Tuesday, September 8, 2009

An Ethical Dilemma

Some years ago, I remember a discussion that happened at my office. The payroll departmet executive informed me that he had noticed an employee of the organisation buying toiletries and other items from a chemist shop. The employee had requested the chemist to prepare a bill for medicines instead of for toiletries. The employee had justified saying that medical reimbursement was his entitlement and it was okay if he submitted the requisite bills even though he had bought things other than medicines.

An employee was entitled to cab fare while on official duty. He travelled by train incurring twenty five rupees but claimed taxi fare by submitting a bill for three hundred rupees. When it came to his manager’s notice, the employee stated that he had the right to claim the amount as taxi fare was his entitlement.

In the Benson and Hedges cricket match, when New Zealand required six runs off the last ball to draw the cricket match, Trevor Chappel from Australia bowled an under arm ball along the ground. By no stretch of imagination could this ball be belted for a six and Australia won. When questioned, the Australian captain stated that it was very much within the rules to do that as long as the bowler swung his arm.

I have always been intrigued at this curious display of righteousness exhibited by these people. Potter Stewart once said” There’s a huge difference between that which you have a right to do and that which is the right thing to do.” I have always been of the opinion that the ‘right thing to do’ goes far beyond the ‘legal right to do’, and lived my life accordingly. But ultimately this treads on the personal standards set by individuals for themselves, and the ethical dilemma, I presume, will continue.

What have you to say?

18 comments:

Neha said...

sir, I am too young to comment on this, but yes, even I have seen such things happening...there are people who really need money and they travel by train or bus, but claim cab money...I feel, for them if they claim their right it is fine, then why the discrimination for others? people do such things to earn extra money...at least it is their rightful sum...and not something they have taken away from others and earned...so my opinion, there is nothing wrong if you claim the money allotted to you as perks...

Yadayada said...

it's the matter of perspective and morality, which differs with each personnel...
a very subjective matter indeed...

DebraLSchubert said...

Each situation is different. I think you should be as honest as you can within the context you're dealing with. Some people have no problem stretching the rules. For me, my instant karma bites me in the you-know-what every time! I'm grateful for that. It keeps me in line.;-)

San said...

To have one's behavior governed by "the right thing to do," the moral thing that doesn't infringe on other's rights, regardless of what one is allowed by law, is the secret to a clear conscience and a truly fulfilling life.

You are a wise man.

Neha said...

this post is very thought provoking, it made me come back here...this may hurt many if I put this forward, but my conscience won't let me rest until I do so...Sir, you have mentioned small amounts here...for example, if your company pays one's air fair to him for the business class travel, but he travels by economy class...honestly, how many will return the remaining sum only because you did not use it or it was not ethical? or was it ethical?

Ugich Konitari said...

The "right thing to do " is clearly a function of how you have been brought up. No course can teach you that. The "legal right" is something that is allowed to you , should you choose to exercise it.

Having said that, I would say, that some companies encourage this kind of stuff. 30 years ago I worked for the then leading Management consultancy/Auditors firm. I was told to submit vouchers for transport up to a certain amount every month, as they were part of my salary which was structured that way, possibly for tax reasons. I was reimbursed , no questions asked. And this thing was encouraged, or you missed that part of your salary. And it was certainly not a case where you could ignore this part of your salary, where you had no choice in how it was structured.

Maybe the question of a morally right decision is valid when these kind of reimbursed amounts are minor compared to the main salary. Probably when you reside in the top echelons of the management.

The line between "right thing to do" and "legally right thing" is smudged, thanks to the employer himself...

Kavi said...

I wonder, how i can get this comment right...although, commenting is some kind of a natural right.

I read somewhere, the moment there is a question 'can i do this ?' signifies there is an issue at hand.

Well put again sir, with pertinent examples !!

nsiyer said...

Thanks Neha for coming over twice. I thought it was nice of you to reflect and stay with it and then come back.Neha, the Company provides Business Class and wants you to fly BC because you are the Ambassador of the Company, you represent it and there is a certain image because of your position.Five star hotels are allowed since you will meet certain clients which also presents to your client an image of you and the Company.Thanks anyway.

