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The Ethical Frontier Discipline Sensitivity Imagination
Case One: Subverting of the Subconsultant Relevant Issues: Should the Prime have been notified in advance of a project meeting and its agenda? Is it ever permissible for a professional engineer to have two clients on the same project? If so, under what circumstances? Should the Sub-Consultant have accepted direct payment for services from the Client? Should the Prime Consultant object to the actual events? If so, how? What course of action would you recommend to the Prime Consultant?
Case One: Subverting of the Subconsultant Case Outcome: This was part of a major test for me. I really struggled with the bad actions of those I needed to rely upon. I re-learned the lesson that I must do the right thing and then simply move forward with my head held high. I re-learned that this is often a difficult road. The Subconsultant was not thinking clearly, in my opinion. He knew that there was something wrong with the process of events on that day, but he took the money. See Case Two for the rest of the story …
Case Two: To Terminate or Not To Terminate Relevant Issues: May we terminate an agreement if a Client becomes unruly? Are lies sufficient reasons to terminate an agreement? Do threats of physical violence constitute extortion – a criminal offence? Do we have any duty if we observe a crime? Does this justify termination? Do we want the reputation of a firm that terminates agreements? What about our contract? Do we have a duty to perform under any and all circumstances? If not, what circumstance(s) would allow us to terminate an agreement? If we terminate the agreement, how will the Client obtain the services he needs to complete his project? Is that a relevant concern?
Case Two: To Terminate or Not To Terminate Case Outcome: We were probably justified and had the contractual right to terminate. We were very reluctant to take this course of action because we believe that it is a professional’s duty to fulfill promises. We worked the problem out in another way. We chose a “creative middle way” solution. We worked with the Client and the client terminated the agreement. We were very pleased with that result. We did help to assure that the client would have the services he needed prior to the termination.
Case Three: Potential Conflict of Interest Relevant Issues: Would we favor the railroad company in our dealings? After all, the City would only ever have one project of this sort, whereas the railroad would have numerous projects. Wouldn’t we naturally favor the railroad company? Didn’t we have a conflict of interest?
Case Three: Potential Conflict of Interest Case Outcome: I learned that all potential for, or appearances of, a conflict of interest cannot be avoided. I learned that I always first must do the right thing and then I must move forward with my head held high. My conduct should, in the long run, demonstrate to my client (the City) and to other stakeholders that we would make our judgments ethically.
Case Four: Recommending Husband’s Firm Relevant Issues: Should a professional engineer disclose his interest (equity, relation by marriage or by blood) in a product or service that he recommends or specifies?
Case Four: Recommending Husband’s Firm Case Outcome: Sometimes people that we deal with have blind spots. I saw this as a fairly significant ethical mistake.
Case Five: The Subconsultant Who Stopped Work Relevant Issues: Should WE pay the surveyor to keep him working while we all wait for payment from the Client? Can we ethically terminate our agreement with Surveyor #1 and engage Surveyor #2? Should we close ranks with the Surveyor and join in the work stoppage? To whom is our loyalty due? Is it to the Client? Is it to the Surveyor?
Case Five: The Subconsultant Who Stopped Work Case Outcome: The first thing I learned was that if one of our subconsultants stops work, it is practically the same as US stopping the work. Second, we need to vigorously enforce the payment provisions of our agreements. Our loyalties are important values. In this case our loyalty had to support the surveyor. Loyalty flowed away from the bad actor.
Case Six: Supplanting Relevant Issues: Is this a potential supplanting case? How will we guide our client to help us avoid a charge that we supplanted the Prior Consultant?
Case Six: Supplanting Case Outcome: This is a potential supplanting case. We insisted that the other engineer be formally discharged from the project, paid for his services and that the issue of the ownership of documents be sorted out before we accepted the assignment.
Case Seven: Ownership of Documents (Copyrights) Relevant Issues: Who owns the drawings and the design concepts? If we insist on doing the right things will the Client give the contract to another firm? Is the Client’s potential response to our decision a relevant factor in our considerations?
Case Seven: Ownership of Documents (Copyrights) Case Outcome: We advised the Client that we could not use the drawings owned by the other firm unless we had their permission, or unless the Client obtained ownership of the documents. The Client agreed to pay for the right to use the drawings. Today we are the “plan keeper” for this prototype building.
Case Eight: Theft of Plans, Plan Stamping and Professional Incompetence Relevant Issues: Is it ever permissible to use the plans prepared by another engineer? If yes, under what circumstances? What does it mean to place my engineer’s seal and signature on a drawing or document?
Case Eight: Theft of Plans, Plan Stamping and Professional Incompetence Case Outcome: I do not think that the ethical choice was unclear. I learned that our profession has its share of bad actors.
Case Nine: Justice or Mercy? Relevant Issues: What company response is correct? Justice or mercy? Is the status of the employee a factor in the company’s discipline decision? Is termination of employment the right punishment? If not, why not? If so, why?
Case Nine: Justice or Mercy? Case Outcome: We chose mercy. This event is too fresh to get a quality reflection on it. We are still learning from this incident. I have learned that incidents like this one should cause us to slow down and be careful because the consequences are so profound. I now have a new rule of thumb: We may have a genuine ethical conflict on our hands when there are profound consequences for one or more of the stakeholders
The Ethical Frontier Discipline Sensitivity Imagination
The Ethical Frontier Where are we? We have ethical codes. ABET engineering degree programs require ethical education for graduation. Practitioners have made ethics education a priority. Practitioners have developed our ethical codes through difficult experiences. We have an emerging “oral history” concerning ethical issues.
The Ethical Frontier How are we doing? We do not have enough conversations inside the profession about ethical issues. As a profession, on the whole, we are weak in ethical discipline, sensitivity and imagination.
The Ethical Frontier Where do we go from here? Ethics education is not about teaching engineers the difference between right and wrong. Ethics education is about learning from the stories that make up our oral history and ethical traditions. Ethics education is about improving and increasing the conversation about ethical issues within the profession.