Companies & Industries

Workforce Tattletales


It's difficult, but you really should out a drug-taking co-worker, and yourself when you've been willy-nilly with the expense account

Drug-Free

You know that one of your colleagues is abusing drugs while on the job. Would you:

A) Do nothing?

B) Confront your colleague and leave it at that?

C) Notify your colleague's supervisor?

It may be tempting to think that it's none of your business and to therefore do nothing, but no matter what your job is or where you work, a colleague who is abusing drugs places others—and him or herself—at risk of harm. The company's ability to provide excellent service is also at risk.

Confronting the colleague is better than doing nothing, but leaving it at that doesn't go far enough. After all, what is your co-worker likely to say? Either a version of "mind your own business" or "don't worry, I've got everything under control." Even if he or she admits that there is a problem, can you take it on faith that the co-worker will tackle it?

No one likes to be a snitch, but since you are in a position to protect others from harm, you have an ethical duty to do so. If you fail to bring the matter to the attention of the appropriate third party and your co-worker goes on to cause injury to someone else on the job (or on the way to or from work), how would you feel?

Legal issues aside, would you be partly to blame for not preventing harm? Think of whistle-blowing here as "tough love" for your colleague, and the best way to protect the interests of your company and the well-being of the community.

Some ethical problems are more complex, as you will read in the next case.

Cut Off

You have an expense account at your job that you've been using to cover personal expenses, including your cell-phone bill and meals with your family. Similar to claiming those meals were actual meetings with clients, you've been using the company car for your family and claiming the mileage was business-related. You've begun to rethink this practice, however, and you now want to make amends for your conduct. Would you:

A) Vow to cease the activity?

B) Calculate exactly how much company money you used improperly and use your own money over the coming months to pay for business expenses until you have repaid your debt, without letting anyone at work know of your past behavior?

C) Tell your supervisor what you have done and pledge to repay everything you took?

This is a tough one. "A" is appealing because you protect yourself from being seen as a crook (which, of course, you are). While you may think protecting yourself falls under the principle of "Do No Harm," Life Principle No. 4, "Be Fair," requires that the punishment fit the crime, and "A" hardly seems just.

"B" goes a bit further, but the company has a right to know how its funds have been misappropriated. Besides, someone there will probably find out anyway, so wouldn't it better to have that knowledge come from you rather than from another department—or an external auditor? Yes, you may have to face the music for your past conduct, but by confessing what you've done, you demonstrate that you have the courage to admit a mistake and accept the consequences.

Few of us would actually choose "C," but this is the right choice to make. Since the company has a right to know how its funds have been misappropriated, and you were the one to do so, it is your responsibility to admit what you have done. Of course, it is one thing to determine the right thing to do, and quite another to have the strength to do it.

Nevertheless, the situation you're in is difficult to resolve psychologically, but not ethically. Taking Life Principle No. 4 seriously leads only to option "C." There can be no other justifiable choice.

If you were the supervisor of someone in your situation, wouldn't you want that person to admit what he or she has done?

Weinstein is the corporate consultant, author, and public speaker known as The Ethics Guy. He has appeared on numerous national TV shows and is the author of several books on ethics. His Ask the Ethics Guy! column appears every other week on BusinessWeek.com's Managing channel.

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