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Subject : Business Ethics and Social Responsibilities
Case Study: The code of conduct in action
It is another Monday morning and after a relaxing weekend, Mr. Chan is sitting in his office
preparing work agenda for the week. As the IT manager of a small financial services company,
Chan has to prepare for his staff meeting at 10 am when all of the 15 IT team members will be
present. He is planning to discuss the launch of company’s new promotion scheme, which is due
to begin at the end of the week. Fortunately, John, who is the main market analyst for the
company, was prepared to do some extra work at home over the weekend in order to make sure
the forecasts were ready for the meeting.
While sipping the first cup of coffee someone knocks at the office door of Mr. Chan. It is Fedrick,
the hardware manager. He looks a bit embarrassed, and after a little stilted small talk, he tells
him that ‘a problem’ has come up. He has just checked in the laptop that John the market analyst
had taken out of the company’s pool and used at home over the weekend in order to finish the
forecasts you had asked for. However, when completing the routine check of the laptop, Fedrick
tells him that he noticed links to various pornography sites in the history file of the laptop’s
internet browser. He also tells him that they must have been accessed over the weekend when
John had the laptop—the access dates refer to the last two days, and as is usual practice, the
history file was emptied after the last person had borrowed it.
There is a strict company policy prohibiting employees from making personal use of company
hardware, and access to sites containing ‘material of an explicit nature’ is tantamount to gross
misconduct and may result in the immediate termination of the employee’s contract. When the
hardware manager leaves the office, Mr. Chan take a big breath and slowly finish his coffee.
After a few minutes of thinking through the problem, Mr. Chan ask John to come into your office.
He has a quick chat about his work and tell him that he is really pleased with the forecasts he put
together over the weekend. Then, he brings up the problem with the laptop’s history file. When
he tells him what has surfaced, John is terribly embarrassed and assures him that he has
absolutely no idea how this could have happened. After some thought, though, he tells Mr. Chan
that he did allow a friend to use the laptop a couple of times over the weekend to check his email.
Although John says that this is the only possible explanation for the mystery files, he does not
volunteer any more information about the friend involved.
As it happens, this does not make Mr. Chan feel much better about the situation—the company’s
code of conduct also prohibits the use of IT equipment by anyone other than employees. The
company deals with a lot of private data that no one outside the company should have access to.
He reminds John of this, and he tells you that he did not realize there was any such policy. Mr.
Chan left wondering when the last time was that anyone did any training around the ethics
policy—certainly not recently. Scratching his head, he tells John that he will need 24 hours to
think it over, and you get on with preparing for the team meeting.
While driving home that evening, Mr. Chan turns the issue over and over in his head. Yes, there
is a corporate policy with regard to web access and personal use of company resources. And in
principle he agrees with this—after all, he was part of the committee that designed the policy in
the first place. A company like this has to be able to have clarity on such issues, and there have
to be controls on what the company’s equipment is used for—no doubt about that. He cannot
help thinking that John has been pretty stupid in breaking the rules—whether he visited the sites
himself or not.
On the other hand, Mr. Chan is also having a few problems with taking this further. Given the
amount of embarrassment this has caused John already, is this likely to be just a one-off? Does
the company not need John’s experience and expertise, especially now with the big launch a few
days off? Why cause problems over a few websites, especially when the company has not been
very active in communicating its ethics policy? Would it be better to keep it quiet, give him a
warning, and just get on with the launch? This looks set to be a tough call.
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