Back in 2012, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, a jury awarded an ex-manager of Wal-Mart a $1.4 million judgement after she sued Wal-Mart for being bullied at work (Gupta, 2014). This woman, Jacqueline Powers, worked for the Windsor Wal-Mart for ten years and claimed that she was subjected to incessant beratement and insults from her boss for most of her tenor with the retail giant (Gupta, 2014). There are also three other women from the same Wal-Mart that are alleging the same behaviors. I will use the aspects of a crisis, as well as the Canadian Code of Ethics to exhibit how this situation could have been handled if ethical treatment had been at the forefront of the minds of those who listened to the original complaints filed by these women. To these women, this situation constitutes a crisis. A crisis is a “critical event or point of decision which, if not handled in an appropriate and timely manner (or if not handled at all), may turn into a disaster or catastrophe” (Penn State University, n.d.).
A critical event is an incident of value that tends to have a stressful impact on the individual, especially when instrumental values, i.e. standards of conduct, are violated (PSU, n.d.). Critical events occur before a decision is made regarding the event (PSU, n.d.), such as Powers reporting the mistreatment she was receiving from her supervisor. Had Powers supervisor referred to the Canadian Ethics Code to make his decision as to how to proceed, he would have: (1) identified all those who were affected by the bullying (Canadian Psychological Association, 2000), which would have likely uncovered the other women who were experiencing the same mistreatment in his store. He would have also (2) identified any ethically relevant issues, including the interests and rights of those involved in the ethical problem (CPA, 2000). By following the tenets in step two, the manager should have investigated the claims from Powers in order to get a more in depth picture of the potential consequences of a situation of this magnitude.
The second aspect of a crisis is the point of decision. A point of decision is created by a crisis and is referred to as the point in time where if a decision is not made, something negative may happen for either the organization (Wal-Mart) or the individual (Powers) (PSU, n.d.). Acting on a crisis situation during the decision point could avert potentially negative outcomes (PSU, n.d.), or at least, lessen the possible negative ramifications. Had the Wal-Mart supervisor taken his point of decision seriously, and used the CPA Ethics Code as a framework as to how to handle the situation, he would have (3) considered how his personal biases or self-interest could influence the choices between courses of action and then (4) developed alternative courses of action (CPA, 2000). The manager, using the CPA code, could have weighed his options by looking at how his relationship with Powers, as well as the offending manager, could bias his decision, and then weighed that decision against what was right, what was best for Powers, as well as what was best for Wal-Mart in general.
The third aspect refers to handling a crisis situation in an appropriate manner. Appropriateness is determined by a combination of the philosophies of the leader (the acting manager), subordinates (Powers and her colleagues), organization (Wal-Mart), and sometimes society (Windsor, Canada) (PSU, n.d.). According to the Canadian Ethics Code, (5) leaders should analyze the probable short-term, long-term, and ongoing risks and benefits of each possible course of action, and the effect that action will have on everyone involved (i.e. self, Powers and her family, Wal-Mart, other employees, the town of Windsor) (CPA, 2000). The manager of Wal-Mart should have taken Power’s claim, and contemplated how his decision to act (or not to act) would affect every person touched by this incidence. Had he chosen to follow the CPA steps to decision-making, he could have mitigated the damage that was done, and lessened the impact of the situation before it got out of hand.
The fourth aspect of a crisis situation refers to making a decision in a timely fashion. Often times, crises require immediate (or almost immediate) attention from supervisors, and how much time that leader takes to make a decision can affect the outcome of the crisis in a big way. The manager of Wal-Mart could have referred to the Canadian Ethics Code to (6) determine the course of action he should take after meticulously applying his and Wal-Mart’s principles, values, and standards to the situation. By comparing the value sets from the appropriate resources, the Wal-Mart manager could have been directed towards an ethical solution to the bullying claims made by Powers. Instead, he chose not to act.
Step 7 in the Canadian Code of Ethics steps to ethical decision-making would have told the Wal-Mart manager to act, and assume responsibilities of the action, while step 8 would have told him to evaluate the results of his action, and step 9 would have directed him to take responsibility for the consequences of his decision and attempt to remedy any consequences that occurred as a result of his decision (CPA, 2000). If he could not have remedied the situation, he would have been directed to revisit his previous decision-making process in order to come to a more ethical solution. It does not appear, however, that this manger did much contemplating regarding making a decision.
The fifth and last aspect of a crisis situation is disaster/catastrophe which refers to the potential consequences of not making a decision in a crisis. Failing to make a decision is generally considered to be “an ethical failure of leadership” (PSU, n.d.) and this case provides a great example of just that; a manager fails to act, which results in a catastrophe for Wal-Mart. Had the manger employed the decision-making process in the Canadian Code of Ethics, he would have seen that (10) appropriate action should be taken to prevent future occurrences (other employees being bullied) of the same dilemma (CPA, 2000). Instead, by this manager’s failure to act, Powers sued Wal-Mart and won a large settlement.
By failing to act when the bullying was first brought to his attention, the Wal-Mart manager made this situation much worse than it should have been. Not only did he negatively affect Powers, who first complained, but his lack of action allowed the bullying to continue and affect other employees. His lack of decision-making hurt the organization (Wal-Mart) because they had to pay out a large settlement, but now are facing at least four other potential lawsuits from the same store. The managers lack of decision-making also affected the community of Windsor as many of the employees and potential future employees are likely worried about how they will be treated if they work for the Windsor, Ontario Wal-Mart. His failure to act resulted in other ethics violations that will likely last years, as court hearings continue in the other cases.
Canadian Psychological Association. (2000). Canadian code of ethics for psychologists (3rd ed.). Ottawa, ON: Author.
Gupta, N. (2014, August 5). Canadian Wal-Mart Case Signals Shift in Workplace Policy. Retrieved from http://www.law360.com/articles/552843/canadian-wal-mart-case-signals-shift-in-workplace-policy
Penn State University (n.d.). Crisis. Retrieved from Penn State University Ethics and Leadership: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1775390/pages/l10-crisis-defined?module_item_id=20678789