Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I recently published a series of three blog entries for The entries went over very well and were featured in the newsletters for both employers and job seekers so I’m going to share the “meat” of those blogs here.

Before summarizing the information below I want to point out that the ethics example used comes from my book, How to Get, Keep and Be Well Paid in a Job, a work readiness rulebook that received a five-star review from the Midwest Book Review, an entity libraries rely on when ordering books for their collections. In addition, I am now offering a new service for businesses that I will run through my account at Every month I will present a fictional workplace case study. Companies will sign up for an account where they will get a private company message board where their employees will comment anonymously on the fictional case study. Towards the end of the month I will comment on their comments (on the board), present the answer, and provide key learning points. At the conclusion of the month a competency statement will be provided to the company based on the lesson learned for the month. From that point forward the employees will be held accountable for demonstrating that competency at work, and their performance of that competency becomes part of their job appraisal process.

The new service is not up yet on, however, I will only be accepting 15 businesses for this service. Please contact me ( or leave a message on 561-842-9942; in email or or phone message indicate "your employer work readiness program" to ensure your message gets the attention it deserves) if you might be interested and I will place you on my list of potential clients. I will contact businesses in the order I receive their potential interest to explain the service/process in more detail and to fill up the 15 slots.

PART I – Ethics fictional case study

Situation: A bank has a strict policy that all tellers must have at minimum a high school diploma or a GED. There are no exceptions. In fact, a good friend of yours who was an excellent teller for another bank, just lost his job because of the downturn in the economy, and was turned down by the bank you work for because he did not have his GED or high school diploma. Your friend was told that every teller in the bank has at minimum a GED or high school diploma, and that the bank even uses that fact when soliciting new accounts. Today the teller who sits next to you, someone who is not your friend, not even someone you go to lunch with, turns to you and says, "I can't wait. Next month I am finally getting my GED."

Question: What would you do, if anything, after finding out that the teller sitting next to you did not have either a GED or high school diploma?

PART II –Commenting on the Comments

First, in addition to being the author of the book, How to Get, Keep and Be Well Paid in a Job, which is a work readiness guide; I also developed a work readiness certification training program that was called the best in the Country by a member of the National Skills Standard Board in January of 2003. I mention that fact because during the initial rollout of that program I trained the teachers. While instructing them on how to teach ethics, I used a scenario similar to the one presented here. I did so because I knew the situation would result in a diversity of answers regarding the correct action for the employee to take, with people digging in deeply to their point of views. However, during all that discussion no one came up with the answer presented by Roosevelt Williams, and I found his response very well thought out. It is both intelligent and cautious. Bringing up the specific situation to his supervisor to help clarify a company policy was brilliant. Management is now aware of a potentially damaging fact, and Mr. Williams was able to bring it to the attention of his supervisor in way where he was finding out about company policies, not directly "talking about" a co-worker.

Both Monica Diaz Veliz and Jan Teegardin made statements that were true. Businesses often do hire employees below the stated requirements for a job and give the new employees time to accumulate the credentials they lack. While that could be true in other scenarios, I tried to close that door here when I wrote "that there are no exceptions". But more important is that I mention that the bank uses the fact that all tellers have at least a high school diploma or GED to solicit new accounts. If customers found that statement to be untrue, they could become uneasy with the bank. Even if they do not care whether the tellers have a high school diploma or GED, they may question the truth when the bank informs them that its checking account has no fees. After all if all tellers really means almost all tellers, does no fees really mean almost no fees? Losing the trust of customers can lead to customers leaving and to negative word of mouth on the street about that business.

Adrienne Ishmael's answer shows she is an honest, compassionate person. In my experience, I have found that the majority of people respond to this situation in a similar fashion to Ms. Ishmail. Ms. Ismail indicated that she would be reluctant to do anything because she wouldn't want to be responsible for setting the wheels in motion that could eventually get her co-worker fired. However, she was also very insightful in her answer pointing out that it is possible her co-worker lied to get the job. In addition to Ms. Ishmael's reason for not taking any action, I have heard responses from people who would not do anything ranging from, "It's not my job to correct a mistake made by Human Resources", to "I'm not a rat, I'm no squealer", to "If I keep my mouth shut no one will ever know that I'm aware of that fact" to more. I hope after reading my next blog everyone will realize that deciding not to do anything in a given situation is something that has to be thought through. Not acting on a something does not ensure that there are no consequences for that inaction.

Finally, Mirna Musharbash took a point of view I respect and have valued in my employees, but may have gone as the band Madness would say, "One Step Beyond". I like when employees look at situations through the eyes of a supervisor. It means that they care about the business, take their jobs seriously and want the business to succeed. So I applaud Mirna Musharbash for taking that approach. However, there is a fine line between looking through the eyes of your supervisor and taking it upon yourself to make decisions that should really be made by your supervisor. In this case Mirna was basing the decision to bring this fact to the attention of management on how well that person performed in his/her job. First, Mirna is not in the position to evaluate a co-workers' job performance, because I know Mirna is busy working and therefore, not in a position to observe all work completed by any co-worker. Second is that reviewing the overall job performance of Mirna's co-workers is the responsibility of Mirna's supervisor, not Mirna. Furthermore, even if Mirna was correct in the assessment of the co-worker's job performance that may not be the key factor in management's view of the situation. As mentioned previously, the fact that the employee lied on his/her job application and the fact that the bank is marketing that all tellers have high school diplomas or GEDs to its customers and could lose business if customers found out that that was untrue, could be the chief concerns of management in this situation, not job performance.

