This MLA-style case study focuses on an ethical dilemma faced by Charles, a new IT employee at a Perp Inc. It follows the case of Charles as his manager asks him to commit an unethical transaction. This MLA paper was written at the undergraduate level to serve as a sample for the Ultius blog.
A Case Study in Ethics: A Financial Dilemma
Charles is the new IT addition to Perp Inc. He had finally landed a “dream come true” job after searching for six months. He needed this job to help his family financially out of a slump they had been experiencing for quite some time. Both of his children were in high school, and he knew that he and his wife really needed help with saving for their children’s college tuitions (If you’re saving college visit Scholarships by Ultius to apply for one of our annual awards).
Charles reports directly to the Manager of Finance, Dr. Robert Harrell. Dr. Harrell has been the Manager of Finance at Perp Inc. for 25 years, and appears to have considerable influence over the upper echelon of the company. His opinions and suggestions for the company and its future are highly regarded, and certainly never questioned. He has two other men who work with him in the Finance Department, Mr. Wiles and Mr. Schim. These two men, from all outward appearances, are extremely loyal to Dr. Harrell – professionally and socially.
The private meeting
After Charles had been in his new position for three months, Dr. Harrell requests a private meeting with Charles. Charles is excited because he believes that his hard work has been recognized, and thinks he might even be getting a raise. During their meeting, Dr. Harrell commends Charles for the excellent work he is doing and stresses that all his efforts have not gone unnoticed. Dr. Harrell also states rather emphatically that people who work for him are fiercely loyal, and he expected the same from Charles.
Dr. Harrell then proceeds to give Charles this Directive: Charles is ordered to adjust the system to take all company-matched amounts of the non-exempt employees’ contributions to their 401K retirement funds, and funnel the money into a private account. Dr. Harrell then hands Charles a piece of paper with a bank routing number on it. He admits he and his partners have been putting money from the non-exempt employees’ retirement funds into this account for several years, but he knows that the risks are getting higher. Charles designing the system to do this automatically will ease the risk of discovery.
Charles looks alarmed, and tries to reason with Dr. Harrell. He tries to point out that this request is not adhering to the Ethical Codes of Business, 1.3 Be honest and trustworthy (n.p.). Dr. Harrell sternly stressed that if Charles did not do as he directed, then he would make sure he never worked in the IT field again.
Analysis of choices
A systematic method of analyzing a case study such as the example above is to provide a general definition of Code of Ethics. According to Investopedia:
A code of ethics is a guide of principles designed to help professionals conduct business honestly and with integrity. A code of ethics document may outline the mission and values of the business or organization, how professionals are supposed to approach problems, the ethical principles based on the organization’s core values and the standards to which the professional is held. (“Code of Ethics,” n.p.)
The moment Charles left Dr. Harrell’s office, he knew he was faced with a major ethical dilemma. The action was not only morally reprehensible, but also illegal. If he got caught, he – not Dr. Harrell – would be the “fall guy.” Dr. Harrell could deny any knowledge of this action. Charles had never been challenged to do the right thing; in the past, it had been quite easy, but now he knows the challenge is tougher. He needed this job, not only for himself, but also for his family. His family had gotten into a financial crisis because he had been without a job for six months. How were they going to get back on track if he failed to follow through with Dr. Harrell’s demands?
Ethical dilemmas exist in every industry (even the ethics of the nursing industry have been questioned). If I were Charles, I would not go against my conscience no matter the consequences – doing the right thing is always the right thing to do. Therefore, I would approach Dr. Harrell one more time and try to reason with him by pointing out all the consequences if they were caught, such as shaming their families, being publicly humiliated by trials, and more than likely, serving time in the penitentiary. If that did not work, I would then go to his boss and tell him/her what had been demanded of me, however, I would also reveal that Dr. Harrell had been doing this for years without my help of re-designing the program.
If that failed, and I ended up losing my job, I would then go to the authorities and file a report – I would be the “Whistle Blower,” which contrasts corporate personhood. The United States has laws that will protect “Whistleblowers” from retaliation. A Whistleblower Program does exist and is backed by the United States Department of Labor. As an employee of any organization, the employee has a recourse of action that can be taken if fired from a position for informing authorities of illegal behavior in the workplace.
In this case, Charles has every right to file a complaint, and seek protection by law. The rights and protection coverage for any whistleblower are posted online for all employees of all organizations without exception (“The Whistleblower Protection Programs,” n.p.). Obviously, our government does not tolerate any retaliation to employees who are determined to do the right thing. The thought of men placed in powerful positions in a company abusing those powers for personal gain is detestable to me. That kind of behavior will ruin lives – lives of the non-exempt personnel in the company, and the lives of the families of the men.
Dr. Harrell and his co-workers are guilty of several violations of the Code of Ethics. They are not adhering to the following guidelines:
1.1 Contribute to society and human well-being;
1.2 Avoid harm to others;
1.3 Be honest and trustworthy; and
2.3 Know and respect existing laws pertaining to professional work. (“ACM Code of Ethics,” n.p.)
To take from employees who have been promised a matching fund is not contributing to human well-being, avoiding harm to others, or being honest and trustworthy. Additionally, Dr. Harrell is quite aware that his demand goes against the U.S. laws, as well as the laws that pertain to the professional world. Perhaps because Dr. Harrell holds a very influential position, he believes he is above the law. His thinking might be that even if the breach is discovered, it would be Charles’ word against his, and because he has been with the company longer, authorities would be more apt to believe him over Charles. This type of thinking is erroneous; the truth will always prevail sooner or later.
Because these codes and corporate social responsibility are the most important and most glaring breaches in this scenario, we must never allow this type of behavior even when we are threatened with the loss of a job. Reputations in the business world always precedes the individual. One dishonest act can ruin a good reputation. Word of mouth is huge in the business world; that is why all employees are held accountable for any violation of the law and are responsible for reporting any violations.
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“The ACM Code of Ethics: Guiding Members with a Framework of Ethical Conduct.” ACM Code of Ethics. N.d. N.p. Retrieved 10 November 2017. www.acm.org/about-acm/acm-code-of-ethics-and-professional-conduct.
“Code of Ethics.” Investopedia. N.d. N.p. Retrieved 10 November 2017. http://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/code-of-ethics.asp
“The Whistleblower Protection Programs.” United States Department of Labor. N.p. N.d. Retrieved 10 November 2017. https://www.whistleblowers.gov