Markkula Center for Applied Ethics - Better Choices

Silicon Valley Business Ethics Cases

Odd One Out

Confronting Corruption in the Workplace

Jenny recently completed her master’s degree and was extremely excited to be hired for her dream job working for the local county government. During her first year, she began to notice that funds from grants were being mismanaged and misallocated. Some of her coworkers were also using county-owned materials, including cars, for personal business.

However, Jenny was most shocked by the hiring practices she witnessed at the office. Prospective applicants were supposed to take exams that were proctored by government employees. The results of these exams determined whether or not the applicants were hired and what they were hired for. Jenny began to notice that the proctors were allowing applicants to cheat on the tests because the applicants had already been chosen for the job. Many of these pre-chosen applicants were friends of current employees.

Jenny reported what she witnessed to Matt, the department’s business manager, who was second-in-command to the department head. Matt told her, “You heard nothing, you saw nothing, you say nothing.” Jenny was absolutely shocked; not only by the corruption, but that it was deliberately being swept under the rug.

Jenny felt trapped. She really needed the job to pay off loans from graduate school, and she loved the actual content of the work she was doing. She was also concerned that it would look bad to leave her first job out of school in less than a year, as well as tarnish future chances to work in government. On the other hand, she felt extremely uncomfortable in her work environment due to the culture of corruption.

What should Jenny do?

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