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February 19, 2018

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ETHICAL DILEMMA SCOPE OF INVESTIGATION


- Mahalakshmi Ravisankar, Founder [ COMVERVE ]

mahalakshmiravisankar

Compliance training, no matter how progressive, is ill-equipped to conceive every possible ethical dilemma simply because it is driven by human behavior and is to that extent unpredictable

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 done?

“…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 personal gain…”

“Ethics is not about a philosophy, theory or a strategy. It is about difficult choices - dilemmas”

The above are the most commonly used defenses 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 or innovation in terms of ways of working, has the risk of becoming an exception and therefore abrasion when it comes under the scanner of compliance.

ethics

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. noncompliance? Accordingly, will the investigation strategy be different?

The culpability in the case of non-compliance depends on whether:

(i) It was deliberate

(ii) There was a motive to cheat or withhold information from the management

(iii) 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:

(i) Was there a concerted effort?

(ii) Did the employee circumvent or short circuit the process?

(iii) Was there a misuse or abuse of authority?

What is considered to be dynamism as a business practice or innovation in terms of ways of working, has the risk of becoming an exception and therefore abrasion when it comes under the scanner of compliance

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 the snake.

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.

 

Disclaimer – The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author and are purely informative in nature.


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