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Ethically speaking....

Ethically Speaking . . .

SOCIAL MORALITY AND CORPORATE value systems begin with the human resource, which is the basis of all companies, military organizations, and institutions. This human resource is made up of individuals' values and their organizational behavior. Their organizational behavior is often referred to as the corporate culture or corporate environment, which is really the internalized value system of that corporate organization.

An example of an individual's values conflicting with an administration's behavioral standards occurred in 1988 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH. Air Force Sergeant Wendell Wingo, a noncommissioned officer who had been in the service for 24 years, revealed a plan proposed by his supervisors to cover up a spill of radioactive americium-laden waste. What was Sergeant Wingo's sin? Where does the obligation to tell the truth begin and loyalty to the company organization end?

As an ASIS member, you follow the ASIS Code of Ethics, which begins: "A member shall perform professional duties in accordance with the law and the highest moral principles. A member shall observe the precepts of truthfulness, honesty, and integrity."

The ASIS code goes on to state: "A member shall be faithful and diligent in discharging professional responsibilities. A member shall be competent in discharging professional responsibilities."

Did Sergeant Wingo comply with the above stated principles? He certainly was faithful and diligent in discharging his professional responsibilities, and he was also competent in discharging his professional responsibilities.

Wingo had been professional in his duties for 24 years, according to his annual appraisals. In fact his superiors felt that he was honest and his integrity was above reproach.

Wingo had to make a choice between being faithful to the law and being faithful to his military superiors. In a similar situation, where would your loyalties lie? Would the protection of human life be your number-one priority? Would you report the incident as prescribed by law, or would your loyalty be with the company--especially since the company said it would correct the problem? Would you rationalize the incident and say, "Why cause waves?"

The next part of the code will cause careful readers to reflect seriously about its true meaning: "A member shall safeguard confidential information and exercise due care to prevent its improper disclosure." During his 24 years in the US Air Force, Wingo had been trained to obey his superiors. Was his job to safeguard the confidential information and exercise due care to prevent its improper disclosure? Did he act properly when he turned over the recording that documented the cover-up to federal investigators?

The fact is that no one is above the law. Even as managers or administrators, you are still morally accountable for your decisions. Many today would say security managers are also legally responsible and therefore liable.

Loyalties to supervisors must be put aside when something as dangerous to human health as radiation exists. Radiation can kill and disfigure men and women exposed to it and deform their unborn. With studies showing that as many as 20,000 people are dying each year from lung cancer after being exposed to radon gas, allowing additional radioactive wastes to be dumped in the environment is inexcusable. Sergeant Wingo said he never felt he had a choice in the incident, since the only right thing to do was to turn over the tape and cooperate with the US Senate and Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigators.

As an ASIS member, you must safeguard confidential information placed in your trust, but you must also act within the laws of the land and your conscience. Sergeant Wingo's act of truth and honesty ended his 24 years of service in the US Air Force. Sergeant Wingo can retire anytime after 20 years of service, but your company might not have a retirement program until at least 30 years of service. Would you be as ethical in your actions and as eager to report the incident in your present employment situation?

The final part of the ASIS code states: "A member shall not maliciously injure the professional reputation or practice of colleagues, clients, or employers." Did Sergeant Wingo violate this ethic? No, he did not. He was not malicious in his accusations. He only reported a hazard that could harm the health of anyone who came in contact with it. The ironic conclusion was that Wingo himself was the most harmed in the incident.

Social morality and ethics in business have been controversial for many years. If the president of your corporation tells you not to report an environmental spill because the company will spare no expense to complete the cleanup, will you do as he or she asks? What if you are 57 years old and have only a few years left until retirement? Will you do as the law says and report the incident? Isn't it really more important to see that the spill is properly cleaned up in a timely manner? Do the people in the surrounding community, as well as company employees, have the right to know of any hazardous waste spill and possible hazards to their health?

All ASIS members probably believe they would follow the ASIS Code of Ethics without question. However, if your raise depends on an evaluation by your immediate superior, would you disclose that your supervisor choose to ignore or violate a NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health), OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), or life safety code? Remember, you have a spouse and kids who depend on you. Or, you may be a single parent trying to support children without any contribution from the absent parent. What would such a disclosure do to your employment security? Your oldest child may be preparing to enter college. Would you stand on ethics at the risk of your financial security?

Of course, supervisors also make hard moral choices. In another recent case in Ohio, a supervisor found his employee under the influence and ordered him to go home. The employee was allowed to leave work driving his own vehicle. Did this supervisor faithfully and diligently discharge his professional responsibilities? In this particular situation, the employee was killed in an accident after he left work. If this man was unable to work, wasn't he also unable to drive?

Did the supervisor's responsibility extend only to safeguarding the interest of the company by not allowing the employee to work under the influence? Or, did the supervisor also have a responsibility to the employee? Companies spend a great deal of money in the training of employees. Did the supervisor have a dual role in this case? That is, should the supervisor have been faithful and diligent in safeguarding the investment of the company in the employee and also in discharging his professional responsibilities and protecting the employee by not allowing him to drive?

At times you must disagree with corporate administration when the incident merits such action. Protecting a human life is required of everyone. Only recently have heads of corporations been found guilty in court for business decisions. If you make decisions inside the business and corporate setting that can cause death or harm to someone, then you are guilty too.

The bottom line is this: If your professional code of ethics conflicts with company policy and management's behavioral standards, you may have to stop being a part of the management team and uphold your professional ethics. You must observe special standards of conduct and manifest good faith in professional relationships with all individuals you encounter while working.

The ASIS Code of Ethics "mandates its conscientious observance as a binding condition of membership in or affiliation with the Society." Whether you work in an industrial, retail, military, or security education setting, you will be expected to make ethical decisions that may conflict with administration or corporate policy. Making them won't be easy, but it is the only way to live up to--and with--your professional ethics.

Abouth the Author . . . Deloris Cassidy-Ervin is a sergeant in plant protection at Delco-Moraine, a division of General Motors Corporation, in Dayton, OH. She is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Cassidy-Ervin, Deloris
Publication:Security Management
Date:Feb 1, 1989
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