We all have ethical boundaries. We know what we think is ethical behavior at work, but what do you do when your ethical boundaries are crossed?
Have you really thought what you would do if asked to do something that you considered unethical?
Have you considered what you would do if your boss or others in corporate management did something that you considered unethical?
We see it in the news like the Wells Fargo Fake Account scandal. Maybe it is all of the sexual harassment misconduct by people in Hollywood. I will not touch in this post on what is going on in Washington D.C. and our national leader’s ethical conduct. That all seems so distant from our day to day lives.
What Happens When It Occurs at Your Place of Work?
Until a little over seven years ago, I had never really thought about it. That was until my last employer was acquired. I started to see changes in behavior in the senior management that concerned me.
We were also in the middle of the great recession. We were hiring when many other companies were laying staff off. Much of the executive staff had gotten their big payoff from the acquisition and had the golden handcuffs on.
It started when a director tried to hire a close relative. The director was not well liked by her employees. You might say they feared her wrath.
The relative interviewed for a lower-level position and was about to get an offer when this individual’s background check did not pass corporate guidelines. It was suspected that a drug-related issue came up in the background check but the real reason for the failure was unknown.
There was a sigh of relief that could be felt throughout the office. The staff was incredibly relieved no matter the reason.
This was not in my management chain, but it was a warning—and I ignored it. It was 2010, and the economy still was in the tank.
Pushing Against My Ethical Boundaries
Several months later, I received a resume from a senior executive. It was the resume of a close relative that the senior executive wanted me to consider for an open position. I was hiring for a technical trainer with international training experience.
There was a major problem. This individual was not even vaguely qualified. I mean not even close. The gentleman had no technical background, had never worked in the corporate world, had never taught adults and had no international experience. He did not meet a single one of the job requirements. He was a senior executive’s close relative.
I was then pressured by my boss to interview this individual. I should have pushed back and said NO! I am a board member of a large job club and our weekly meetings were reaching close to 400 in attendance. I could have walked into our Friday meetings and found more than a dozen more qualified individuals in a heartbeat.
I did not say “no” and agreed to interview the individual.
At that time I should have started to make plans to leave!
It was a phone interview, and I explained that he was not qualified for the current position. I also offered advice on where he might want to look for employment in the city where his qualifications would be valued.
To make a long story short, I was pressured to interview this individual in person. I did so against my better judgment.
I refused to hire the individual. I was done.
I thought that was that. I went to the recruiter’s office to check on the status of other candidates for the job and a recruiter mentioned in passing that my boss had hired him anyway. She was really surprised that I did not know.
My boss created a position working for him directly and hired the relative. All of this was done behind my back.
What to do next?
I had not created a Plan B. I knew it was coming, but I ignored the possibility.
I confronted my boss and was told it was a done deal. There was nothing I could do about it. I was even expected to train the individual for the newly created position. Aint that a real kick in the teeth?
My ethical boundaries were crossed!
I strategically did the following:
- Kept my mouth shut. I mentioned that my ethical boundaries had been crossed to my HR representative, but when asked whether to carry this up the management chain, I said no. I trusted no one!
- Consulted my financial adviser. It was comforting talking to someone about the financial risk and having it confirmed that I was making a rational financial decision.
- Finished the legal paperwork to create my business. My business plans were already in the works. I accelerated everything by 9-12 months.
- Calculated to the day when I would give two weeks notice and get the greatest financial benefit. This included getting my quarterly bonus, getting within 14 days of my next options vesting, and having the company pay for health insurance for the rest of the month.
It was three months from the time I confronted my boss to when I turned in my resignation. This was a miserable three months. Many other ethical issues popped up during this time that made it more intolerable.
I wish I had spent time formulating a Plan B when I got the first indication of bad ethical behavior. My mistake!
After My Departure
I received phone calls throughout the next year from former colleagues who were still trying to deal with my former boss. I was trying to leave the whole situation behind me but my former colleagues kept on coming to me for advice. As always, I wanted to be helpful but it was like rubbing salt in a wound.
When I left, I was very stressed out and exhausted. In hindsight, I should have taken a walkabout like I did in my 20’s when I did a 4+ week camping trip to clear my head. I did not and it took me almost a year to heal from the ordeal.
I had never thought about what I would do if my ethical boundaries were crossed. I now teach in the Targeted Job Search to always be prepared to leave your current job.
You never know when you might be laid off or have your ethical boundaries crossed.
Do you have a Plan B?
Do you have a similar story to tell? What did you do?Marc Miller
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Steven Rastom says
i really enjoyed the great article on “When your ethical boundaries are crossed”, I just shook my head when I saw your ” Have a similar story to Tell” question above because I would love to share but I don’t want to be sued again, for actually forwarding an excerpt posted by the authors of a national best selling book on management, ( can u believe I don’t even want to share the title) that I stumbled upon while browsing this site and forwarded the link to one (1) individual ,privately, along with a suggestion to read this great article.
2 months later( not that long ago) I get sued alleging the link to the article contained “Deragatory Comments”. I had 4 lawyers (friends and pros) all say they have never seen anything so frivoulous and absurd and Even the Process server’s first words were “I’m sorry” and that in 10 years of doing this, she had never seen anything so ridiculous, and actually told me I should counter sue! ( Absolutely completely trus story).
I digressed to order to illustrate the extreme actions that some people will do in order to “circle the wagons” to try and protect what they’ve done.
People generally consider morals and ethics basically the same but I dont. You see, never in my life have I ever or would breach my ethics because of my morals. To me ethics are all the sets of Rules and Expected Behaviors that govern our professional lives, our companies, Govenments, etc., (our public world). Morals, to me are how we govern outselves when no one is around or watching what we do. .It’s part of my conscience and the personal set of rules and standards that govern me and how I act .
I’ve seen what happens when you flirt with the idea of “crossing an ethical boundary,”, even when morally you may know it’s wrong. Small steps, lead to larger ones, no repercussions, gain more control, until the lines are blurred and there’s no going back. You may see or notice things and maybe you begin to personally find yourself in that same dilemma as that in the article. Or maybe your suddenly no longer in that same dilemma, but is that, or should that be the end of it. Can we Morally accept that. Thank you for that thought provoking article
Thank you for sharing. I am sorry you had to go through such an ordeal but crazy people do crazy things!
“getting within 14 days of my next options vesting”
IMHO, you should have waited until they had vested, and you got paper from the company saying so.
When you gave notice, they could have fired you on the spot, and if you hadn’t vested, then you would have lost.
If you are leaving due to unethical behavior in management, then you should protect yourself against being the next
Good point but the amount I vested was less than $1000. I get your point though.
You were lucky on the health insurance too. My employer cancelled mine the day I quit.
Wow that was mean spirited. I was working for a publicly held company, so that was unlikely to happen. I could see this happening in a private or family owned business. Good to know!!