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Bossy Ethics

by Delainie Britton

Have you ever received an unusual request from a superior in the workplace; one that had you scratching your head and pondering over whether or not this fits your job description, made you uncomfortable, or was just plain inappropriate? While of course some of the requests according to a recent article published by Accounting Today, are completely outlandish (yet based on true, external accounts), it is fair to say that many individuals in the corporate world have felt obligated to complete most any task(s) handed off by their boss without question.

In particular, the accounting industry is often faced with the decision to follow through with a perhaps unethical request in order to please one’s superior under pressure. Such instructions, according to a BloombergBusiness Week report on workplace ethics, may range from fabricating a number on a financial report to masking the true nature of expenses on an expense report because “everyone else is doing it.” Is it appropriate to accept every task one is faced with, regardless of the fact that it violates our moral (and possible legal) code for the sake of our career? If it is not obvious already, the answer is most definitely no!

Particularly in the last decade, universities and authoritative bodies in the accounting industry have continued to ramp up ethics programs and vocalize the need to “stand up to ethical dilemmas.” It should be noted that often such dilemmas are essentially unavoidable and will continue to challenge employees, both new hires and experienced individuals. So, now what? Since we almost certainly cannot bypass the possibility of facing unethical demands, we can at least prepare ourselves when the time comes.

To start, investigating the culture of the company and/or group you wish to work for can be of help. When a business strives to act ethically, chances are they live by that mantra. Additionally, when faced with a questionable instruction, try to gain a better understanding of why this is being asked or the end goal. You can accomplish this by direct discussion with your superior, or perhaps another co-worker you can trust. Also remember that should you find yourself in a situation you feel should be reported to an authoritative body, you are protected under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. While the Act provides “whistleblower” protection against retaliation, information offered can be anonymous if the whistleblower is represented by legal counsel. Anonymous reporting is a great way to legally and safely move the burden of the situation from your hands to an appropriate party equipped to handle any action required to mitigate an unethical/legal dilemma. While these are just a few simple courses of action when faced with an ethical challenge, it is important to recognize that there is a different, more ethically sound path beyond accepting uncomfortable demands.

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