Workplace malpractice is any behavior related to job performance that deviates from standards, procedures, or reasonable expectations of the employer. For example, it would be workplace malpractice for a market researcher to intentionally include fabricated data in a report assessing the positions of potential competitors. I've explored workplace malpractice in previous issues — see "Counterproductive Knowledge Work Behavior," Point Lookout for September 21, 2016, for examples.
Several readers have expressed interest in the risks of reporting workplace malpractice. They ask, "If I've witnessed an incident or a pattern of workplace malpractice, what should I do?" There's no general answer. But if you're considering making a report, be alert to the risks. Below are some of those risks.
- Failure-to-report risk
- If you choose not to report what you know, you could be in trouble if people in authority learn that you knew what was happening and didn't report it. If one or more of the risks below seem substantial, and you feel unsafe making a report, consider reporting instead that you have information, but you don't feel safe reporting it. That might afford some protection against failure-to-report charges, and it might motivate your employer to address the safety issue.
- Confidentiality issues in the reporting process
- Most misconduct At work, there is no
such thing as a witness
protection programreport management processes do promise confidentiality to those who report misconduct. The best programs offer an anonymous tip line. If your employer doesn't provide an anonymous tip line, confidentiality can sometimes be breached. Be prepared for possible retaliation. In most workplaces, there is no witness protection program.
- Are you certain that you're interpreting correctly whatever you've witnessed? Are alternative interpretations plausible? If alternatives are plausible, your report might be inaccurate, and potentially damaging to you. If the alternatives are plausible, they can also provide you with valid explanations for failing to report what you witnessed: "Yes, I knew about that, but it seemed OK to me because I thought it was X."
- Misidentifying the real perpetrator
- The perpetrator of the malpractice might have been acting under instructions of a superior. If so, your report could affect that superior, who might be powerful enough to mitigate the effects of your report, and vengeful enough to seek retaliation.
- Invalid evidence
- Did you actually witness the incident? Or are you inferring malpractice based on contextual evidence? If the latter, might someone inquire about your failure to report that earlier contextual evidence? If not, report the incident anyway if you feel safe enough. If you have any doubts about your safety, see the comment above about failure-to-report risk.
- Witness testing
- At times, an incident you witnessed might have been conducted in your view solely to determine whether you could be trusted not to report it. The probability of this scenario is elevated if the "test infraction" is minor, or if you were asked in advance to be present, and asked afterwards to be silent. If you suspect "witness testing," you're working amongst sophisticated operators. How long you will remain safe, even if you cooperate, is difficult to predict.
At whatever level you estimate the risks of reporting malpractice, those risks are mitigated to some extent by hard evidence. Documents, recordings, photos, your journals, or records of any kind — anything you have that can corroborate your report. Collecting this kind of evidence might bear risks of its own, so take care. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Ethics at Work:
- Your Wisdom Box
- When we make a difficult decision, we sometimes know we've made the wrong choice, even before the consequences
become obvious. At other times, we can be absolutely certain that we've done right, even in the face
of inadequate information. When we have these feelings, we're in touch with our inner wisdom. It's a
- Non-Workplace Politics
- When we bring national or local political issues into the workplace — especially the divisive
issues — we risk disrupting our relationships, our projects, and the company itself.
- Looking the Other Way
- Sometimes when we notice wrongdoing, and we aren't directly involved, we don't report it, and we don't
intervene. We look the other way. Typically, we do this to avoid the risks of making a report. But looking
the other way is also risky. What are the risks of looking the other way?
- Virtual Termination with Real Respect
- When we have to terminate someone who works at a remote site, sometimes there's a temptation to avoid
travel — to use email, phone, fax, or something else. They're all bad ideas. Terminating people
in person is not only a gesture of respect. It's good business.
- Managing Personal Risk Management
- When we bias organizational decisions to manage our personal risks, we're sometimes acting ethically
— and sometimes not. What can we do to limit personal risk management?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
- And on May 9: Unethical Coordination
- When an internal department or an external source is charged with managing information about a large project, a conflict of interest can develop. That conflict presents opportunities for unethical behavior. What is the nature of that conflict, and what ethical breaches can occur? Available here and by RSS on May 9.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.