Punishing the Unethical Employee

Last Updated Apr 28, 2008 10:15 AM EDT

Last week, I talked a lot about the idea of rewarding employees for ethical behavior. Some readers agreed with my contention that ethical behavior should be considered a standard of the job, and doesn't deserve an additional cookie. Others argued that rewarding ethical behavior sends a positive message to those who may be inclined to act unethically. Do your part for the discussion and take 30 seconds to vote in our poll on the matter.

There were several very articulate comments about this issue, but today I want to focus on one in particular, a statement from reader Karen#1 (great username) who wrote:

"The way to reward ethical employees is to deal with the unethical ones."

This is a strong statement, and one I support. Reward or no reward, the chief frustration for the ethical employee is watching the unethical get away with their behavior. So the question then becomes: How do we deal with the unethical ones?

When it's a large-scale ethical breach, the kind that attracts the attention of reporters and prosecutors, the culprit is dealt with. But what about the small ethical breaches, the ones we see on an almost daily basis? (See Friday's poll about what to do when you learn a colleague has fudged their resume.) How do we deal with them? Or, perhaps more accurately, how are we not dealing with them? And what can be done? As one reader pointed out, "anyone who has ever faced having to become a 'whistleblower' in business life knows the horrible price of 'doing the right thing.'"

Is there a solution to the smaller ethical breaches, one that we're not using? The white paper that started this whole discussion called for the creation of an anonymous reporting hotline? Is that a valid solution, or does that create a tattletale office culture, with someone constantly looking over your shoulder?

Give us your input in the comments section.

  • William Baker

    William Baker is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in Popular Science, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Daily News, Boston Magazine, The Weekly Dig and a bunch of other places (including Field & Stream, though he doesn't hunt and can't really fish). He is a regular contributor to the Boston Globe, where he writes the weekly column, "Meeting the Minds." He holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is at work on his first book.