By Your Boss Archives

Is it RIGHT to do THAT? Ethics Clarified by Six Questions

Published on September 20th, 2016 by Alan L. Sklover

“If you don’t want anyone to know what you are doing, just don’t do it.”

– Yiddish Proverb

ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: Amy, a friend of many years, called my office one day, asking if she might speak with me confidentially. And she didn’t want to speak on the telephone. So we agreed to meet in a coffee shop the next day.

What she shared with me was quite unusual, and disturbing: she was a Senior Project Manager with a large real estate and construction firm. For almost a year she had been working on the construction of one of New York City’s most famous “new landmarks” and had encountered a problem. She was asked to do something that made her nervous. She didn’t know what to do.

Recent tests on the building’s concrete foundation showed mixed results. Since the tragedy of 9/11, foundation strength standards had been raised, and only about 2/3 of the building’s tests showed sufficient strength. Although not really a part of her job, she was brought in to the central office and was asked to “cherry pick” the positive reports, and discard the reports showing deficiencies, before submission to the City’s Department of Buildings. To say the least, she was frightened.

At least those were the facts as Amy knew them. Since she was not an engineer, and was not specifically trained in reading the reports, she was relying on the discussions among the engineers on site. She understood that there was a problem from conversations with engineers she believed to be knowledgeable in these matters. And she was suspicious from the very moment she was asked to present these reports to City officials and insurance representatives, as her usual duties had nothing to do with foundation tests. Was she, she wondered, being set up as a scapegoat?

Was there a “right” or “ethical” thing to do? Whatever was the ethical thing to do, could it hurt her job and career? These were very weighty concerns.

LESSON TO LEARN: Issues like the ones Amy faced are not that unusual. These days, it seems nearly every company is under pressure from investors and others to (a) cut corners, (b) bend the rules, and (c) twist the truth, usually in the name of cost savings or deadline pressures. It seems more often than in previous times that commercial considerations are coming into direct conflict with ethical concerns.

The issue might be one of public safety, or it might be a matter of tax evasion. Or pressures to cheat customers. One day it might be one issue; the next day it might be a different one. Whatever the issue, the dilemmas abound. It’s often hard to know what to do, when competing pressures are upon you. And those pressures can take their toll.

For those in this circumstance, we offer a rather simplified analytical tool that we sometimes call “The Six Questions to Ethical Clarity.” It is a set of basic, simple questions to ask yourself to figure out what is right to do when you’re simply not sure.

One thing about what is “right” to do: it can depend on one’s experience, one’s perspective and one’s judgment. That is, we all sometimes have “blind spots” in different situations. For that reason the question “Is it right to do?” often suggests getting the views of others with experience, perspective and judgment you trust. Just think about it: even the greatest ethicists of all time can and do disagree at times about “Is it RIGHT to do THAT?

WHAT YOU CAN DO: We do not claim any exclusive right to these six questions, because the ideas underlying them are commonly found in published articles, like this one, about ethical dilemmas in different situations. However, we present them to you in the context of issues that arise during employment, along with certain insights gleaned from the our client experiences over three decades.
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Quid Pro Quo – Key Words & Phrases

Published on April 30th, 2015 by Alan L. Sklover

Key Words

What is the meaning of:

quid pro quo?

“Quid pro quo” is a Latin phrase that translates to “This For That.”
In common usage, “quid pro quo” refers to giving one valuable thing in exchange for another valuable thing. In most of business, it is of the essence: “I give you and you pay me.” “Quid Pro Quo.”

In the workplace, “quid pro quo” is problematic in two contexts: sexual harassment and bribery. In both contexts it constitutes a serious violation of law.

In terms of sexual harassment, “quid pro quo” refers to a kind of sexual blackmail. If a manager says to an employee words to the effect, “If you have sex with me, then I will give you a promotion or raise,” or “Unless you have sex with me, I won’t give you a promotion or raise,” that is a very serious type of sexual harassment. It is a serious violation of law because it uses the manager’s inherent power over the employee for an evil purpose.

In terms of bribery, “quid pro quo” refers to attempts by companies to get favored treatment from public officials. Inside the U.S., the Hobbs Act of 1994 makes it a felony for a public official to ask for anything of value in return for official favors. Outside the U.S., the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 makes it a serious federal crime to offer a bribe to officials of other countries.

Just recently, J.P. MorganChase was charged with violated that law by offering high-paying jobs to children of high Chinese officials, presumably in exchange for favored regulatory treatment.

“Quid Pro Quo.” The essence of business. But in certain business contexts, it is the essence of illegality. Now you know the difference.

© 2015 Alan L. Sklover. All Rights Reserved. Commercial Use Strictly Prohibited

Don’t worry about a bully boss’s “sensitivity.”

Published on March 17th, 2015 by Alan L. Sklover

Question: I am facing a situation that I need a bit of help with. For four years, I have put up with my boss’s undermining me publicly and privately, giving me the worst assignments and shortest deadlines, and his dishonest performance reviews. Feedback from my internal clients and my objective metrics are all quite, quite good. But he is constantly on me for alleged “mistakes,” “poor judgment” and claims of “disappointing” him.

Several of my colleagues have expressed to me that they feel quite bad about the way I am treated. It is my belief that good work should determine your treatment and success at work. That has managed to maintain me for years, but my last evaluation was almost horrible, and what is happening at work has gotten to me, and even affected my children.

So, finally, I filed a written complaint with HR, using one of your templates. I was honest, I gave names, dates and quoted him. And I think I showed that things he said in my last review were false.

