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Business ethics question
Published on May 8, 2008 By terpfan1980 In Business Experiences

Note in advance the lead-up to my question below is a bit long but worth the read.  If you must skip it, scroll down to the larger text which will get you to the end right away.

So I was having a late lunch/early dinner with a co-worker today.  We go out pretty much once a week, talk sports, yak a bit about the office situations and generally just sit and enjoy chowing down on a nice meal.  Anyway, while we are there co-worker's cell phone rang and he took the call from someone that had previously worked where we both currently work.  Someone that might have worked at the same place now if he hadn't burnt several bridges and basically taken a flame thrower to the place on his way out the door.  Someone that might have gotten a job offer if he didn't have an abrasive personality that wasn't toned down enough when he was being interviewed as a potential hire after the work environment changed from one where the worker's former employers ran the show completely to one where the people that pay the employers (who in turn pay the employees) have more direct control and responsibility.

Anyway, those two talked on the phone for a bit and when the call wrapped up my co-worker mentioned who he had been talking to and how that individual still hadn't found full time work even though we're now several years removed from the change in the work environment.  Unfortunately for the friend (former co-worker) of my current co-worker the potential promises of being 'taken care of' by his old employer were never more than empty promises.  That employer lost the original business to competitors and never moved a muscle to help that fellow find another place to work, perhaps because they didn't have something else where he'd be useful, or perhaps because they felt he was too abrasive to put somewhere else.  Most likely some of both really.

Now, I happen to know for a fact that fellow that is still unemployed burned more than a few bridges within my workplace, one very directly by intentionally trying to torpedo and in effect sabotage and poison the work environment for anyone that would follow behind him and take over responsibility for the role he used to have.  I know this because I am one of the individuals that took over that role and had to help transition from the old team to the new team.  Not really even transition but more directly pick up and run with things as the old team completely ignored demands and requests to transition anything to the new team feeling they had no reason to do so since they weren't going to be part of the new team at all.

I know all of this for a fact because in my IT support role I administer several systems, all of which were basically moved from the abrasive former employee's control to mine overnight starting with day 0 of the new team being in charge.  One of the things we expected and were promised was that the old team wouldn't do anything counter to the good of the people that pay for either team to be here.  Unfortunately that was an empty promise, as I found out on day -1 when I was brought into start setting up systems to be used by employees starting on day 0.  At that time I find that no one apparently knows the system administrator passwords and no one has any elevated access to the systems and can't reset passwords or do anything else on the systems.  Everything that had been documented is incorrect, either unintentionally or purposefully, and no one could tell why.  Calls to the abrasive former employee, made by some of his co-workers, were met with statements of denial of any and everything possible.  Don't know nothing, didn't do nothing, leave me alone, can't help you.  Engendering himself all the more as someone that might be deserving of a position on the new team (NOT!).  Except apparently none of this was that person's fault, or so I find out according to the story today.

Apparently the abrasive former employee had been ordered by his superiors on the former team to perform the sabotage and to make things difficult to transitition from.  System access was to be denied to anyone except 'key' members of the former team, not including anyone that would be transitioning to the new team, and any 'reasonable' efforts that could be made to make things difficult on the new team were to be made.  All in the mistaken hope that the old team or old team members would be called back in and get the old jobs back because the new team couldn't do the job and would soon be found as failures.

Whether this story is really true or not, especially whether or not the former employee was ordered by higher ups to do what he did or whether he assumed for himself that he could make himself a potential white knight to come riding to the rescue is beside the point of the question I really want to ask and get input on.  It's related yes, but not really the key question.  My key question is this:

If someone you worked for ordered you to take action that you know is counter to requirements of the people that are paying your employer for your services (and your manager's services, etc.) would you take the action or would you disregard the order?

Consider that the order comes with an only slightly vieled threat of loss of your job and/or no chance at getting a new job within the current employer's company if you don't follow the order.  Consider also that the people that gave the order have the power to perform the task/sabotage that they are ordering you to perform and can tell whether you have or haven't done as asked/ordered.

What would you do?  Knowing for sure that the new team has no space for you, would you be more inclined to act against the new team?  Does that matter at all or make no difference to you?

Assume that there's virtually no way that anything you do when following the orders from above could be traced back to you to your former employer in any concrete manner.  The best the new team could ever do is assume you were trying to sabotage them but they'd never have any proof of it.  Would that make any difference in the action you'd take?

I'm curious what readers will say what they'd do and must warn that I'll be highly skeptical of any comments that make it seem as if someone is too ethical to do what they might be ordered to do.

on May 08, 2008

Why do you wanna work for people who hurt their customers intentionally? It's bad for business.

on May 08, 2008
I probably wouldn't do it. I may lose my job if not, but I would wonder if the person was trying to set me up to take a fall in which case I might lose hireability. A job can be replaced, reputations can't always be repaired. If I was losing my job anyway, what's the point in risking future employment with other companies that might hear about this. That and I know the only people that would really suffer would be the poor guys replacing me, not the execs that made the decision to do so.
on May 09, 2008
I dont have to answer in the hypothetical. I have already been in that position. And I refused. My job in IT does not exist without the customers, and they come first. if my boss told me (as they have) to sabotage (a harsh word - what they actually wanted me to do was to let things die and not fix them) a system, I would and have refused.

I was lucky that for 13 years I worked for a company that rarely asked me to do something not in the interest of the customer - and then it was only minor stuff that I refused. I now work for one that does it daily, and I am still refusing. SO I know my tenure with the company is not long. But at least the customer is not getting screwed.
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