Saturday, January 20, 2018
Business

When the Boss Wants You to Do Something Unethical

Maybe you're asked to mislead a customer. Maybe you're told to lie to a client or take a shortcut you know would produce an inferior product.

When your boss puts you in a situation that compromises your ethics, none of the options seem particularly great. Go along with the unethical behavior and you become complicit. Report it to a higher-up or outside organization and you could face retaliation.

But it's certainly possible to raise your concerns without harming your job status or relationships at work. Here's what you might consider before airing your complaints.

Start with your boss

First you should make sure you understand what, exactly, your boss is asking of you. Let's rule out a misunderstanding.

Explain why the request made you uneasy. If you can, cite specific company policies that it seems to defy.

Paul Fiorelli, the director of Cintas Institute for Business Ethics at Xavier University, suggested using plain language like: "You've asked me to do this, but if I did this it would violate this policy we have. You're not asking me to do that, are you?"

In many cases, it's likely the boss hadn't considered his or her request unethical. Citing specific reasons for your objection could help them see why the request is unreasonable or could solidify that yes, they really do want you to do something you're not willing to do.

Either way, you might solve the problem if you can offer a more ethical alternative that would produce similar results.

Escalating your complaint

If it's crystal-clear your boss is asking for unethical conduct, or if you don't feel comfortable discussing it with your boss in the first place, the next steps depend a lot on your company.

In larger organizations, there could be someone dedicated to receiving complaints from employees like you. It could be a compliance officer, general counsel, auditor or someone in human resources. It could be the person one or two levels up from your boss.

You might also need to ask: If I complain, will anyone care or will anything change? If you think management would want to sweep your complaint under the rug, assuming the risks of complaining internally might not be worth it.

"Any time the firm's senior management is financially benefiting from the misconduct, they may not want to know that it is occurring," said Bryan Stikeleather, a professor at the University of South Carolina who has studied financial incentives for whistleblowing.

Some companies offer money to entice employees to report bad behavior, which can signal that they're serious about correcting it. But such monetary incentives can sometimes make employees less likely to report, Stikeleather said; the rewards can decrease whistleblowers' sense of responsibility, making it feel less like a moral obligation.

If escalating internally doesn't work, or you're in a small enough organization that there's no one to hear your protest but your boss, you might have to go outside the organization to the government or media.

Consider the risks

It's easy for us to say that you should "do the right thing" and flatly refuse any unethical demands. But in reality, the decision is often more complex than that, and there are very real risks you could face.

Fifty-three percent of employees in the United States who reported misconduct in their companies said they experienced some form of retaliation, according to the 2016 National Business Ethics survey by the Ethics and Compliance Initiative. That could include receiving worse evaluations and being passed up for promotions and raises.

At the very least, there could be social costs in whistleblowing. Some people have found themselves uninvited from happy hours or given cold shoulders in the hallway.

Mary-Hunter McDonnell, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said at least one high-stakes whistleblower she interviewed for her research had regrets.

"He said if he could relive it he wouldn't have done it because it devastated his social life," she said. "He was no longer invited to join the kind of charitable boards he had been invited to join, or any of the kind of corporate social networks that he had been involved in. He was basically boxed out of the social world he had created for himself as part of his job."

If all else fails, leave

No one wants it to come to this, and it may not be practical advice if you need the paycheck. But if you're in position to find another job, this might be good reason to head for the door.

You could even try one last staunch refusal as an ultimatum.

"I think you have to just say no if it's against your own moral values. You can't be forced to do something," McDonnell said. "The worst thing that could happen to you is you'll be fired, but you can't really stay at a job that's going to ask you to transgress your morals anyway."

Comments
Tampa Bay jobs chief Ed Peachey making top dollar

Tampa Bay jobs chief Ed Peachey making top dollar

For years, Edward Peachey has bragged about the number of jobless people he has helped find work.As president and CEO of CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, he’s in charge of the two main government agencies that provide training to the...
Published: 01/20/18
Sunday Conversation: Lightning VP Keith Harris strikes a chord for the Boys & Girls Clubs

Sunday Conversation: Lightning VP Keith Harris strikes a chord for the Boys & Girls Clubs

Keith Harris fondly looks back on some memorable days from his Tampa upbringing when he worked as a lifeguard at a pool next to a Boys & Girls Club. ¶Whenever it rained, he watched as the kids retreated to the safe haven of the club. They entered int...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

The state has opened an investigation into CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, days after the Tampa Bay Times asked about whether the two regional job centers were inflating the number of people they had helped get hired. The agencies, ...
Published: 01/19/18
Tech firm TranferWise moves to Ybor City, illustrating a new chapter in Tampa’s business history

Tech firm TranferWise moves to Ybor City, illustrating a new chapter in Tampa’s business history

TAMPA — You could sketch an economic history of the city of Tampa — and maybe get a glimpse of its future — just by looking at the old J. Seidenberg & Co./Havana-American Cigar Factory.It opened in 1894, making it Ybor City’s second-oldest brick ciga...
Published: 01/19/18

Want to buy into an exchanged-traded bitcoin fund? You might have a long wait

NEW YORK — It may be a while, if ever, before investors can buy an exchange-traded fund made up of bitcoin and other digital currencies. Federal regulators have a long list of questions they want answered before they’ll approve a digital currency fun...
Published: 01/19/18
Child psychologist weighs in on mom who charges 5-year-old ‘rent’

Child psychologist weighs in on mom who charges 5-year-old ‘rent’

A Georgia mother has gone viral for charging her 5-year-old "rent." Yup — the kid pays up for food, water, cable and electric, too.Essense Evans described in a Facebook post how she handles her daughter’s allowance. The post, written on Saturday, was...
Published: 01/19/18

Addicted to your smartphone? Now there’s an app for that

Did you text? Sorry, I can’t see messages right now. Arianna Huffington locked my phone.The media tycoon turned wellness entrepreneur wants to keep you out of your phone, too, with a new app called Thrive. Its goal is to make it cool for a generation...
Published: 01/19/18
Proposed monument near St. Pete pier would honor Tony Jannus history-making flight

Proposed monument near St. Pete pier would honor Tony Jannus history-making flight

ST. PETERSBURG — Tony Jannus’s history-making flight in an early seaplane — simultaneously as ungainly and graceful as a pelican on the wing — is what Mayor Rick Kriseman calls an "under-told and under-appreciated" story, but a team of local history ...
Published: 01/19/18
Learn how bus rapid transit (and rail) could work in Tampa Bay

Learn how bus rapid transit (and rail) could work in Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG — The newest hope for transportation in the Tampa Bay area is a bus rapid transit system projected to cover the 41-miles separating St. Petersburg from Wesley Chapel and attract 4,500 new riders at a fraction of the cost of light rail....
Published: 01/19/18
Five things Tampa Bay needs to know about bus rapid transit

Five things Tampa Bay needs to know about bus rapid transit

ST. PETERSBURG — Transportation planners on Friday unveiled a new transit vision for Tampa Bay leaders on Friday morning: Bus rapid transit.Also known as BRT, it has arisen as the leading option in an ongoing study to find the best regional transit p...
Published: 01/19/18