PART III- My Final Remarks

In my prior two blog entries on this topic I first presented a workplace scenario, requesting comments from readers; and then wrote a blog commenting on my readers’ insightful comments. In this wrap-up blog I will give my view on ethics and my answer to the workplace scenario. To not re-invent (or in this case, re-write) the wheel, I will use some quotes from my copyrighted book, How to Get, Keep and Be Well Paid in Job.

“A behavior is either ethical (right) or unethical (wrong). There is absolutely no gray area. Being ethical means doing the right thing. What determines if something is ethical or unethical is the behavior itself, not the circumstances surrounding the action taken, not the relationship between the people involved, not an individual’s culture, not a person’s value system, not life’s experiences, etc., etc., etc.”

That said, acting unethically does not mean you are a bad person. For example, speeding is against the law, thus unethical. However, driving 10 miles an hour over the speed limit doesn’t make you a bad person.

“The key to understanding ethics is to be able to define if an act is ethical or unethical. Once you have identified the ethical behavior, then you decide what to do. In other words, to either do the ethical behavior or do the unethical behavior. This is where circumstances, relationships, culture, values, life’s experiences, etc., etc., etc. come into play. You decide in each situation if you are going to act ethically or unethically.

There will be times in life that you feel strongly that choosing the unethical behavior is the right choice for you. However, you must be aware that if you choose to do the unethical behavior there can be severe consequences. Therefore, if you choose to act unethically, know what those consequences could be (obvious and hidden), and be prepared to accept those consequences for making the decision to act unethically.”

In the case of the unethical act of driving 10 miles over the speed limit, for example, you have to be prepared to possibly: get a speeding ticket and see your insurance rates increase; to be at minimum partially liable for any car accident; and may have given cause for a police office to search your vehicle.

Now on to the scenario from this blog:

The ethics of the situation is clear. The bank teller obviously lied during the job interview process and on his/her application which is unethical. So, what would I do?

I would first inform the bank teller that I am very annoyed that he/she told me that they are breaking bank rules and that by telling me of that fact he/she has placed me in a difficult spot; a spot I would rather not have been in, and a spot I am only in because of his/her action. I would next remind the bank teller of the fact that we promote to all potential new customers (and existing customers) that all our tellers have at least a GED or high school diploma. Next, I would tell the bank teller that I will give him/her two days to inform our supervisor of this fact, or that I will have no choice but to tell our supervisor myself.

I know what many of you are thinking. What a rat, especially since by just keeping your mouth shut nothing would happen to you, Jay. Well, let me play this scenario out.

Let’s say that my supervisor finds out that the bank teller did not have his/her high school diploma or GED when he/she was hired. Maybe the bank teller celebrates when he/she finally gets his/her GED, or maybe someone sends him/her congratulatory flowers. When the bank teller is called onto the carpet by his/her supervisor, the bank teller comments that he/she didn’t think it was a big deal and that he/she mentioned it to Jay and Jay did not think it was a big deal either. That statement by the bank teller just brought me into this mess.

As a result of the lie on the application the bank teller gets fired (this is usually a policy; companies can’t start looking into the degree of each lie on a job application). Nothing happens to me. I keep my job and, in fact, have no idea that my name was brought up in the meeting between my now fired ex-coworker and my supervisor. However, my supervisor now feels that my priorities are wrong. I do not have the best interests of the bank in mind. I knew the bank was informing potential customers that every teller had a least a GED or high school diploma, knew that was untrue, and keep my mouth shut. If I thought I would be admired for not “tattling” on a coworker who was untruthful on his/her application, I might be by some misguided coworkers; but I won’t be by people of influence in the company.

A year later there is a promotion opportunity in the bank. I believe I am perfect for the job. I don’t get it. The same thing happens nine months later, then fifteen months after that. Unfair I think. However, it all goes back to me deciding to act unethically. It is the fact that management in the bank does not believe they can count on me to do the right thing for the bank that is preventing me from advancing in the company. And by this time I have totally forgotten that offhand comment by my ex-coworker; and never got a chance to explain my side of things, although I doubt that that would have made a difference anyway.

There are often hidden consequences to unethical acts. People who say “Why doesn’t anything ever work out for me?” or “I constantly have bad luck” may just be living the hidden consequences of prior unethical acts. Here, I would not be willing to risk my advancement in the bank, possibly being stuck in the same relatively low-paying job for a long time, because a co-worker acted unethically (lying on a job application) and brought me into the mess; most likely on purpose to have an ally in case the situation went bad.

See you in my next post.