UNIT 02 BLOG: An Office Romance Reveals Too Much Information……Now What?

UNIT 02 BLOG: An Office Romance Reveals Too Much Information……Now What?

The Office Romance & Unexpected Complications. Recently, a close friend and professional colleague of mine shared she was having an affair with a partner at the firm she works for; the affair is in its fourth year. She serves as the firm’s human resources director and is single. The partner is married, sits on the firm’s executive committee and is her boss. I anticipated the crux of her dilemma to be centered on the complications of an affair, and an affair with the boss. I was anticipating her to express frustrations over him not leaving his wife or that they had called of the affair and that she was now struggling to work in the same company under his control. What she ultimately shared with me was an unexpected twist and a very complicated ethical dilemma. She ended our conversation desperately seeking advice. Specifically, she was seeking advice on how to gain clarity on all aspects of the situation in order to decide what to do next; essentially, she is seeking ways to help her resolve the dilemma in the best way possible.

I will use pseudo names going forward: my close friend’s name will be Hannah; her boss’s name will be Jason. Jason is one of the highest equity partners in the firm, sits on the firm’s executive committee and holds a lot of power in the firm. Hannah has been with the firm for ten years, is the firm’s director of human resources, is highly respected, and trusted by all of the partners. She is often included in partner meetings and is privy to all confidential information of the firm; she has access to the same information the partners have access to with no limitations. She has never been married and was single when the affair started. Jason has been married for fifteen years and has confided in Hannah he remains married to his wife for social and economic reasons. Regardless if I support them having an affair or not it works for them. At least it was working for them; she is now struggling and not for the traditional reasons I expected to hear.

The ethical dilemma Hannah now faces is Jason has shared with her his discontent with the firm and with his partners. Jason feels his partners are under performing which has resulted in declining profit margins and a dwindling bottom line. Jason leads the firm’s most profitable department and possesses one of the most sought after expertise in the profession. Over the past ten years he has been approached by several competitors to come work for them. Until recently Jason has never entertained these approaches. Prior to the 2016 holiday season, Jason began negotiations with one of his firm’s biggest and most disliked competitors. Negotiations have been finalized and Jason will be leaving the firm this summer. He will be taking his entire department with him including clients and employees. This will be a devastating hit to the firm’s reputation, revenue, morale, talent pool and much more. Currently, no one in the firm other than Jason and Hannah know about what will be occurring by June of this year. In the meantime, both Jason and Hannah continue to serve in their roles at the firm and maintain their personal relationship. They participate in meetings, make recommendations and decisions, cast votes on upcoming expenses, render opinions on candidates to hire, employees to terminate, how to handle various client issues and even weigh in on legal issues the firm is currently navigating.

As a human resources professional and director in the firm, Hannah is obligated to look out for the firm’s best interest and that of each employee. She is very committed to these obligations. Jason, a partner, has a fiduciary and legal obligation to the firm, his partners, and all other firm stakeholders. Both Hannah as a credentialed human resources professional, and Jason as a licensed financial practitioner have professional codes of ethics that provide guidance around independence issues, acting honestly, being truthful, maintaining competencies, multiple relationships, and acting in ways that will not intentionally cause the firm and those they serve harm. Neither of their professional codes of ethics prohibit personal relationships with colleagues or clients.

As you can see this office romance presents multiple ethical dilemmas. Hannah is seeking advice and ways to help her resolve the situation she is in. When presented with an ethical dilemma, it is almost impossible to make a decision that everyone will agree is ethically sound. This is because different people have different methods of determining whether something is ethical or not. Different methods of evaluation emerge because there are different opinions of what should be considered and why. There is always a high probability that someone will stand to get hurt, be harmed, regardless of best intentions and well thought out decisions. Despite all of this, decisions still have to be made when one is put in an ethical dilemma. Hannah is unsure of what to do, how to go about making a decision of what do and looking for help.

