Would You Be the One to Blow the Whistle?
Ethics is concerned not only with an individual’s conduct but also with how an individual responds to the actions of others. An employee who takes action upon observing improper conduct by a fellow employee is often referred to as a whistleblower. Having read of the harassment that most often comes to a whistleblower, however, a person will probably think long and carefully before blowing the whistle. The case below is a fictitious example used to discuss the ethical problems for employees.
Adam Brown worked in the design engineering department of a manufacturing firm. One of the policies of the manufacturing firm was that no employee should accept gifts of more than $20 from outside suppliers or firms. As part of his job, Adam Brown frequently communicated and worked with the purchasing department in his firm in providing material and equipment specifications for purchases. Adam’s dealings with Martin Cooper, director of the purchasing department, and other employees of the purchasing department were friendly and cordial, and all purchases made for the manufacturing firm seemed to be made in a professional manner.
One day while talking to a sales representative of one of his firm’s suppliers, Adam discovered that Martin Cooper and his wife had received a free trip to the Bahamas, with all air, hotel, and meal expenses paid by the sales representative’s company. Adam knew that Martin had not won the trip in a drawing or sweepstakes, and he realized it was an “under the table” gift to Martin for buying the sales representative’s products. Accepting such a gift from a supplier was strictly against company policy. Adam likes Martin, and Adam has no evidence that Martin had given special consideration to the supplier in selecting the supplier’s products. Also, the supplier’s products have met or exceeded all the engineering specifications. Adam rationalizes that most likely the trip was just an expression of appreciation from the supplier, but he still agonizes about what he should do.
NOTE: Answers will vary depending on your point of view, just make sure that you defend your responses no matter which stance you take.)
1. Was Martin Cooper’s free trip an example of unethical business behavior?
2. Should Adam report to one of his company’s executives what he had discovered? Or should he talk to Martin Cooper? Or should he just keep quiet?
3. If he decides to do nothing, is Adam guilty of unethical business behavior?
Special Challenge: If you have or know someone else who has a whistleblowing story, please share it here if you feel comfortable doing so… (this is optional, and no names of people or companies please…)