My boss and his boss called me into a room today and told me that they were both “hurt” and “upset,” that I shouldn’t have made such “accusations,” My boss’s boss said that he was “uncomfortable” with this situation. Any suggestions?

Name and City Withheld

Answer: Dear Blog Visitor: I want to share these four things with you:
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Tortious Interference – Key Words & Phrases

Published on February 27th, 2015 by Alan L. Sklover

Key Words

What is the meaning of:

“tortious interference”?

“Tortious Interference” means, to use the vernacular, “sticking your nose into another person’s business (including employment relation) where your nose has no right to be.” It is a legal claim, available to both employers and employees, in the employment law context.

It is a basis for a lawsuit that requires these elements to be proven: (1) a business or employment relation, (2) that was damaged (3) by an unrelated third party, (4) without good reason and/or maliciously, (5) with intent to injure.

An example of “tortious interference” affecting an employee would be if a former employer (or any other unrelated person) wrote to a new employer something like “Did you know that your new employee was investigated for child neglect 20 years ago?” which letter got the employee fired.

An example of “tortious interference” affecting an employer would be if a competitor offered money to one of the employer’s employees to share trade secrets, such as the employer’s list of clients, customers and vendors.

Tortious Interference is what lawyers call an “Intentional Business Tort,” meaning an intentional act to hurt someone in their business relations or reputation. It can be raised where someone has a contract, or just where they have a business or employment relation without a contract.

In these hyper-competitive days, we see more of this kind of conduct, and thus more of this kind of lawsuit.

Be watchful of others with different interests than yours, and be careful of your own conduct, as well.

Not that it is any of my business . . .

P.S.: To read more on this subject, [click here.]

© 2015 Alan L. Sklover. All Rights Reserved. Commercial Use Strictly Prohibited

“Recording Conversations with Your Boss or HR” What You Need to Know

Published on May 6th, 2014 by Alan L Sklover

“When it comes to privacy and accountability,
people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.”

– David Brin 

ACTUAL “CASE HISTORIES”: I remember it like it was yesterday, although it was many years ago. Alexandra, Director of Nursing Services at a 600-bed hospital in central Georgia, contacted us for help in negotiating her severance. Alexandra was a designated member of the Hospital’s eight-member Management Team. Each member had particular responsibilities in running the hospital, including Director of Facilities, Director of Education Services, Director of Nursing Services, Director of Finances, and the like. 

Alexandra’s hospital and another one that was much larger had merged, and since the combined institution did not need two Directors of Nursing Services, she had been chosen for position elimination. She understood the rationale, and accepted it as an unavoidable fact of life. What Alexandra did not understand, and what Alexandra thought was eminently unfair, if not illegal, was the how much severance she was offered in relation to the severance that was offered to other Management Team members of her hospital. 

Of the eight Management Team members, Alexandra was one of only three with a Ph.D. Of the eight Management Team members, Alexandra had the longest tenure working for the hospital, 14 years. Of the eight Management Team members, Alexandra had the most employees under her supervision. Of the eight Management Team members, Alexandra was the only member who was female. 

What upset Alexandra so much was that some members of the Management Team had been given a year of severance, and some had even been given two years of severance. Alexandra was given just three months of salary continuation as severance. 

To find out why she was provided severance of just one-eighth of the severance provided to some of her seemingly less-deserving peers, Alexandra called Martha, the acting Human Resources Director, who was not a Management Team member. After expressing her upset over her severance, Alexandra asked Martha why there was such a disparity in severance packages. Martha was quite candid, “Of course you know why. It’s because we are considered ‘just girls’ around here. It’s because you are not a member of the ‘Boys Club.’ It’s because you have a husband. And it’s because they think – in fact, they have even said – you should be home with your kids, anyway.” 

Alexandra was not surprised at all to hear what Martha said. Actually, she was pleased, because she had audiotaped her conversation with Martha, and it was clear and quite convincing. She then made copies of that recording, just in case she accidentally lost the original. 

As you might imagine, the recording was quite convincing in negotiations. And as you might imagine, the negotiations were very successful.   

LESSON TO LEARN: Whenever we need to “prove” what took place, or when, or why, there are several types of evidence we can use: (i) documentary evidence, which usually means some type of papers, (ii) physical evidence, which means something you can see or feel, (iii) circumstantial evidence, which means the various facts surrounding what took place, and (iv) testimonial evidence, which is the spoken word. 

One kind of testimonial evidence that can be especially convincing is “spontaneous speech,” that is, what someone says on the spur of the moment, usually when they do not know their words are being recorded. 

Employees who feel aggrieved due to treatment in an illegal, improper or unfair way, often have an urge to make a recording of their conversations with their boss, their colleagues, or Human Resources. In earlier days, that required a recording machine that was large, vibrated, hummed and sometimes malfunctioned. These days nearly every “smart” phone can do the same job without so much as a hint of detection and with clarity and duration never before possible. It’s tempting, and it’s often quite useful, but there are some things an employee contemplating doing so should be aware of, and bear in mind.   

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW AND CONSIDER  Read the rest of this blog post »


Alan L. Sklover

Alan L. Sklover

Employment Attorney
and Career Strategist
for over 35 years

Job Security and Career Success now depend on knowing how to navigate and negotiate to gain the most for your skills, time and efforts. Learn the trade secrets and 'uncommon common sense' of Attorney Alan L. Sklover, the leading authority on "Negotiating for Yourself at Work™".

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