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Parents teach their children about the differences between right and wrong; schools teach students about ways to handle a variety of ethical situations; employers provide direction about acceptable standards of ethical behavior – along with consequences for non-compliance.
These lessons are valuable considerations into an individual’s ethical decision making process and also serve as input into one’s ethical knowledge; however, these lessons do not fully prepare one for the potential negative consequences associated with making a decision to address an ethical issue.
This potential for negative consequences is the reason that anyone who encounters an ethical issue should be mindful of the following factors while deciding whether to get involved or not:
* Backlash – negative actions and/or reactions received from colleagues, customers, or management due to reporting unethical activities;
* Perception – individuals who report unethical behavior can be labeled as not trustworthy or tattletales;
* Retaliation – mistreatment received from anyone with power (direct or indirect) over an individual who reports unethical activities.
These factors are important considerations while making a decision whether to address and/or report an ethical issue. The reasons for these considerations are that reports about unethical behavior and/or actions are not always wanted, received favorably, or acted upon.
Nevertheless, individuals who observe or suspect unethical behavior should:
* Question – consider if the behavior and/or actions are ethical or not;
* Document – record the incident(s) including the dates, times, responsible individual(s), action(s), and (if available) evidence;
* Report – leverage the company’s policies and/or procedures to submit any concern(s) about unethical activity;
* Follow-up – monitor the situation to determine if any corrective action occurred, but understand that it will not always be possible to determine if any action was taken due to privacy requirements.
Deciding to report unethical behavior is not always easy; however, it is also not responsible behavior to be aware of unethical behavior and not do anything. Unethical behavior should be reported in a timely manner, even if it is reported anonymously.
It is not acceptable to allow unethical behavior to go unchallenged, because unethical behavior effects everyone whether it is reported or not.