Ethically Incompatible?

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Companies are supposed to have an ethics code that allows them to conduct their business in an ethically sound manner. They should take caution to ensure that their business practices abide by all federal and state laws. The code of ethics is meant to be a reference for decision making and is meant to clarify standards of conduct and the organization’s mission. It provides guidelines for all employees – executives down – on how it should conduct business with employees, vendors, and customers.

Unfortunately, there are companies out there that do not have or they do not abide by a code of ethics. These companies, in most cases, are not ethically sound companies and end up in trouble and usually in court because of their unethical practices.

One (unfortunately common) ethical dilemma that comes to mind is when a company refuses to purchase appropriate technology licenses for company computers. In cases like this the company generally purchases one or two copies of a license and then shares that same license among several computers. Generally, the company just doesn’t want to dish out the money to purchase the appropriate number of licenses and believes it is more ‘cost-effective’ to pay the penalties if they are caught.

What do you do when you are hired into a well-paying position that you have dreamed of and then find out that the company is not playing by the rules? What if your boss asks you to do something illegal and / or unethical (remember that not everything that is unethical is illegal)?

What if you are asked to install these illegal licenses onto company computers? What if you are asked to ‘push’ a program or application through without going through the appropriate procedures? What if you are asked to decline an application, customer, or some other item when the items clearly meet the appropriate criteria?

Your boss probably has a good reason to ask you to do this, right? He probably knows what is best, right? You should just do what you’re asked to do without question, right? WRONG!!

If you have a conscious at all, then doing these things will eventually start eating at you. You’ll start stressing more than ‘usual’. You’ll start having a difficult time sleeping at night. You’ll start becoming more and more irritable…with everyone around you.

Just because your boss asks you to do something doesn’t mean that you should, especially without asking your own questions. After all, if it was so important to your boss, why didn’t he just do it? Probably because he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty. I highly recommend the following when you think that you are being asked to do something that you feel is illegal and / or unethical:

  • Ask questions – ask why you are being asked to do this, ask what the purpose is.
  • Stay calm – remain calm when speaking with your boss about the situation. Becoming heated won’t resolve anything, and you’re more likely to get through the situation unscathed if you keep your cool.
  • Bring facts to light – if you are able to, bring facts to the table of why you should / should not complete the task – make sure your facts are correct.
  • Document everything – emails, conversations, phone calls, everything
  • Let your boss know – if you are not comfortable in completing the task. Let him know that you respectfully decline completing the task asked of you. If asked, spell out your reasons. Just because you’re asked to do something doesn’t mean that you HAVE to!
  • Talk with someone – you respect and you know will give you appropriate advice. This could be a friend or mentor, or even an attorney if you feel that what is going on is illegal.
  • Whistleblowing – I recommend this only if you are covered under the Whistleblowers Act of 1989. Being a Whistleblower can be difficult, lonely, and emotional, so make sure that it is worth it – for you.
  • Resign– if your conscience just can’t handle what’s going on, but it’s not illegal (or you choose not to become a Whistleblower), then quit your job. As I have said so many times before, no company is worth your health, or your life.

Have you ever quit a job because you couldn’t continue to work in an unethical business any longer? What happened?

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