Ethics - Moral law vs. Criminal law

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#1
Moderator note: Also read through Whistleblowers - Sometimes they win!
Background:
From time to time, Cove members write posts which disclose facts or hypotheticals about observing false records being entered or about being asked by management to change or alter Quality records to make the company look good.

Sometimes the posts express real bewilderment with a request, What should I do?

More often, though, the poster knows exactly that the situation is wrong, maybe even criminally wrong, and is expressing his frustration that he is forced into making a decision whether to follow his conscience or to endanger the economic well-being of his family by refusing to do anything wrong or even (in an extreme case) blowing the whistle on the wrongdoers, in which case he may even be fired in retaliation.

The current situation:
In the USA, there are some so-called whistle blower laws which are supposed to protect employees from retaliation when they inform authorities about criminal activities. The real truth, though, is that it often takes a long, expensive court battle to get reinstated or to get compensation. In the meantime, the employee who has been fired is left hanging in the wind and often loses friends and spends all savings just trying to find another job. There are sad tales of folks who suffered horribly after blowing the whistle (consider Karen Silkwood - google her, but be sure to read the WIKI.)

Sometimes, these would-be whistleblowers engage in criminal activity themselves, trying to get evidence to protect themselves, by stealing records or making illegal recordings. They do this out of ignorance of the laws and of their true rights. Sometimes, the very act of stealing or copying records may make them inadmissable in court, negating the whole attempt.

What should you do if you find yourself between a rock and a hard place on a question having to do with ethics or criminality?

Some courses of action:
  1. Confirm your suspicion that you witnessed wrongdoing on purpose versus from ignorance. A guy who realizes he transposed his digits the first time he wrote an inspection dimension and erases the error is not a criminal - just a fool. A manager who creates a forged SPC chart to meet a 1.33 Cpk requirement is both a fool and a criminal.
  2. If the wrongdoing is from ignorance, your primary responsibility is to inform someone in authority within the organization so they can investigate and take some sort of corrective or preventive action.
  3. If the wrongdoing is from criminal intent, you ought to determine if it is limited to one individual or is systemic.
  4. If individual, see item (2), unless it is the very top officer; if systemic, or the top officer, see a qualified employment lawyer first, before gathering documents or secret recordings. The primary purpose of the lawyer is to protect you and your family, then to expose the criminal activity to proper authorities, perhaps even to cooperate or collaborate with authorities. Under no circumstances should you attempt to do any cooperation or collaboration with authorities without advice and agreement from your attorney every step of the way.
Summary:
  1. Above all, remember that following a formal legal course of action will result in a more permanent resolution to the problem than a suicidal rush to expose the evildoers.
  2. Not every instance of wrongdoing is criminal or even purposeful, some are just the result of ignorance or stupidity.
  3. If there is any lingering question whether the activities you witness or are being asked to perform are criminal, the input from the lawyer will help resolve that question.
  4. Under no circumstances should you try to steal or copy confidential documents to bolster your case. (Google Mark Whitacre ;)) If, after your conversation with the attorney, referral to legal authorities takes place, they can issue search warrants and go in and seize ALL necessary documents and assure they will be admitted as evidence.
  5. Prepare for the LONG wait. It may be years, if ever, before you can get compensation for wrongful termination.
  6. Disregard tales of anyone who says, When it happened to me, I just told them . . . stop it, or else . . . and they straightened right out. That's pure fantasy. Reread stories about Rich Taus, Karen Silkwood, Ed Bricker, and others for a dose of reality.
  7. Regardless of the fact there is a government route for whistle blowing on a corporation, do NOT take that route without the advice of a lawyer who will protect YOUR interests.
  8. Above all, choose your battles. Consider yourself. Consider your own REAL motive for doing this.
    Are you afraid life, health, safety of people are affected by the wrongdoing? Do it!
    Are you just hoping to get a reward (10% of moneys recovered from wrongdoing corporations?) Maybe do it
    Are you just getting even with the SOB who promoted his brother-in-law instead of you? Think twice.
    Did the guy humiliate you in public and now you are going to get even? Don't waste your time.
:topic: We had a guy once try to blow the whistle against the Cove because he felt he had been ridiculed and humiliated by one or more of the Cove regulars. He did NOT consult a lawyer before so doing and ended up looking even more ridiculous when his gambit failed. If nothing else, your visit to the lawyer will be the big reality check you need.
Often, the activity, while reprehensible, is not criminal and your best recourse is just to find a new job. Some folks may add to this thread with examples of reprehensible conduct that is legal, but odious - one that comes to mind are 'payroll advance' lenders.
 
Last edited:
Elsmar Forum Sponsor
#2
Good advice and a brilliant piece of writing, Wes...:agree1: You obviously know your way around U.S. law. I would just like to say that these things happen all over the globe, and no matter where you find it, it is absolutley essential to have a good grip on local legislation and culture.

If you happen to be up against a multinational corporation, things will get even more complicated...

/Claes
 
C

Carl Keller

#3
Wes,

Sounds like savvy advice.

I quit a job once because of ethics concerns.

Numbers were being fudged and I refused to sign off or be party to them.

The Director of Engineering changed the numbers under my protest to make the Cpk look acceptable.

