cleared by the company's legal department. The potentially lucrative practice was common in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the government hadn't previously sought formal penalties for it.

The other issue involves a practice that has already led to some $2.2 billion of revenue. According to the Journal, the SEC has opened probes into a number of top sales employees including former Chief Operating Officer Afshin Mohebbi for allegedly cutting secret side agreements that shielded the revenue-recognition shenanigans from the company's auditors.

In both cases Qwest said it's cooperating with the probes. It wasn't known if any current Qwest employees were being investigated.