In the Seattle Times on September 6, 2011, it was reported that a Seattle city employee inappropriately used city resources by driving a city car to a casino (outside the city) during work hours. She was required to pay a fine of $365 for violating the city rule that city resources are not to be used for non-city business. The infraction was found via an anonymous whistleblower tip.
The irony is that after she left the casino, she hurried back to work to attend an ethics seminar. That particular ethics seminar was being held reactively to a separate ethics violation. Should the city have another ethics seminar to address this new infraction?
Ethics-oriented training is critical for building an ethically minded organization. But, if an organization only discusses ethics reactively, when specific issues arise, we believe they will repeatedly be addressing fraud and infractions. Proactive, thought-provoking ethics training should be provided on a regular basis that identifies and addresses the greatest ethics risk areas. Employees need to be given the ethics policy on a regular basis and they should confirm they have read the policy thoroughly.
An organization’s leadership team should regularly be talking about the standards of business conduct that have been established. When infractions occur, the infractions should be discussed immediately.
Apparently, the city employee didn’t realize in advance that she was breaking the rules. After the fact, according to the article, she is quoted as saying “”I was like, ‘Oh my god, what did I do?’ “. If employees don’t know the ethics requirements, it seems like a clear indication that the standards are not discussed often enough, that employees are not properly trained.
While some people believe ethics should be ingrained and already learned as an adult, the specific requirements for each organization vary. Employees cannot and will not know the organization’s policies unless they are shared often.
How does your organization measure up? Do your employees know what is expected of them? How often are ethics discussed in your organization? Don’t wait to address this until after a significant infraction occurs when the financial and reputational risk is sure to be much higher!