Ethically Dubious Conduct
Case 10.5 Ethically Dubious Conduct
Brenda Franklin has worked at Allied Tech for nearly eight years. It’s a large company, but she likes it
and enjoys the friendly work environment. When she tacked her list onto the bulletin board outside her
office, she didn’t intend to make things less friendly. In fact, she didn’t expect her list to attract much
attention at all. It had all started the week before when she joined a group of coworkers for their weekly
lunch get- together, where they always talked about all sorts of things. This time they had gotten into a
long political discussion, with several people at the table going on at great length about dishonesty,
conflicts of interest, and shady dealings among politicians and corporate leaders. “ If this country is
going to get on the right track, we need people whose integrity is above reproach,” Harry Benton had
said to nods of approval around the table, fol-lowed by a further round of complaints about corruption
and corner- cutting by the powerful. Brenda hadn’t said much at the time, but she thought she sniffed a
whiff of hypocrisy. Later that night, after pondering the group’s discussion, she typed up her list of “
Ethically Dubious Employee Conduct.” The next day she posted it outside her door. Harry Benton was
the first one to stick his head in the office. “ My, my, aren’t we smug?” was all he said before he disap-
peared. Later that morning, her friend Karen dropped by. “ You don’t really think it’s immoral to take a
pad of paper home, do you?” she asked. Brenda said no, but she didn’t think one could just take it for
granted that it was okay to take company property. She and Karen chat-ted more about the list. On and
off that week, almost everyone she spoke with alluded to the list or commented on some of its items.
They didn’t object to her posting it, although they seemed to think it was a little strange. One day
outside the building, however, an employee she knew only by sight asked Brenda sarcastically whether
she was planning on turning people in for “ moral violations.” Brenda ignored him. Now she was
anticipating her group’s weekly lunch. She had little doubt about what the topic of discussion would be,
as she again glanced over her list: Ethically Dubious Employee Conduct 1. Taking office supplies home for
your personal use. 2. Using the telephone for personal, long- distance phone calls. 3. Making personal
copies on the office machine. 4. Charging the postage on your personal mail to the company. 5. Making
nonbusiness trips in a company car. 6. On a company business trip: staying in the most expen-sive hotel,
taking taxis when you could walk, including wine as food on your expense tab, taking your spouse along
at company expense. 7. Using your office computer to shop online, trade stocks, view pornography, or
e- mail friends on company time. 8. Calling in sick when you need personal time. 9. Taking half the
afternoon off when you’re supposedly on business outside the office. 10. Directing company business to
vendors who are friends or relatives. 11. Providing preferential service to corporate customers who have
taken you out to lunch.
1. Review each item on Brenda’s list and assess the conduct in question. Do you find it morally
acceptable, morally unacceptable, or somewhere in between? Explain.
2. Examine Brenda’s list from both the utilitarian and the Kantian perspectives. What arguments can be
given for and against the conduct on her list? Is the rightness or wrongness of some items a matter of
degree? Can an action ( such as taking a pad of paper) be both trivial and wrong?
3. Someone might argue that some of the things listed as ethically dubious are really employee
entitlements. Assess this contention.
4. How would you respond to the argument that if the company doesn’t do anything to stop the
conduct on Brenda’s list, then it has only itself to blame? What about the argument that none of the
things on the list is wrong unless the company has an explicit rule against it?
5. What obligations do employees have to their employers? Do companies have moral rights that
employees can violate? What moral difference, if any, is there between taking something that belongs to
an individual and taking something that belongs to a company?
6. What, if anything, can we learn about an employee’s character based on whether he or she does or
does not do the things on Brenda’s list? Would you admire someone who scrupulously avoids doing any
of these ethically dubious things, or would you think the person is a prig?
7. What should Brenda do when she finds a fellow employee engaging in what she considers ethically
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