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An Ethical Dilemma at Work

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An Ethical Dilemma at Work

Shawn Barghout

University of Arizona

As a home stager, I often work with furnished homes. Such was the case on the day I came to rearrange and make more functional, three rooms of a home that included a living room with leather furniture. The homeowner paid me in full and left the home, with the understanding that I would lock up and let myself out when I was finished; a common occurrence with my clients.

Standing back after three hours to assess my handiwork, I decided to make a slight adjustment to a vase that was on a table behind the red leather couch. As I moved the vase slightly, I bumped an oil-and-reed bottle of air freshener that was tucked behind the vase. The bottle tipped over, spilled a little onto the table, and quite a bit splashed down the back of the couch. It ran down the back of the leather couch, leaving an oily track in three long streaks along one side. I was horrified, but by following the instructions given me by a local leather furniture store, I was able to get most of the oil out of the leather. After treating it twice, it was still possible to see the streaks. The streaks were hidden because it was at an angle, pointing toward a wall, and the table was also directly behind it, effectively blocking view of the stain from the room. The only time it would be seen was if someone moved the couch.

The ethical dilemma: should I tell the customer, risking her good will, my payment, and my insurance rating; or take my check and leave with no mention of the accident, fairly certain that she would not see it anytime soon. Also, the leather store had told me that, in order to achieve full effectiveness of the treatment, it should be reapplied a few more times.

The ethical issues in this situation were many. How would my client feel if she found out what I had done to her couch on her own, at some later time, as opposed to me telling her right away? How would I feel if I didn't tell my client? Would I have a guilty conscience? If I did tell my client, would I be doing a disservice to myself and my business? Was it okay to withhold the truth, since no one could see the stain anyway? Did I owe it to my professional reputation to not tell my client, in order to avoid possible insurance claims and payment of a deductible I could not afford? Was there harm in saying nothing, then letting her find out about it at some future date? The couches were obviously well-used, with some worn spots, and less than perfect padding.

Conscience for me was a considerable factor. I strive for honesty at all times, but was very worried that I would lose my client's good will if I told her what I had done. I was also concerned about the expense of trying to repair the damage done. Additionally, I had been referred to this client by another, and she had in turn already suggested that another friend of hers was interested in my services. I stood a very real risk of losing not only the payment I had received for this job, and the expense of the insurance deductible, not to mention the possibility of increased rates, but I also risked losing the referral to my client's friend. Should I stick to my policy of honesty, or protect myself from all the potential for a negative outcome by not mentioning anything? I was very upset at all the possible scenarios, and conscience doesn't always give the best direction. As pointed out by Shaw (2008) in the text book, "...the conscience is itself something that can be critically examined" (p.19). Moral principles and self-interest often conflict. For instance, as Shaw states, "Sometimes doing what you believe would be morally right and doing what would best satisfy your own interests may be two different things" (p.20). I was certainly facing a situation where what I believe to be right might result in a situation that did not satisfy my own interests. However, Shaw (2008) also comments that "The moral standards of a society provide the basic guidelines for cooperative social existence and allow conflicts to be resolved by appeal to shared principles of justification ( p.20). There are many different views, with the potential for many conclusions. Close examination of how a person feels about various scenarios before they occur will allow for a clear path to decisions when in the moment.

According to Shaw (2008), the paradox of hedonism, suggests that "...there are considerations that suggest it is not in a person's overall self-interest to be a selfish person. People who are exclusively concerned with their own interests tend to have less happy and less satisfying lives than those whose desires extend beyond themselves... people have self-interested reasons not to be so self-interested" (p.21). Therefore, the self-interest that would suggest I not say anything could in reality lead to unhappiness for me; and by this logic, actually suggesting that I should tell my client the truth. As noted in the class textbook, Business Ethics, by Shaw (2008), regarding moral principles and self-interest, "When morality and self-interest conflict, what you choose to do will depend on the kind of person you are (p.21)

From this point of view, I would be doing myself a disservice if I did not tell my client about the couch, and allow her the opportunity to continue the cleaning process.

Kant believed that ethical issues could be decided by the absolute moral truth of the categorical imperative. Shaw (2008) explains in his textbook that Kant's categorical imperative can be thought of as a universal acceptability.

The sense of duty that we obey comes from within; it is an expression of our own higher selves... when you answer the question 'What should I do?' you must consider what all rational beings should do. If the moral law is valid for you, it must be valid for all rational beings... In considering lying, theft, or murder, for example, you must consider the act not only from your own viewpoint but also from the perspective of the person lied to, robbed, or murdered. Presumably, rational beings do not want to be lied to,



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