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Ethics Violation: A Practical Example on Gathering All the Facts

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Ethics Violation: A Practical Example on Gathering All the Facts

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This blog is provided by Rob Chesnut and is an excerpt adapted from his latest book, Intentional Integrity: How Smart Companies Can Lead an Ethical Revolution (St. Martin’s Press, 2020) and used with permission.  You can purchase his book here.  This blog is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, Intentional Integrity: How Smart Companies Can Lead an Ethical Revolution which aired on 7/28/20.


The primary guidance I have for those who find themselves in a position of having to work out appropriate consequences is: put on your ethics goggles and be intentional. At every stage of this process, every leader involved should strive for fairness and honesty and be able to understand how decisions come across not just to those involved but to other employees.

Let’s work through a fictional example that will ground some of these ideas. Milo has spent the last year working as a logistics manager for a family-owned furniture company with 150 employees. The company has a code of ethics that includes a $100 limit on gifts. Milo’s administrative assistant, who is the nephew of the owner, mentioned to his uncle that Milo accepted a pair of Stanley Cup playoff tickets worth $500 from a shipping partner.

Clearly, Milo broke a rule.

The owner calls Milo’s manager and learns that Milo is an excellent employee who has never had any other complaint lodged against him. Next, the owner talks to Milo, who says he realizes that he was supposed to read the ethics statement but he never got around to it. He relates that at his last company, there was no policy about gift limits, so he did not think to check when the tickets arrived. He apologizes and appears genuinely upset to learn that he violated this rule. Not only was Milo contrite, he offered to call the vendor who gave him the tickets and reimburse the value.

Milo screwed up here, no question. He was careless . . . but, far as I can tell, not devious. Based on these facts, I’d probably advise the owner to give Milo a stern verbal warning. I’d be sure to say if he did this again, there would be serious consequences. I’d reinforce that he must read the code of ethics. I would remind Milo that he should not retaliate in any way against his admin, who had every right and arguably a duty to report his violation. If he’s already used the tickets, Milo probably should reimburse the shipper and explain that he made a mistake, in part so that the furniture company is not seen as a partner where high-value gifts are expected or appropriate.

This may seem lenient. The company has every right to “throw the book” at Milo . . . but he seems like a very good employee who made a mistake. Demonstrating compassion and thoughtfulness in this case might create an opportunity for the owner to remind everyone to reread the code of ethics, and thus prevent more problems. There is no mandated confidentiality involved in a verbal warning, and so Milo and his admin can talk about what happened, and others who might have questions can raise them as well.

So, let’s call that scenario one. Now, let’s alter the facts a bit.

What if Milo gets angry and defensive when asked about the tickets? What if Milo’s admin says that this is the third or fourth time the shipper has sent Milo tickets for a sporting event or a concert and that he has warned him several times that accepting the tickets is a violation of company policy? What if Milo’s manager says that Milo suggested the company shift more business to this shipper . . . just a few days after the shipper sent him the tickets?

In the second scenario, the results of the investigation suggest that Milo has engineered a relationship with the shipping partner that is a conflict of interest. So here we have two identical offense reports, but the details elevate the second scenario to a much more serious level. They may suggest a deliberate bribe by an employee of the shipper, and they may be significant enough to warrant terminating Milo immediately.

Wow, harsh. Terminating an employee can be catastrophic for that individual, and it can hobble a work team. It should never be done lightly, but some offenses, like sexual harassment or fraud or bribery, are so serious that once you have established that they occurred, you must act decisively and signal that this is unacceptable behavior.

As Milo’s example shows, the facts and details always matter. Intentions are important. Mistakes are different from premeditated acts. Investigations must be fair and full, approached objectively.

In the corporate world, disciplining an employee for a code violation is a necessary part of the integrity process. And I’ll be honest: it’s my least favorite part. While it’s fun and energizing to write a code of ethics and feel like you are shaping a great company where everyone will be proud to work, it can be infuriating, frustrating, and sad when someone violates that code. Sometimes people, for a wide variety of reasons, can make consequential mistakes that cost them their jobs, put their families’ financial stability in jeopardy, and create a permanent stain on their reputations—and the company’s as well. But you have to respond, or your code will have no credibility. You’ll fail as a leader, and the people who follow the rules will suffer.

Adapted from Intentional Integrity: How Smart Companies Can Lead an Ethical Revolution by Rob Chesnut (St. Martin’s Press, 2020).


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Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.


About the Author

Rob Chesnut is the Chief Ethics Officer at Airbnb, a role he took on in late 2019 after nearly four years as the company’s General Counsel. He previously led eBay’s North America legal team, where he founded the Internet’s first ecommerce person to person platform Trust and Safety team. He was the general counsel at Chegg, Inc. for nearly 6 years, and he served 14 years with the U.S. Justice Department.