Through a better understanding of how codes of ethics come to exist and how to compare and contrast them, Hannah will be able to develop a strategy to solve the ethical dilemma(s) she is facing by reviewing and synthesizing information from ethical codes.

Ethics Codes. There are four well known and solid ethics codes for Hannah to compare and contrast in order to gain clarity on what to do in the face of her ethical dilemma(s). These codes are: the American Psychological Association (APA) code of ethics: Canadian Code of Ethics (CPA); National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics (NASW); and the American Medical Association Code of Medical Ethics (AMA). Several professions have established codes of ethics that aim to achieve rules of conduct for its members. Through familiarizing herself with these ethics codes, Hannah will evolve from a place of not knowing what to do, to a place of direction and clarity in order to solve her dilemma.

The APA ethics code is widely accepted as a rigorous standard of ethical behavior: many state licensure agencies either adopt the APA code or use it as the basis for their own code of conduct; additionally, courts and other agencies may choose to enforce the ethics code or mete out consequences beyond its official scope (PSY, 533). As such, familiarity with the APA code of ethics will be helpful for Hannah. In 1992, the APA established its first ethics code in order to codify “standards of professional conduct that can be applied by the APA and by other bodies that choose to adopt them” (APA, 1992). The APA’s code of ethics serves as a guide towards the highest ideals of psychology and its members must adhere to the code. Psychologists are dedicated to increasing their professional knowledge of behavior and to use such knowledge to improve the conditions of individuals, organizations and society. The APA ethics code provides a common set of principles and standards to serve as a guide for protecting people. The APA has five principles: beneficence and nonmalificence; fidelity and responsibility; integrity; justice; and respect of people’s rights and dignity. These principles are ideals, not rules, consequences are not a given if they are directly violated. The first standard, resolving ethical issues, encourages psychologist to discuss ethical conflicts as they emerge with individuals or organizations involved. The APA has ten ethical standards that provide more detail. For example, standard three, human relations specifically addresses avoiding harm, multiple relationships, conflict of interest, and exploitative relationships.

3.05 Multiple Relationships 

(a) A multiple relationship occurs when a psychologist is in a professional role with a person and (1) at the same time is in another role with the same person, (2) at the same time is in a relationship with a person closely associated with or related to the person with whom the psychologist has the professional relationship, or (3) promises to enter into another relationship in the future with the person or a person closely associated with or related to the person. A psychologist refrains from entering into a multiple relationship if the multiple relationship could reasonably be expected to impair the psychologist’s objectivity, competence or effectiveness in performing his or her functions as a psychologist, or otherwise risks exploitation or harm to the person with whom the professional relationship exists.

3.06 Conflict of Interest Psychologists refrain from taking on a professional role when personal, scientific, professional, legal, financial or other interests or relationships could reasonably be expected to (1) impair their objectivity, competence or effectiveness in performing their functions as psychologists or (2) expose the person or organization with whom the professional relationship exists to harm or exploitation.

3.08 Exploitative Relationships Psychologists do not exploit persons over whom they have supervisory, evaluative or other authority such as clients/patients, students, supervisees, research participants and employees.

Through the APA’s principles and standard three components, Hannah will be able to identify the conflicts that exist in her dilemma due to the relationship she has with the firm, with Jason, and due to Jason’s relationship with her and the firm. Further, she can start to identify biases she and/or Jason may have, obligations they may have and the loss of objectivity she may have due to her multiple relationships; the same can be identified for Jason. Further, Jason’s level of authority, being her boss at work, and the fact he has confided in her from their personal relationship is exploiting her. Who should she betray, her boss, her boyfriend, herself, the firm?

