U02: Unverifiable Facts

In 2001, tax organization, QRS Tax, equips their field teams with many Fast Facts to rebuttal common misconceptions of QRS Taxes’ quality of service.

  • “We find extra money in 4 out of 5 tax returns completed by competitors!”
  • “Our tax fraud product protects you 100%!”
  • “QRS Tax professionals know taxes for failure to obtain health insurance can be waived. Work with the best!”

The unsettling note about each of these Fast Facts is they didn’t have the proper research or sourcing to prove validity. This is most likely why employees of QRS Tax were never allowed to write or publicize these Fast Facts but only speak of them. QRS Tax employees were told that they all had the proof but that the message was more impactful when spoken direct to consumer than on any flyer or poster. Additionally, individual market reports indicated contradicting evidence if anyone looked into it. Corporate town halls where these Fast Facts were communicated though claimed these were based on national data (unverifiable by individual markets). During a very tight season that is tax season, most were too busy to challenge the reporting’s and thus went to market sharing these ‘facts’.

APA code ethical standard 8.14, sharing research data for verification, states “after research results are published, psychologists do not withhold data on which their conclusions are based from other competent professionals who seek to verify the substantive claims … unless legal rights concerning proprietary data preclude their release” (Lowman, 2006). This same principal can apply to the leadership case as outlined. In the case, research results, based on national data, has been shared with all field associates. This data however fails to provide the data to verify the facts nor does it contain any legal rights preventing the sharing of the sourcing due to proprietary data.

Additionally, APA Code ethical standard 8.02, Confronting Ethical Issues, states a psychologists commitment to, “take steps to resolve the conflict in a responsible manner” (American Psychological Association (APA), 1992). Leadership within the organization at all levels could and should have challenged the validity of these Fast Facts or reported contradicting evidence through appropriate channels adhering to “the requirements of the law, regulations, or other governing authority” (APA, 1992).

Principle C, Integrity, of the APA code brings these standards together and states, “psychologists should work to be accurate and truthful in their statements and work in general” (PSY 533, 2018). In their current operation, QRS Taxes’ marketing leaders are perceived as not acting with integrity with their half answers and incomplete reporting of their Fast Facts. The implications that can result from the suspected unethical behavior could result in possible legal violation. Under the APA guidelines, “such actions are a professional responsibility and serve to protect the well-being of clients and others, including the public at large, who may be affected by the problematic behavior” (Lowman, 2006).

If QRS Tax were to govern themselves with the APA code as their guide for ethical behavior, issues such as the one outlined shouldn’t occur. Furthermore, if QRS Tax were to govern themselves with the APA code, they would have  resolute clarity on violations from the code and could make necessary action to resolve and deter further violation from the code.

 

References

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

Lowman, R. L. (Ed.). (2006). The ethical practice of psychology in organizations (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

PSY 533. (2018).  L05: APA Ethics Code.  Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1896721/modules

2 Comments

  1. Robert Keith Reeve February 19, 2018 at 2:31 PM #

    Tara, your comments are troubling about employees having too little time to question proposed facts and the verbal-only conveyance of information. Both seem to be oft-employed tactics of unethical behavior. Your blog measures the QRS Tax organization against the American Psychological Association (APA) code standards, and Mario’s response measures them against the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) code. Gratefully, many professions also have similar codes that address unethical behavior.

    The Academy of Management (AOM) has three general principles in their code of ethics that address integrity, responsibility, and respect for people’s rights and dignity (AOM, 2018). Each of these were violated by QRS Tax. In addition, one of AOM’s ethical standards relates to exploitive relationships (AOM, 2018, 1.6) which could be applied to the authority imbalance between a seller of information and a buyer of that information. Leaders at QRS Tax were selling Fast Facts to their employees and then down to customers who assumed those with more knowledge were making accurate statements.

    The AOM code of ethics also states that “AOM members do not make public statements, of any kind, that are false, deceptive, misleading, or fraudulent” (AOM, 2018, 3.1). Clearly, the direction to convey the Fast Facts verbally rather than in writing is just as unethical as if they were in writing. It seems that vices and temptations often motivate sellers of goods or services to exaggerate their claims to buyers (PSY 533, 2018). Unfortunately, unverifiable facts can occur with interpersonal relationships, leader-follower relationships and of course, tax service providers.

    References
    Academy of Management. (2018). Code of Ethics. Retrieved from http://ethicist.aom.org/content/AOM_Code_of_Ethics.pdf.
    PSY 533. (2018). Lesson 02: Vice and Temptation. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1896721/pages/l02-introduction?module_item_id=23791897.

  2. Mario R Barrera February 18, 2018 at 11:33 PM #

    The publication of unsubstantiated data can adversely impact businesses and consumers alike. It is interesting to note how QRS Tax promoted and conveyed this information to their employees in town halls. As you mentioned, despite contradicting information presented by marketing reports, the results were not challenged. Employees found little time to question the validity of the Fast Facts given the very busy tax season. It is critical for QRS Tax leaders to take note to address and validate the information that is shared with the public. This type of marketing deprives consumers of the truthful information needed to make informed decisions — and the harmful effects cascade along the chain of business (Ray, 2012). In this case, leadership can leverage the principles and standards of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct as well as the Canadian Psychological Association’s Code of Ethics to develop a solution for this situation.

    American Psychological Association

    The company has a duty to display results based on factual data. APA standard 5.01 Avoidance of False or Deceptive Statements indicates psychologists do not knowingly make public statements that are false, deceptive, or fraudulent concerning their research, practice, or other work activities or those of persons or organizations with which they are affiliated (APA, 2010). In this case QRS Tax is presenting misleading information regarding its services. Although the findings have not been questioned, leadership must take the time to ensure they are promoting their products and services with the utmost integrity. An additional standard to help explain this dilemma and aid leadership in their approach is standard 8.10 Reporting Research Results. The standard implies that psychologists do not fabricate data. If psychologists discover significant errors in their published data, they take reasonable steps to correct such errors in a correction, retraction, erratum, or other appropriate publication means. The company must course correct and take the necessary steps to validate and correct this information.

    Canadian Psychological Association

    The CPA also offers additional considerations to assist QRS Tax leadership in addressing this situation. As noted, trust and integrity play a vital role for organizations. The Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists Principle III: Integrity in Relationships highlights the significance/importance of integrity/trust. In addition to accuracy and honesty, and the obvious prohibitions of fraud or misrepresentation, meeting expectations of integrity is enhanced by self-knowledge and the use of critical analysis (CPA, 2000). It is the responsibility of leadership to ensure all in the organization are maintaining the utmost integrity in their current roles. Principle III.36 guides psychologists to encourage others, in a manner consistent with this Code, to relate with integrity (CPA, 2000).

    I concur that stricter governance is needed in this situation. QRS Tax leadership must act swiftly to tackle this issue. Frost (2011) includes, “An advertiser who knowingly makes false claims or otherwise falsifies advertising faces financial and legal repercussions, in addition to losing loyalty from previous customers.” The considerations of both APA and CPA codes provide a platform for the company to address this concern. The aforementioned principles and standards present the ideal framework for leadership to apply the most optimal solution in this case.

    References

    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 (4th ed.). Retrieved from

    http://www.cpa.ca/aboutcpa/committees/ethics/codeofethics/

    Frost, S. (2011, September 28). Negative Effects of False Advertising. Retrieved from
    http://smallbusiness.chron.com/negative-effects-false-advertising-25679.html

    Ray, L. (2012, October 28). What Is the Worst Thing About Deceptive Advertising? Retrieved from
    https://yourbusiness.azcentral.com/worst-thing-deceptive-advertising-10156.html

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