Sight beyond Site with Morgan O. Smith

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Sight beyond Site with Morgan O. Smith

colorful mindA Breathless Ruler created out of our Deepest Nothing

Whenever we speak of the unseeing authoritative ethical and moral God, we’re talking about a creator who doesn’t actually exist, but fully lives and breaths within our limited thoughts – a diminutive portion of what truly is. This organized religious God we speak of isn’t of some upper paradise, but stems from the superior ego – the ego of the collective; a complex concept made up of morals, ethics, even policies & procedures; it is apart of our social, cultural and religious environment – the part of the collective ego we’ve fully disowned, because it sits too high upon a heavenly pedestal, too sacred for us to believe it to be our own.

This god we created, is now here to govern us from the temptations of a so called Satan which really is our very own id; the same id that is capable of bringing us to our personal salvation. Yes, the chaotic id; the liberated free spirited facet of the human mind, intertwined with the flesh; the shameful part of ourselves we’re constantly at war with – a war within where surrender lies within the fantasy of the optimist; this takes place deep within where the ego and the id fight to the finish – seeking dominance, so that one day, one will stand tall, sitting at the thrown of the self-attained.

Now there’s a solution to all this; the answer is right in front of us – but when an enlightened being who lives beyond social constructs, tells us who and what God really and truly is, we as primitives are so quick to chastise; we condemn him with cursed lips chanting he’ll be doomed by a flickering light of the stricken, smitten by a vengeful God we claimed has given us the gift of free will; one who gives man the right to think critically and to speak his personal truths. Because of this rigid belief we’re unwilling to discard, this god is here to stay; even if we destroy the collective ego, eradicating all unifying bodies of governance – burning down all religious scriptures and law books. But even if we were able to rid of this god, then the collective id of high chaotic entropy would break lose tearing order apart; ready to reassemble once we fulfill our wants and selfish desires with more disenchantment.

So here we are, stuck with an overseer we believe has domination over us and it does; as long as we believe it’s against all that is sinful. We even say that this type of a god is the ultimate being and it is; never realizing that we the so-called limited beings we say we are, is making all the decisions. This disciplinary God which really is a religious concept of man-made law has no rule over the masses, until we give it power to do so; it is a fictional god, a lord of the land with no land to own; which is now real, but we’re the ones who are actually in control. It is a god we govern, a god we rule, a god we tame who walks on a leash; it is a god playing god in reverse; a four legged loyal beast which is man’s best friend, who obeys our every command – but somehow without our knowledge.

Now I’m here to tell you that you can never know God until you look over the shoulder of the golden idol in front of you. Our true and living God, the essence behind everything, isn’t separate from us; The Everything which exists within and is The Limitless Collective of Imaginative Superminds of everything that is All. To know the true and living God, is to know that there is no god playing a God some of us claim to know; and once we fully awaken to this truth, bondage of the oblivious becomes no more.

Now there is a creator, there is indeed; yet I say there is no God, because there’s no God outside of You; everything you believe to be external, is created by your own perspective from within; even the very unique perspective created by you is You! You are Consciousness, Essence, Spirit, Existence, Ultimate-Reality playing the role as God playing the physical, psychological and the emotional you; the True You isn’t a being; You are a Presence – a Presence being Present, presented by the same Presence which is simultaneously Absent; this Presence is playing the many roles as energy, particles, atoms, molecules, cells, matter, objects/being(s), macro systems and all its operational functions; it is an incredible Essence always within your reach, only because You have the power to believe it to be so – yet you give all your power to a creator created by You the true A.l.l.a.h. (two arms, two legs and one head). Tell me who’s the god now.

Morgan O. Smith

Morgan O. Smith is a former Stand-up Comedian & Television Host turned Mystic & Philosopher. He is a 2001 Gemini Award Winning Writer and has been nominated for The Gemini’s People’s Choice Awards:Canada’s Favorite Comic back in 2003.Morgan has been studying Eastern Philosophy & Metaphysics, and has been practicing meditation for over a decade. Morganis also a Certified Meditation Instructor, Reiki Practitioner and Brainwave Entrainment Facilitator.  Morgan holds a Teacher’s Certificate in Transformation Meditation and is the creator of Yinnergy – which is the latest advancement in brainwave entrainment technology, based on Marko Rodin’s Vortex Based Mathematics.  Morgan is the Host of the highly anticipated radio show, Sight beyond Sight will be airing later this year on Voice America. Sight beyond Site is an opinionated conversational show tackling subject matters such as Mysticism, Metaphysics, Meditation, Spirituality and Non-Duality.

If you have any questions or comments about this blog, feel free to contact Morgan Smith

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