A recent newspaper article said that state
transport authorities were found to make fake emission certificates, either
using other vehicles or without a vehicle at all. Who should be blamed for
this? The technician responsible for filling up the columns and ticking the
boxes? The supervisor who agreed for the other vehicle or no vehicle at all? Or
the management which is interested in getting the work done and not how it is
“…..I did this because it was
good for the business”
“…….my boss asked me to do it,
and if I said ‘NO’, it would be insubordination”,
“……I believe, if it is coming
from the management, it would be right….”
“……I did not do it for any
The above are the most commonly used defences when
confronted for doing things in an unethical way.
Ethical dilemmas are often the most difficult ones
to define and therefore hard to advocate or monitor. Compliance training, no
matter how progressive it is, is ill-equipped to conceive every possible
ethical dilemma simply because it is driven by human behavior and is to that
extent unpredictable. What is considered to be dynamism as a business practice
becomes an abrasion when it comes under the scanner of compliance.
Abrasions are often found at an operational level
and the person responsible for the decision often goes scot-free. For example,
in a case where the failure to repay the loan on time by borrowers was
deliberately suppressed for incentive in respect of successful loan applications,
the person who is penalized is the disbursing clerk, rather than questioning the
intent of the person who fixed something that can be manipulated as a KPI to
determine the rate of incentive.
It’s here that the domain of ethics needs a
co-ownership from people who are responsible for designing the rewards program.
So an ethical dilemma not just needs correction to avoid it, but it needs a
positive reinforcement to be replaced with responsible behavior, a
responsibility of the senior management.
So how does one decide an ethical dilemma vs.
non-compliance? Accordingly, will the investigation strategy be different?
The culpability in the case of non-compliance
depends on whether
It was deliberate
There was a motive to cheat or
withhold information from the management
The management suffered a loss or
disadvantage on account of it
Investigation into an ethical dilemma would be
wider in scope by addressing the following too:
Was there a concerted effort?
Did the employee circumvent or short
circuit the process?
Was there a misuse or abuse of
Here’s a small story to explain why investigation
into ethical dilemmas is complex, as it is always open to debate – Doing the
right thing vs. doing it the right way.
There was a snake which occupied a burrow in a
tree and a crow was a resident of the same tree with its nest on the top.
Whenever the crow would lay its eggs, the snake would sneak into the crow’s
nest and eat them as its supper. The crow wanted to teach a lesson to the
snake, but the snake was too strong an enemy to confront. So, the crow thought
of an idea. As it was flying over a castle of a king, it spotted a pearl
necklace of a queen on a table and picked it up and placed it in the burrow of
When the king’s security men set out on a search
to locate the lost necklace of the queen, finding it in the snake’s burrow,
without a second thought, they killed the snake.
Was the crow right in what it did? If it was
right, did it do it the right way? Ethical dilemmas always have more than one
answer. That’s the enigmatic part of a compliance investigation.