The CPA, has a similar history as the APA. The CPA was first published in 1986 and has updates similar to the APA. The CPA has four principles: respect for the dignity of persons and peoples; responsible caring; integrity in relationships; and responsibility to society. These principles are listed in their order of priority. As noted above, the APA does not provide a specific model to help psychologists make ethical decisions; it takes a duty oriented stance. The CPA takes a different approach to ethical decision making and recommends a ten step process to help navigate its four principles. For relatively easy decisions or decisions that need to be made quickly the CPA recommends just considering its four principles. For complex decisions or when there is time to deliberate, the CPA prescribes the ten step process which encourages conversations and debates with others (PSY, 533). Further, the CPA recommends that psychologist “consult with parties affected by the ethical problem, when appropriate, and with colleagues, and/or advisory bodies when they can add knowledge or objectivity to the decision making process.” Given the complexity of Hannah’s ethical dilemma and that she has a few more weeks to determine what she will do she should use the ten step process. These steps include: gather facts; indentify the ethical issues; evaluate potential biases in the decision making processes; develop a set of solutions; evaluate potential benefits and harms of each solution; choose the best solution in line with the four principles and laws; implement the solution; evaluate the results of the solution; take responsibility for the results of the solution; and act to prevent the ethical dilemma from occurring again. Through these steps Hannah will be able to gather the facts, all that is involved, identify the various issues, her own biases and obligations, and what to do. She is personally involved with her boss who she cares about and feels obligated to protect and maintain his confidentiality. She is also obligated professionally to be looking out for the best interest of the firm and its employees. Jason leaving will have a devastating impact on the firm, potentially including Hannah’s job. Jason is violating his fiduciary duties to the firm and his partners, and will be in legal violation of his partnership agreement. Given Jason is involved personally with Hannah and is her boss should he have even confided in her about his intentions, knowing it will cause the firm harm and put her in conflict? Additionally, they both continue to be actively involved in confidential firm issues and render strong opinions on firm issues impacting the partner’s decisions. Should they be advocating in meetings to invest money in new technologies and positions knowing the financial hit the firm will endure as Jason departs and takes his department with him? Hannah is faced to be either loyal to Jason, maintain his confidence and trust, and support him personally or do the right thing as a professional in the firm in a very privileged seat. Should she simply recuse herself from decision making in the firm, is this enough action from Hannah to avoid causing harm to others, the firm? The ten step process and exploration of the CPA principles will help Hannah decide how she will handle these conflicts and difficult decisions. My hope for Hannah, is they will also help her avoid getting into a situation like this again.

The NASW established six principles for its code of ethics, and is rule oriented compared to the APA and CPA codes of ethics. The six principles are based on core values and tend to be ethically naturalistic. These principles are: identify the core values for social work; summarize ethical principles and set specific ethical standards; help deal with ethical uncertainties and conflicts in obligations; make ethical standards known to the public; socialize practitioners to the profession; and articulate standards that can be used to assess social workers’ behavior.

The AMA medical code of ethics was established in 1847 and is influenced by thousands of years of thinking. It aims for the highest standards, has nine principles and is very centered on the Hippocratic Oath, to do no harm.

Each of these codes of ethics provide Hannah with guidance on how to gather relevant facts and information; what to consider and why; and how to identify issues, conflicts and obligations. Through the exploration of these codes and her own discovery process Hannah will be able to gain clarity in order to make a decision and handle her ethical dilemma the best way possible. Should the codes conflict, or if Hannah has more than one code she has to adhere to professionally, she should identify where the codes overlap. If there is overlap in principles and standards that are relevant to the ethical situation, then there is not a problem. If the codes have conflicting principles or standards, then a decision has to be made: Hannah will either have to choose the code that she determines to be most relevant to her ethical situation, or compromise between codes. Hannah could also work with Jason to identify the issues, conflicts, obligations, etc. and decide together the best way to solve the dilemmas they face.

Hannah, as a human resources professional, has a professional code of ethics. The HR code of ethics as detailed by the Society of Human Resources Management has key guidelines professionals are expected to accept responsibility for. They include:

  • To build respect, credibility and strategic importance for the HR profession within our organizations, the business community, and the communities in which we work.
  • To assist the organizations we serve in achieving their objectives and goals.
  • To inform and educate current and future practitioners, the organizations we serve, and the general public about principles and practices that help the profession.
  • To positively influence workplace and recruitment practices.
  • To encourage professional decision-making and responsibility.
  • To encourage social responsibility.

