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COMP 607: Reflections on week 1

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By nmas in the group COMP 607: Fall 2015 cohort September 13, 2015 - 1:05pm

One of the first dilemmas the course requires us to consider pertains to the conflict between moral obligations and the obligations towards ones employer.

You are an IT professional who has broad access to corporate documents, and it transpires that some of the documents you read show that the company you work for is violating government regulations or laws. Do you have a moral obligation to turn them in, or are you ethically bound to respect your employer's privacy? Would it make a difference if you signed a nondisclosure agreement when you accepted the job?

Let us assume that the employee has raised the issue with management, and it is determined that transgression is institutionalized and not unintentional. The employee is faced with the conflict mentioned earlier, but I do believe the options are relatively straight forward based on the information provided. The right thing to do is to blow the whistle. It may come at tremendous personal cost but we are assuming that away as we do not have much information on the company, or the employee.  

However, once we factor in considerations that one would face in real life, it becomes a little muddied. For example, we do not know how much the employee relies on the job to support himself. If he lives in a dual income household or is close to retirement, it may be easier to let his peronal moral stance determine his next step.

The employee must also consider his obligations to his family. The moral high ground does not pay the bills nor put food on the table. Therefore, if the employee relies on the job to support himself and he is not very employable, it maybe in his best personal interests to ignore what he discovered. However, this is at a cost to his conscience and may go directly against his moral stance. 

Does one have a moral obligation to blow the whistle? Yes, I do not believe there is any question if the transgression was intentional. The employer's privacy is secondary as the issue is larger than the employer and the employer's worldview. Nondisclosure agreements do not typically refer to nondisclosure of fraudulent activity and generally pertain to passing on patents, intellectual property and the like to competitors. It should raise some red flags if the ND included nondisclosure of criminal activity or fraud! Finally, if the ethics and morals of the company are not in synch with personal morals, it is probably best to find alternate employment.

I will likely append to this post based on my readings this week as I will have a more informed perspective on the issue.


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