What to Do When Your Boss Asks You to Compromise Your Ethics

Employees being asked to act immorally by their boss have become far too common. The dilemma is—what to do? And how to do you weigh the price that whistleblowers usually have to pay such as lack of advancement, alienation and even reprisal? Daniel Victor in the New York Times’ Smarter Living column explored this question recently and based on my research forFrom Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I disagree with some of the advice he offers.

I agree with Victor that employees should first make sure that they didn’t misunderstand their supervisor’s request. There are times when things are poorly stated and it’s imperative that this isn’t misinterpreted. But let’s say that the request was crystal clear—what do you do next?

 First, determine if this request restricted to just this manager in this department, or is it something being enacted throughout the organization? Second, forego human resources, which in my experience is usually part of the problem, and send an anonymous note to the audit committee of the Board of Directors apprising them of an ethics issue and request an investigation. In your note indicate that if there is no response within a set limit of time you will seek external recourse with legal representation, the media, or both.

Under no circumstances would I recommend following Victor’s advice to expose the situation internally—this could be fraught with danger. Had the employees who went from victim to villain at Wells Fargo exposed the scandal in the manner I advocate, their story would have had a far happier ending.

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