These guidelines help Hannah solve her dilemma by focusing on building respect and credibility; professional decision making; and helping the firm achieve its goals. Jason also has professional guidelines to adhere to as detailed in the Certified Financial Planners professional code of ethics; there are seven standards. The standards are: integrity; objectivity; competence; fairness; confidentiality; professionalism; and dignity.

Through familiarizing and exploring these professional codes of ethics I am confident Hannah will be able to identify common principles and standards such as: integrity; causing no harm; being truthful; taking responsibility; gathering facts; identifying all ethical issues and conflicts; identifying biases and obligations; who is harmed; and other specifics to consider. Further, through these professional codes of ethics Hannah will discover being truthful, acting in the best interest of the firm and those who could be harmed, and to take responsibility for herself and her decisions will all help her do the right thing. Inevitably, this situation does not have an ideal ending. There will be fallout and harm to people; exactly what these will be, will be based on Hannah’s exploration of these ethics codes and the decisions she makes.

 

References

American Medical Association. (2000). Code of medical ethics. Retrieved from https://www.ama-assn.org/about-us/code-medical-ethics

American Psychological Association. (1992, December 1). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/code-1992.aspx 

American Psychological Association. (2010, June 1). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct: Including 2010 amendments. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/

Canadian Psychological Association. (2000). Canadian code of ethics for psychologists. Retrieved from http://www.cpa.ca/aboutcpa/committees/ethics/codeofethics/

CFP (2017). Certified Financial Planners: Professional Code of Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.cfp.net/for-cfp-professionals/professional-standards-enforcement/standards-of-professional-conduct/code-of-ethics-professional-responsibility

National Association of Social Workers. (2008). Code of ethics. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkers.org/pubs/code/

PSY 533. (2017). L05 APA Ethics Code. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1834796/pages/l05-overview?module_item_id=21902172

PSY 533. (2017). L06 Other Ethics Codes. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1834796/pages/l06-overview?module_item_id=21902187

SHRM (2017). Professional Code of Conduct. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/about-shrm/Pages/code-of-ethics.aspx

One Comment

  1. Salina S Evans February 26, 2017 at 6:02 PM #

    Hi Hope,

    Your blog post was a very interesting read. The scenario reminds me of Grey’s Anatomy when Derek becomes Chief of the hospital while being married to Meredith. Plenty of ethical dilemmas on that show. In regards to Hanna’s situation, there is one more code of ethics that she can consult being the Academy of Management Code of Ethics. One prominent ethical standard to refer to is Conflicts of Interests, which states, AOM members take appropriate steps to avoid conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts (AOM, 2006). Subcategories include,

    •Roles. AOM members refrain from assuming roles in which their interests or relationships could reasonably be expected to: (1) impair their objectivity, competence, or effectiveness; or (2) expose the persons or organizations with whom the relationships exist to harm or exploitation.

    •Disclosure. AOM members disclose relevant information and personal or professional relationships that may have the appearance of or potential for a conflict of interest.

    •Decision making. AOM members carefully assess their potential for bias when making decisions affecting those with whom they have had strong conflicts or disagreements

    Although the company Hannah and Jason work for do not have a policy surrounding workplace relationships, analyzing the relationship from the perspective of the AOM may also help in her decision making process. Reviewing the subcategories outlined under conflict of interest and comparing it to Hannah’s situation seem to reflect an initial misjudgment where both parties continue to work at the same firm while in a relationship, neglecting to disclose the relationship, and not asses the possibility for potential bias.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Salina

    References

    Academy of Management. (2006). Code of ethics. Retrieved from http://aom.org/About-AOM/Code-of-Ethics.aspx

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