Navigating the Waters of Corporate Ethics
By: Brian W. Pascal, RPR, CMP, RPT
At some point in your career, you'll be asked to do something you know is wrong. It could happen because some harassed manager is trying to cut corners, or it could be because the organization itself has a culture of unethical behaviour. In either case, it may cause a dilemma for you personally. It's not like you're a Pollyanna or that you're naive. You've been around and you've seen and heard things in the workplace over the years but this particular undertaking is causing you inner grief. Not to do it means you'll stand out unfavourably and be known as "not a team player". This is frightening to most employees today and the urge to carry out the task or request will be great in order to fit in. It also means confronting someone with authority in the organization, which may later lead to a short career or no career at all. Or worse, you may be relegated to the most monotonous and insignificant job in the company and be kept there, out of sight, until you feel obliged to quit.
Many of us will rationalize the situation believing it's only a small thing and no real harm will come to anything or anyone, yet we'll still feel disappointed in ourselves. Sooner or later, you'll see your organization differently and the pride you felt in working there will evaporate quickly. But the worst part is your feeling of having "sold out" by compromising your values and beliefs and ultimately, the approach to your work changes. It can never be the same. And it doesn't matter what the request is. To others, it may seem trivial, but to you it's everything, and you're not sure if you should take a stand or let it go. Every one of us draws a line in the sand, some further out than others. Some redraw the line daily. Such is the reality of work life and the need to be gainfully employed.
Brian W. Pascal|
This is why most professional associations have a clause in their rules for practice or their codes of conduct that spell out what is to be done in these situations. They are written explicitly for their respective members to help them overcome the dilemma of being asked to carry out breaches of trust or violations of the law. They are designed to provide members with a format within which to deal with this issue in a professional manner and with minimal confrontation. Simply put, it makes the association member responsible for outlining the consequences of their actions to the individual or the organization making this request. Let's look at an example.
You're recruiting for a department in your organization and the hiring manager has asked you not to hire one of "those". The manager explains "they" have a documented history of poor performance and their punctuality leaves much to be desired. The manager believes this and the request, according to him or her, is not discriminatory but a way to save time and money and, of course, improve the bottom line. It's business. But you know otherwise and you have a professional obligation to make him or her aware of the consequences. Behind closed doors, you say:
"Listen, Tom/Sally. I understand your concern for the bottom line but I have a bottom line to consider also. Should I follow your request, the organization will not be able to defend itself against legal challenges to the selection decision. The bottom line I'm referring to is the cost of a prolonged Human Rights case and the never-ending depositions that you and senior officers of our organization will have to make before a Board of Inquiry. Knowing this, do you wish to proceed?"
You'll notice from the above conversation that you have not refused to do anything. You have merely assigned the problem and solution to where it belongs. But what if the manager says go ahead anyway? Then you must do it, but document the conversation and keep it in your own file in case you are called to task about it later. You have carried out your responsibility to the organization, to your profession, and most importantly, to your sense of what is right.