Two Case Studies in Ethics
Case Study #4
The ethical issues involved are related to the conflict between a deontological ethic and a consequentialist ethic. On the one hand, as an employee of a company, I have a duty to my company to do the best job that I can while attempting to forward the success of the company. By not turning in Mary to my supervisor for her relapse into substance abuse, I am disregarding this principle. In addition, by covering for Mary’s mistakes by looking into her confidential files and fixing the numbers I would not only be violating the contract between the company and Mary, namely that Mary alone should be responsible for the work that she does, but I would also be violating the rules of the company which state that client confidentiality and trust may not be broken by sharing of information among employees. In addition to this, I would not be respecting her personal autonomy to accept responsibility for her own free choices. On the other hand, as a friend and colleague to Mary I have a responsibility to ensure what is best for her. To turn in Mary would certainly violate our friendship and trust, as well as severely hurt her future ability to live a good and normal life. Since Mary may be fired if I turn her in, her future status as unemployed will likely increase her drinking problem, which would in turn damage her relationship with her kids and create tension between her and my sister (who are friends).
The relevant facts are also numerous. Mary’s job performance has been slipping because what appears to be a relapse into substance abuse, and contemporaneously she has been making mistakes in her dealings with clients. Although this is not a big problem now, it has the potential to become much worse. Mary has been previously caught by her supervisor and put through a program with the explicit warning that any future abuses would lead to less leniency by the company. In addition, Mary is one of my colleagues and has a personal relation not only to me, but also to my sister. Mary is a mother of three kids who she needs to support. In order to try to cover for Mary, I have been doing some of her work, fixing some of her mistakes, and possibly in the future, looking into the confidential files of other clients.
The missing information that I should seek deals with Mary’s status and the status of the company. It is not clear if Mary has actually relapsed into substance abuse or if she actually has some other problem. Just because she has smelled of alcohol does not mean that she is back into the same problems that she was in before. The mistakes could have another reason that need to be further investigated. Likewise, I am not sure if Mary is a single mother, such that being fired would bankrupt her family and her kids, or if she also has a husband that can support her during a possible treatment time. These considerations are important when thinking about the consequentialist side of ethics. With respect to retribution, I am not sure about the consequences of certain behaviors. The supervisor warned Mary that the second time she was caught in substance abuse the company would be less lenient. Less leniency does not necessary imply that Mary would lose her job; it could very well mean that Mary would take a cut in pay, would have to go through a longer recovery period, or even that the company would involve the police and social services. This statement needs further investigation. Likewise, I am not sure about the rules that the company has about helping fellow employees with their mistakes. Surely the company has rules protecting client confidentiality, but that does not mean that the company does not allow other colleagues to help a friend in need. I would also need to know more about the consequences involved if I would decide to help Mary or to look into her confidential files. Would I also lose my job for these specific infractions?
My initial response is to take pity on Mary and her situation. I would feel obliged as a colleague who cares about her and her family to help her to get over her problems and to return to a state where she could work and live responsibly and healthily. Initially I would try to find more information concerning the situation. First I would talk with Mary in order to gain more clarity about her own situation. If she does indeed have a drinking problem, then I would encourage her to seek help immediately. During this time I would continue to help her with small problems, but I would not breach client confidentiality by looking into restricted files. If this situation still persists after a certain period of time, say one month, then I would seek more information concerning the company’s punishment of Mary while preparing to address the issue with Mary herself.
In the end, if the situation does not improve, my method of resolution would likely be to follow a deontological framework and place my duties to my employer above my duties to Mary or the consequences that would be incurred if her problem was discovered. First and foremost, I would encourage her to talk to her supervisor on her own initiative, but if this does not happen, then I would no longer fix her mistakes and allow her poor performance to be the final say regarding her own status within the company. In this way I would not overshadow her own personal autonomy and the responsibility that she has to own up to her own mistakes and free life choices.
Case Study #5
The ethical issues involved are the tensions between the wrong actions of another and the way in which I am expected by my assistant to address these wrong actions. My colleague, Sam is clearly lying about his expenses and stealing from the company insofar as he has accepted the reimbursement for the expenses. Because I have found the document that proves this, it would seem that I have an ethical duty to my company to turn in Sam to our superiors. The company is not doing well financially and is expecting cutbacks and layoffs because of budgeting problems, so my duties may extend beyond the company itself to other employees and their families as well. However, because I have been criticized in the past by Sam and have not found support by my superiors, it is likely that my revelation of Sam’s difficulties will be construed as revenge and in turn damage my own reputation and image.
The relevant facts are numerous. I have found a document that show Sam’s expense report from a company trip that we took together. He listed several expenses that seem incorrect, including a lunch with a customer who was not even in the same town as Sam. The company is having difficulties and may be making lay-offs because of budget problems. Sam himself has been complaining about not receiving the Christmas bonus. Sam and I have never been good friends but he has been friends with the senior management. When I discovered the incriminating document, my assistant also saw the information and has the knowledge and can affirm that Sam is in fact cheating the company.
The missing information I should seek concerns Sam’s actions, my actions and the situation of the company. I need to know more about what Sam did and why he did it. Not all of the expenses may have been wrongly charged, and even the client lunch may have indeed been legitimate, such as a meeting with an associate of the client. I need to know more about why Sam believed that the charges he made were appropriate. I also need to know what sort of financial situation Sam is in. Because he was complaining about the Christmas bonuses, Sam may have very little money and therefore have had no money to actually pay all of his expenses. He could have a family that depends on every penny he earns, so his cheating could be aimed at a much higher end than mere personal selfishness. I should also seek more clarity in my own actions. Would I want to turn in Sam because I am bitter about his own success in the company? Would I be using this incriminating evidence as a way to gain retribution for his jokes about me? If either of those are the case, then I should not turn him in. Finally, I need to know more about the policies of the company concerning expenses and punishments. Perhaps there are indeed certain loopholes in the rules that would allow Sam to do what he did perfectly legally. In that case, the ethical problem would only reside in the appearance of unethical behavior.
My initial response is animosity towards Sam. It feels like Sam is cheating out of selfishness and is unfairly milking the system to his benefit while the company and possibly other employees and families suffer. As such, I feel the immediate draw to go to the superiors with my assistant in order to give a full complaint about Sam’s behavior. In this instance I would be taking a deontological stance by putting my duties to truth, truth telling and my own company above the situation of Sam and the inevitable consequences that turning in Sam would create. However, this should not be my method.
My method of resolution is to first find more information. I should do a bit more research about the company’s policy for writing off expenses in order to make sure that what Sam is doing is actually unethical. After this, I should meet Sam and hear how things are going for him financially so as to see whether or not Sam has a higher purpose for stealing from the company. Regardless of that, I would tell Sam about the document and the information that my assistant and I have seen, after which I would encourage him to talk to our superiors himself so as to straighten out the problem directly and without my involvement. However, if Sam did not take this step after a short time, I would schedule an appointment to discuss the document with the company. In this respect, I would uphold a nuanced deontological ethic in that I would remain faithful to my duties to the company and to truth, while still allowing Sam the opportunity to resolve the conflict on his own terms.