You find out that a close friend has been cheating in his exams. What do you do?
Non medical ethical scenarios often relate to whistle-blowing. This has been in the news a lot because of the Mid Staffordshire scandal and earlier in the year because of the Jimmy Saville scandal in which BBC employees who must have known about his engagement in child abuse had not spoken out. Whistle-blowing is the practice of informing on someone for wrongdoing. It comes from the fact referees blow the whistle when they see a foul. This may be on a grand scale and the informant may make a ‘disclosure in the public interest’ exposing corporate fraud or on a smaller scale such as in ‘telling on someone’ who has cheated in exams.
The GMC states in Tomorrows Doctors [their document relating to medical students]
‘Students must be aware that their behaviour outside the clinical environment, including in their personal lives, may have an impact on their fitness to practise. Their behaviour at all times must justify the trust the public places in the medical profession. ….misconduct – this includes issues that raise a question about a doctor’s probity, trustworthiness or character.’
As Lamz pointed out [see comments] a student cheating in exams may have problems with time management, feeling over whelmed. They may be amenable to discussion about this. What is far worse is an arrogant student who feels cheating [when available] is the clever way to approach exams. His attitude is dangerous and if it persists could put patients at risk. Cheating, plagiarism, drug taking, rudeness to patients are common reasons for students to be referred to a GMC ‘Fitness to Practise Panel’. Students may be given a warning, suspended or expelled from the Medical School as a result.
You have a great job with a well known accountancy firm in the city. The accountancy firm sponsored your degree. You are working on the tax returns of an important client and you notice there are discrepancies in the accounts. You have brought them to the attention of your boss who tells you to ignore them and not to ever mention this matter again. What issues arise here?
Fraud occurring within an organisation is known as corporate fraud. This involves deliberate dishonesty to deceive the public. This appears to be happening in this scenario. It may be helpful to see the scenario from all points of view:
Good companies should have a whistle-blowing policy. This allows employees to raise concerns about malpractice within the organisation which may be leading to loss of income or may lead to substantial fines if the company or company workers were found to be engaging in malpractice. It would work to the advantage of the employers in preventing employees engaging in external whistle-blowing which, if it happened, could undermine the credibility of the organisation. Action may pre-empt further abuses and lead to greater transparency within the organisation. PIDA [Public Interest Disclosure Act]-is an employment law act that protects workers from detrimental treatment or victimisation from their employer if, in the public interest, they blow the whistle on wrongdoing.
It is very hard to approach your boss and effectively accuse them of dishonesty. Most whistle-blowers sacrifice their career and end up being slandered and victimised despite PIDA which [see above] is supposed to protect them. It would be best to make your concerns to him in writing [email] and avoid ‘discussions’ for which you will have no solid proof.
You – the new employee
You must report your concerns first to your boss and if you feel you have not got a satisfactory response you need to notify those further up the chain of command.
If this is also not successful then it should be reported to a third party such as The Serious Fraud Office. You could contact your Union if a member. Whistle-blowing can lead to alienation at work and termination from the job. Co-workers sometimes perceive whistle-blowing as “snitching” or as a betrayal of the organisation and its members. Four out of five workers end up being sacked or leaving [often with a gagging clause inserted in a termination agreement] and only 1 in 5 whistle-blowing claims are apparently successful.
The major ethical principle of Justice invokes fairness. Fraud is not fair. If as in this case someone is not paying their taxes as they should, then society loses out as there is less money for public services. It has been said that the economic crisis in Greece is partly due to the fact that so many, particularly the wealthy, avoid tax.
The diagram below is ‘the whistle-blower’s cross’. Being a whistleblower often leads to the hardships described in figure2