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Clichés aside, don’t cross ethical lines

By Steve M. Cohen  bio

Many of our most difficult decisions come down to ethics, and some of the most difficult ethical decisions are doubly difficult because they seem so ordinary.

But no matter the external trappings, you should always use caution with ethical packages because they usually contain serious potential.

One of my clients experienced a classic case. They hired someone away from a competitor, something that is widespread but should always be done with care. In this case, they had warning of potential problems in the first week.

After just days on the job, the new hire showed up with “intelligence” that was obviously confidential information from the previous employer. At that point, I believe this individual had crossed an ethical line and should have been terminated immediately.

I’ve seen many cases where a manager hopes that such intelligence can be used without “getting burned,” but it rarely works that way. In fact, the drawbacks invariably outweigh any gain. Even if the information was of value, and even if my client chose to ignore the ethical and potential legal issues, there’s a practical question of how reliable such an employee would be going forward.

In this case, my client told the new hire in unequivocal language to get rid of that information and not use it. The employer saw this as a moderate action rather than the drastic step of termination.

Unfortunately, during the next two years, this employee proved me right. He did many things that were questionable, like playing favorites with some of the staff and undermining others. This and more disruptive behavior caused his supervisors to finally decide to get rid of him. In the end, he sensed that he might be fired and downloaded confidential information on customers. When the termination came up, he used that information as a weapon to increase his severance package.

I’ve always believed in the old adage that the best predictor of future performance is past performance. Following that, my client would have been wise to terminate this employee when he demonstrated his inclination to behave unethically by bringing in stolen confidential information from a previous employer. My client would have avoided his own possible loss and the entire cleanup associated with the unethical behavior. Had things gotten really bad, there could have been additional ethical, legal and public relation issues.

It’s tempting to take the path of least resistance and issue a reprimand. That’s even appropriate in some workplace and personnel issues. But when ethics are at stake, taking the easy way is almost always a mistake that will usually cost you over and over.

When ethical misconduct occurs, I recommend to my clients that they draw a red line in the sand, hold to their values, and distance themselves from those who don’t meet the ethical standards. That may sound harsh, but high standards are worth protecting.

Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., CMC is President/Partner of Labor Management Advisory Group, Inc. and HR Solutions: On-Call, both based in Kansas City, MO. For more information, visit or call (913) 927-0229.

The above information is shared by a guest contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of Medical Office Manager.









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