Thanks Yadayada, yes what you said is right. Each to his own.

Debrah!. Yes, this allows to be in peace with ourself if one is made that way.

Shefali said...

Hi Sir..very well put, there: the ‘right thing to do’ goes far beyond the ‘legal right to do’'..

I would like to add that when one is in a situation that can be described as 'ambiguous'in the sense that taking into account all that we know of set moral/legal standards, there is not one clear answer..that's when the action taken is a clear statement of,"This is what I am as an individual"
Then we are not bound by standards set by law, or even standards set by society-which in a black or white scenario we are compelled to follow.
Then we are acting who we are.
Some of the people you have cited are saying,"I am someone who's ok with taking advantage of loopholes in the rules of the game to get something I want"
The question that comes to my mind, then, is..remove the rules..now what do we see these people as capable of doing?!

Anu...:) said...

Thought provoking.As rightly mentioned,its a dilemma.

But if we just keep the protocols or rules aside,we may see things practically.The purpose behind these perks is wasted if we divert it for other things.As in example,the employee is given the cab fare in official duty.But does he use it? Not really.
It is also argued that the person would claim that fare because its his entitlement.But,isn't the right use of that entitlement his duty?

nsiyer said...

Thanks San. That's nice to note.

Thanks Ugich KonitariThere are wheels within wheels.

Can I do this? - very apt. The answer is begging the question.

Fantastic Shefali! Absolutely thought provoking and insightful. Your question ' what if there are no rules?' is the icing on the cake.This is what I am as an individual is equally inspiring. Kudos for a different take on the subject.

Babli said...

I appreciate for the lovely post as you have portrayed very beautifully. I feel that every person has their own perspective and it depends on situation to situation. Some person may not think the same as the other. So you should take the appropriate decision and go ahead for doing the right thing.

♥ Braja said...

I remember the Trevor Chappell incident----shameful indeed. Very shameful. As an Aussie cricket fan, I knew that all the other Aussie cricket fans were shamefaced.....

Anuradha said...

Sir,the instances you have cited are all too common in organizations today. "The right thing to do" appeals to me. But I'm sure, it doesn't to several others. And they might have reasons, right or wrong, for the same. Though I feel that there can never be right reasons for something that's wrong. But what's wrong for me, could be right for someone else. At the end of the day, "to each his own"... However, "the right thing to do" might be the more difficult path to tread, but I guess, its worth it!

nsiyer said...

Thanks Anu. That was good.

Thanks Braja. What a shame for the Aussies.

Thanks Babli. Very apt.

Thanks Anuradha. It is all about to whom you are answerable.

SG said...

Nice post. I just wrote a blog on Serena Williams. Regarding Trevor Chappal's behaviour, I want to quote from my post. Here it is:

"Also some athletes loathe opponent’s victory. Here is a page from the history book.

4th test match India vs. New Zealand at Feroz Shah Kotla ground in New Delhi which began on March 19, 1965. On the last day, almost at the closing time, India started to bat for the second innings. India needed 70 runs to win. After about a few overs, the drinks came on to the field. This is a good chance for the New Zealanders to “waste” precious time and thus end the test in a draw. Do you know what the New Zealand Captain John Reid did? He told the drinks people to get off the field and continued the match without a drinks break. India won by 7 wickets. New Zealand 262 and 272. India 465/8 declared and 73/3. John Reid wanted to fight the Indians till the last ball is bowled but in an honorable way. He should be a role model for other cricketers."

TCGirivasan@Vasan, Puducherry said...

Doing things right need not always be right things to do.

Doing right things relieves you from tension.

You also set an example to others, especially to those who work for you.

But I am sure that entitlement is not a right for claim.

Sushree said...

There is a very thin line line between 'one's right to do something' and the 'right thing' - a line which is almost non-existent, thanks to our changing lifestyles. However, what does bother me is how our next generation will adapt themselves to such situations - which does not conjure up a pleasant image watsoever. The challenge is 'how do we instill it into them to tread the RIGHT PATH' and not blindly go by 'ENTITLEMENT'.