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Is there a difference between poor judgment and committing an unethical act?

The chapter assignments provide a scenario which encompasses an ethical question in a practical workplace setting. At the end of the reading, several questions are posed. Please answer the questions as your response. The duration of the response should be no longer than 2 pages.

Withholding Information: When Is It Ethical or Unethical?

You are a candidate for a very competitive, high-profile city manager job. During the search process conducted by a reputable consulting search firm, you are asked: “If we conducted a thorough background check on you, would we find anything in your background which might embarrass a future employer?”You pause for a moment as your mind flashes back to an allegation that was made about you when you were a city manager of a small community. It was alleged by two staff members of the community hospital where your wife was terminally ill that you slapped and verbally abused her.The police investigated the allegation as did the Department of Children and Family Services (DCF). During the investigation you assert that the staff members misinterpreted a situation in which your wife was choking and you were helping her. Your wife states to the investigators that you did not abuse her. Neither the police nor the DCF investigations report that there is any physical evidence (e.g., redness on the face) that you had slapped her. Nonetheless, the investigative report is sent to the state attorney to determine whether or not to press charges. The state attorney declines to pursue the matter due to a lack of evidence. Thus, the allega-tion is unsubstantiated.

Decision 1:

How should you reply to the question asked by the search firm? Should you or should you not disclose the incident? Let’s assume that you reason that the incident was entirely personal and was found to be unsubstantiated. Therefore, you decide to respond: “There is nothing in my background that would embarrass a future employer.”You receive an invitation to interview.During the interview, you stress your honesty and high ethical standards.

Decision 2:

Do you or do you not disclose the incident to the city’s HR staff and the city commissioners? Once more you decide not to disclose information about the incident for the same reason you did not disclose it to the search firm.The interview goes very well. City commissioners are impressed and decide to offer you a $170,000 job contract. The local newspaper reports the story with the byline—“Ethics and experience bring Jones to the fore.”On the day the contract is to be voted on, city commissioners receive in for-mation that you were accused of slapping and verbally abusing your wife in in the hospital where she was terminally ill. The commission decides to call an emergency meeting to discuss the situation. You are invited to appear before the commission and answer their questions.

Decisions 3:

Do you accept the commission’s invitation? You decide “yes,” as the air needs to be cleared and you need the full trust and confidence of your new bosses. During the questioning, you assert, “I haven’t lied. I have not told an untruth.” One commissioner asks: “Why didn’t you tell us about this allegation?”

Decision 4:

What do you say? 1. I forgot.2. I didn’t think anyone would find out.3. You didn’t ask me.4. It was merely an unsubstantiated allegation, as my wife and I had a very loving relationship right up to the moment of her death.5. Withholding information is acceptable under these very personal circumstances.6. I thought the allegation, although untrue, would place my candidacy in jeopardy if it became public.

Outcome The commission decides to postpone approving your contract for two weeks while they seek more background information about you. Meanwhile, you have withdrawn as a city manager finalist for several other positions and are now worried about ending up without any job.You muse, “Am I being treated fairly by the city commission? The media? I know I haven’t done anything wrong. Why am I being subjected to such scrutiny?”

Investigation Results A three-member committee—composed of Commissioner Kent, the director of HR, and a representative of the police department—is formed and travels to the community where you served as the city manager for four years.After visiting the community and meeting with former and current town council members, a conclusion is reached by the committee that includes your former assistant town manager, the president of the chamber of commerce, a police sergeant, and the town attorney; the committee states: “We have no concerns about his honesty or integrity.” Commissioner Kent sums up his thoughts to the city commission this way: “You exercised poor judgment as a candidate who sold himself on honesty, integrity, and character, but that is not a sufficient reason to withhold the offer of a contract. Poor judgment is not an unethical act.” Decision 5: Now put on your hat as a city commissioner. How would you vote on the job offer? Would you vote for or against the candidate?


1. Is there a difference between poor judgment and committing an unethical act?

2. Is there an ethical issue facing the candidate? If so, what is it? Did he display ethical sensitivity in answering the search firm’s question: “Is there anything in your background that might embarrass a future employer?”

3. Will your ability to lead with integrity be compromised if you accept the job by withholding information?

4. Is it ever “right” to withhold information? If yes, under what circum-stances?

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