Names of characters in this story:
1. Alicia CEO
Alicia is the CEO for Corporation, a relatively small family-owned business. She receives work assignments and instructions from, and reports to, Corporation’s president. The president is also chairman of Corporation’s board.
One day, Comptroller, Corporation’s chief financial officer, came into Alicia’s office and said, “I have a personal issue, on which I need your legal advice and assistance. May I talk to you about it?”
Alicia said, “Of course. I would be happy to help you on your personal matter. However, you realize that I am the CEO and not your personal lawyer, so I won’t be able to act as your advisor in any way if that conflicts with my responsibilities to the company.”
Comptroller replied, “Fair enough, but I do need your assurance that you will keep strictly confidential what I am about to tell you.” Alicia responded, “Yes, definitely.”
Comptroller then told Alicia that for about five years, he had been skimming money from Corporation by creating fictitious payees, to whom he had been writing company checks. He estimated that by doing this, he had skimmed a total of $200,000. He had used the money to fuel a gambling addiction, and had lost all of it. He wanted Alicia’s advice on whether he could deduct these losses against his income on his next tax return.
Alicia was horrified. She asked Comptroller whether he was still taking money from Corporation. Comptroller replied, “Yes, and one day I will hit the jackpot and build a nice nest-egg for my retirement.”
Alicia responded, “You just told me that you have been stealing from the Corporation. I definitely can’t be your advisor. You are in very big trouble, and you need to get your own lawyer right away. I wish that you had not divulged this to me. Now, I am bound to report to the president what you just told me.”
Comptroller reminded Alicia about her promise to keep the information confidential. He then warned Alicia that if she said a word about this conversation, he would report her to the Department of Labor for misconduct. Despite this threat, Alicia immediately recounted Comptroller’s admission to Corporation’s president. Comptroller was fired, and he now faces criminal prosecution. As threatened, Comptroller has filed a complaint against Alicia to the Department of Labor.
Questions regarding Ethical relationships and Ethical Culture
1. In your opinion, what is Alicia CEO’s ethical relationship with Comptroller?
2. Did Alicia act ethically by reporting to the president of the company? Explain what you believe Alicia’s ethical duties are to the Comptroller and to Corporation?
3. Is there evidence in this story of an ethical culture in this company? In other words, is there evidence in this story that this company is guided by principles of honesty, trust and accountability?
4. Is Alicia bound by the duty of confidentiality with the comptroller of the Corporation?