AN ETHICAL DILEMMA *
When Jim began working in the human resources department at KR Electronics, he was impressed with the number of advancement opportunities the job offered. His first task was to monitor reports that came in from employees through the company’s ethics hotline. It was a simple job but one Jim felt would lead him to a higher position in the HR department. He spent two days learning about the company’s ethical policies and values, such as the importance of integrity and confidentiality. Jim felt reassured he chose a great company in which to start a career. KR Electronics was a competitive company, and every six years employees were evaluated for performance. While the highest performers received substantial bonuses, the lowest 15 percent were consistently fired. This didn’t bother Jim too much. He knew many other well-known companies had a similar system in place. What bothered Jim was the way the supervisors treated employees who did not perform highly. Several employees approached Jim and told him of an abusive manager who often yelled at employees in front of other co-workers. Jim heard reports that the supervisor would make comments such as “I can’t wait till the year is up and I can tell you to get lost. It’ll be nice to actually get someone in this job with half a brain.” When Jim approached David, the human resources manager of his department, about what he heard, David shrugged off Jim’s concerns. “You’ve got to understand, Jim,” David explained. “We operate in a highly competitive field. Employees have to work quickly and efficiently in order to maintain our business. This often requires supervisors to get tough. Besides, this supervisor’s unit is one of our highest performers. Apparently, whatever he’s doing is working.” This remark made Jim feel uncomfortable, but he did not want to argue with his boss about it. One day Jim got a call from a woman in the company’s sales department. She informed him that many of the firm’s salespeople made exaggerated claims about the quality of their electronics. He also learned salespeople were making guarantees about products that were not true, such as how long the product would last. “The salespeople are given substantial bonuses for exceeding their quotas, so many promise whatever it takes to increase their sales,” the woman explained. Although it was not required to provide a name when reporting, the person talking to Jim gave her name as Sarah Jones. She asked Jim to make sure her sales manager Rick Martin did not find out she called the hotline. Jim gave the report to his supervisor for further investigation. Two weeks later Jim heard that Sarah Jones had been fired for poor performance. He approached David to ask him about the situation and was horrified to find out the sales manager of Sarah’s division had been told about her report. “But David, this is a violation of our confidentiality code! I promised Sarah we would keep her name anonymous when investigating this matter. What if Rick fired her out of retaliation?” Jim asked. David looked at Jim in exasperation. “Jim, you are making too big of a deal out of this. Nobody forced Sarah to give her name to us over the hotline. And trust me, Rick’s a good man. He wouldn’t fire someone simply to get back at them for reporting. It seems to me that these reports didn’t have credibility, anyway. It’s likely that Sarah made up these allegations to hide her poor performance.” Jim left David’s office upset. Even if Sarah was a poor performer, he did not feel that it was right that her sales manager was told about her report when she expressly requested otherwise. As he went back to his desk, he remembered hearing that the sales manager and David were good friends and often went out together for lunch.
QUESTIONS | EXERCISES
1. How does the company’s organizational culture appear to conflict with its ethical policies?
2. What are the options for Sarah if this was retaliation?
3. What should Jim do next?