They also had issues with MSDS that I brought up and they refused to address.

I quit. The Doc Coordinator left the same day.

We made some anonymous calls afterward to try and help protect the friends we left behind.

Carl-
 
J

Jim Howe

#4
A guy who realizes he transposed his digits the first time he wrote an inspection dimension and erases the error is not a criminal - just a fool.
Wes. Just a Fool? How about just a human! God knows I have done it often enough. Its always a toss up do draw a line through the mistake, initial, date, and then enter the correct data or just erase and reenter.
As long as the correct info becomes the official record what does it matter? How does this make the inspector a fool? :2cents:
 
C

Carl Keller

#5
Jim,

I don't think the remark was meant to mean everyone who makes a typo is a fool.

Humans are fools on occaision.

That's where "foolish mistake" comes from. We have all made them.

Carl-
 

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#6
Carl is correct. Humans make errors. Compounding the error by trying to cover it up by erasing, rather than acknowledging the error and making a notation WHY it was corrected has multiple ramifications:
  • can the work instruction or environment be modified to reduce or eliminate such errors? (We won't have an opportunity to improve if we don't know errors occurred.)
  • is there a governmental regulation which strictly forbids deleting or covering up errors? (is the employee aware of the regulation? was he properly instructed? does more emphasis need to be made in the training program?)
  • was there an atmosphere of FEAR which made the employee afraid to acknowledge an error for fear of retaliation or other penalty?
  • does the employee have real dyslexia? (Can it result in a mistake that he doesn't catch? Who will it affect? Is there life, health, safety involved?)
  • etc. etc. etc.
Does this put the "foolish" comment by me in perspective?
 
C

Craig H.

#7
Wes Bucey said:
Carl is correct. Humans make errors. Compounding the error by trying to cover it up by erasing, rather than acknowledging the error and making a notation WHY it was corrected has multiple ramifications:
  • can the work instruction or environment be modified to reduce or eliminate such errors? (We won't have an opportunity to improve if we don't know errors occurred.)
  • is there a governmental regulation which strictly forbids deleting or covering up errors? (is the employee aware of the regulation? was he properly instructed? does more emphasis need to be made in the training program?)
  • was there an atmosphere of FEAR which made the employee afraid to acknowledge an error for fear of retaliation or other penalty?
  • does the employee have real dyslexia? (Can it result in a mistake that he doesn't catch? Who will it affect? Is there life, health, safety involved?)
  • etc. etc. etc.
Does this put the "foolish" comment by me in perspective?

Wes

Not to start an argument, but I think one of the main reasons erasure is a problem is missing from your list:

Who erased this, and is the new information right, or incorrect disinformation? The correct course of action is often to stop what is being done to confirm the figure.

Also, I am told that White-out in lab notebooks can have an impact on patent applications/defenses.

FWIW. IMO in the long run, the cross out and initial approach is the fastest.
 

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#8
Yeah! I knew that, but I was only trying to deal with "innocent" erasure. The foolish part is not considering ALL the ramifications, including accusations of fraud or sabotage.
 
J

Jim Howe

#9
Craig H. said:
Wes

Not to start an argument, but I think one of the main reasons erasure is a problem is missing from your list:

Who erased this, and is the new information right, or incorrect disinformation? The correct course of action is often to stop what is being done to confirm the figure.

Also, I am told that White-out in lab notebooks can have an impact on patent applications/defenses.

FWIW. IMO in the long run, the cross out and initial approach is the fastest.
Well now, you see, I have used my share of white out as well, not so much today as in the past because so much of what we do today is done though computers and correction is made so easy. Even then the final document may still contain errors.

I will agree that the term should be Stupid Mistakes as opposed to Foolish Mistakes. Foolish seems to conjur up visions of you did it even though you new it was wrong, whereas stupid usually means ignorance of the facts? Or do i have it backwards?
 

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#10
Jim Howe said:
Well now, you see, I have used my share of white out as well, not so much today as in the past because so much of what we do today is done though computers and correction is made so easy. Even then the final document may still contain errors.

I will agree that the term should be Stupid Mistakes as opposed to Foolish Mistakes. Foolish seems to conjur up visions of you did it even though you new it was wrong, whereas stupid usually means ignorance of the facts? Or do i have it backwards?
The beauty of computers is they can be set with permissions and can maintain an audit trail so changes can only be made by authorized people in an authorized manner and there is a record of what the changes were. It sure takes a lot of the indecision out of the hands of anyone who may consider a change.

An important point:
When we are talking about changes being undesirable, we are ONLY talking about changes to a "RECORD" versus a revision to a document which represents a plan for a product or process. Revisions have a protocol. Unauthorized (unrecorded) changes to a record (even practically instantaneous changes when a slip of the pen causes an error) MAY (not always) have unwanted ramifications and consequences. If you decide to change a record, are you really certain you have considered all the consequences if the change is discovered? If you maintain a history of the change (recorded change), then you have not corrupted history.

(I agree that in "some" instances, the person making a change may be completely aware of all the ramifications and may make the unrecorded change with impunity.)

In effect, changing a record is changing history. All the scifi novels warn against the problems of going back in time to change history.:)
 
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