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Ethical Dilemmas - Examples

Under Construction - keep watching this space - more examples coming to a neighbourhood near you!!!

Evaluating ethics interactively

Here is a quotation from the CICA Criteria of Control Board on 'Guidance on Control' (1995) regarding ethics.

"An organization should provide guidance for all its people to promote their understanding of the organization's principles of integrity and ethical values, and it should provide support to help them deal with dilemmas and uncertainty..."

For more information, you may want to follow this link, but maybe not until you get a chance to see some examples below - http://www.cica.ca/new/index.htm.

Note that in the examples below only the basic dilemma is described. To help the audience feel the full force of the dilemma, it is helpful to escalate the pressure in stages, often by making the problem more acute. For the Boma dilemma the second escalation involves revealing that your predecessor is now your immediate superior; the third escalation involves becoming aware that she has strong top management support.

Another factor to note when using dilemmas is that the circumstances depicted in the dilemma may relate to a domestic problem or an issue in a very different type of company, but the underlying nature of the dilemma is very close to home. This allows participants the freedom to be vocal (because clearly this is not their immediate situation) but to express frankly some deep concerns which are affecting them in their real life.

Example 1 - a professional in politics

Amanda is a bright student in your class but has done very badly in a recent test and has not been behaving well. Her parents are divorcing. Her mother who is a vocal critic on the school council has arranged an interview with you to "see what can be done about Amanda's test results". You

  1. review the test to look for potential upgrades

  2. ask the principal for help with the politics

  3. explain that your marking was fair, and firm

  4. discuss the impact of the divorce on Amanda

Example 2 - a moonlight debate

You are a school principal in Toronto and your spouse is a manager at Nortel. Fearful of staff cutbacks, you start up a jewelry sales business for the evenings and are surprised when it quickly starts to make a profit. You know that you can double your regular salary if you recruit more sales staff. Some of your own teaching staff might like to join you. You:

  1. recruit any teachers who would be good at sales

  2. recruit only teachers who need the money

  3. recruit staff only from your spouse's office

  4. avoid recruiting any staff to avoid conflict

Example 3 - je me rcuse?

You are on the District School Board and also own a small computer store. The Board issued a Request for Proposals for a large number of PC's to two big suppliers. After listening to their competing proposals you believe you could offer a better deal yourself. You:

  1. offer a better deal to the Board

  2. express the opinion that both proposals are high

  3. say nothing because it is a conflict of interest

  4. absent yourself from all discussion on the deal

Example 4 - international aid

You have just been posted to the impoverished republic of Boma. You find your predecessor installed a complex economic strategy and control structure (he was promoted because of it) in collaboration with the government. You find that no-one understands it, it is patently unworkable, and politicians are only going along with it to receive a promised loan. You:

  1. call Washington to warn your superiors of the problem

  2. say nothing while you work on a better solution

  3. recommend the loan funds be released

Example 5 - environment

You have been visiting friends in a remote part of Alberta. On the way home you pass the company's gas plant where you used to work and notice a large area of dead vegetation downhill from the plant. When you get back to Calgary, you

  1. call CFCN news and alert them to an exclusive

  2. call the plant manager and tell him

  3. call the manager of environmental affairs

  4. call the Alberta Dept. of Environment

  5. do nothing, it's none of your business

Example 6 - managed health care

You are senior nurse in charge of the post operative care facility in a community hospital. The incidence of deaths following apparently successful surgery has been unusually high in the past two months. The physicians whose patients have died are under contract to an HMO which maintains tight budgetary control. The physicians have not ordered autopsies on any of the casualties although several of them shared similar unusual symptoms.

What are your ethical options, or does doctor know best?

Example 7 - a part to play

You have been in Procurement for a long time and are surprised that a colleague has been able to find a parts supplier who has agreed to a price 15% lower than anyone else. It's an unheard of discount in a tight market. Your colleague received a recognition award. You:

  1. say nothing and congratulate your colleague

  2. ask your colleague how it was possible

  3. voice your concerns to your team manager

  4. approach the same supplier for a different part

Example 8 - vendor demo

You are in a marketing department of an organization that has several lines of products. Your group has decided to generate some preliminary brochures on some soon to be released new products for the retail purchasing agents and for the people in the distribution network. Since you are the most computer literate in your group, you realized that the current word processor you are currently using will not be satisfactory. This requires a desktop publishing package but you are not sure which one will fill the bill. You attend a local vendor demo, a joint production between a hardware manufacturer for digital cameras and a software company for desktop publishing.

The presentation was just great and you are clear in your mind what you need to do when you get back to the office. As the presentations conclude, the presenters announce that there are some door prizes. There are a dozen golf shirts with the vendor corporate logos for distribution to an audience of around 100 people. As business cards are drawn from the container, the lucky potential recipient must answer a question related to the presentation. Would you accept the prize if you win? Would you tell anyone in the office that you won a golf shirt?

The second series of prizes was 3 software packages for desktop publishing. The software with the added plug-ins is worth in excess of $2,000 and it is exactly what your department will need to produce the brochures. Personally, you have no particular use for the software - you would much rather have won a computer for home use. (Those 286’s don’t seem serve any purpose except for use as a stepping stool for the vertically challenged.) If you won the software, would you accept the prize? In your mind who owns the software, you or the company? Would you tell anyone in the office that you won?

The grand prize was the software package for desktop publishing and a digital camera. The software with the added plug-ins is worth in excess of $2,000 and with the camera the package was worth in excess of $4,500. You can definitely use the software in your department to produce the brochures. Personally, you have no particular use for the software or the digital camera - you would much rather have won a computer for home use. You still have a 286 computer at home.

It is your lucky day. You have won the grand prize. As you are about to leave the seminar, the store owner stops to ask you whether you are willing to sell the digital camera. The conversation reveals that the store owner is willing to exchange your prizes for a computer and some entertainment software but could not do a trade for just the digital camera alone. What would you do?

  1. Thank the person, but explain that you cannot do a deal with him - all your winnings belongs to the company.

  2. Trade the digital camera and the difference in cash for the computer - the software package goes to the company.

  3. Trade the prizes for a computer and entertainment software - the company will have to buy its own software.


If you have any ethical dilemma to add to our library - please email it to kwong@csa-pdk.com.