Ethical Dilemma #4 – Would You Take the Heat?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Mutasim Billah Pritam [EWU]

The last ethical dilemma was a really good one. We had lots of fantastic responses; some more insightful than others. In the end, only one person picked out that the person might not have even been an Arab. You can check it out here (towards the end of the comments).

Today’s ethical dilemma is a situation that some of you might have been in although not in the same circumstances. Please leave a comment and let us know how you would react.

You are at work. You sit next to a man named John. John just lost his wife, custody of his kids and has been kicked out of his home. He is on anti-depressants. He is constantly stressed, panicked, etc. But he is a nice guy. His wife left him for another man.

One day your manager comes around to John’s desk in a rage stating that he was supposed to hand up a report two days ago. The manager is screaming at John to explain why he shouldn’t just fire him on the spot. You know you could take the blame and save John. Do you take the heat and say it is your fault? Why? Why not?

I am really interested in the reasons behind your actions here. Do people still throw themselves on the “grenade” for their team mates? Or is that attitude a thing of the past? Let us know.

20 thoughts on “Ethical Dilemma #4 – Would You Take the Heat?

  1. The grenade thing…completely a thing of the past! No one sticks their neck out for anyone…we ve become the culture of the turtle…

  2. Only if I was good friends with John and was sure that he didn’t deserve any of the crap that was happening to him. Bums can be “nice guys”, too. It’s not that we’re not a “grenade” people anymore. But we’re selective. Anyways, I would be. But then again, in real life I don’t think I would think that quickly to consider taking the blame for the problem since I usually just default when the truth is taking place. And if the problem really is his, I probably wouldn’t react.

  3. I would step up and offer to help him/her to get the job asap for the manager/supervisor, but would not take ultimate responsibility for the individuals job not being done, unless it was ‘at least’ partially under my purview. If you didn’t hold responsibility or accountability the manager would see right through it. It would also be of assistance to have an honest group conversation with the manager (to show insight into why there was a challenge).

  4. How is this an ethical dilemma? It is straight forward, man goes to work, and does not do his job, gets into trouble.

    Is the man was being unfairly treated? Is he meeting his obligation to his employer? Has he disclosed to his employer his situation? Is he getting any help dealing with his personal situation? Is he being paid while he is at work too stressed to do his work?

    In this situation for personal reasons he didn’t meet his obligation to his employer. What obligation is there for the person next to him to take responsibility? There is no obligation.

    Regardless of his personal situation he has an obligation to his employer to inform them that he is unable to perform his duties. In any event, it appears that his manager gave him two extra days to provide the report. If he required more time, it was his responsibility to request it. What if his job was life or death, should someone step up and take blame if people’s life were at stake? How is this situation different?

    It is one thing to feel sorry and empathy for someone during a difficult time, but quite another to approve their disregard and respect for their responsibility regardless of their personal situation.

  5. “Falling on the grenade” sounds heroic but you don’t help anyone by lying. I believe that is called “enabling.” I would try to difuse the anger and offer to help get the report done. It also sounds like this person is feeling sorry for John. It’s not healthy to feel pity. I would check in with John to see what he’s doing to take care of himself. I would encourage him to seek out ways in addition to medication to help work through the depression. (Like your ebook and this website!)

  6. The employer could not sack him for putting in a report late, so due to unfair dissmal John could put in a complaint.

    Also if he felt the manager manner was threating, this may consist of some kind of assault especially if he fears and apprehends immediate fear (you don’t have to touch someone for it to become a physical assault).

    I would not take the blame as there would be no need, I would explain the above to John and request that he has a meeting with his manager and explain the situation and possibly ask for some annual leave or some kind of personal leave due to his problems, I would make sure he does this in writing as well.

    He has employment law to protect him, but he has to let his employer know what is going on as it is affecting his work life.

    I would be a friend in this way, there is no need for the grenade effect as society has developed and moved on, as there are other steps you can take that are just.

  7. Angelina,
    Your karma awaits, and it will not be good. Your thinking is self-righteous and arrogant, and it is evident that you, personally, have yet to be really challenged – and I wish that upon you. People like you are destroying our country.

    We have always been a people who cared about each other – thus the Good Samaritan. The man has run into bad times and given that nothing to the contrary was stated, it’s fair to assume that prior to bad times, the man was performing his job.

    Accepting these as the basic premises, whether one falls on the grenade or not is a personal choice, without much difference. In reality, the truth would come forth eventually, but sometimes the lie is necessary as a temporary ruse simply to give the situation time to de-escalate.

    But nobility aside, the answer is that we have become a selfish society thinking only of our own gain, and avoiding anything that looks like tough times. And, our country is paying for this with the market and world problems.

    We are basically simple creatures. Like a slow child who thinks he has the world by the tail just because he comes into a little luck, we tend to assume the same. We will not change until things become horrible, but maybe they won’t.

    Satyam, my hat is off to you.

  8. Yes i would take the heat and then i would tell him that next time he is on his own if he doesn’t get the job done. I would tell him that if he needs someone to talk to i would be glad to listen and then would offer advice on some professional help for him

  9. These are mostly sad comments, confusing compassion with pity, pulling up empty psychobabble, or failing to note that ‘justice’ untempered by mercy, or even simple empathy, courtesy and decency, is unethical in itself. Depending on your ethics. I mean, even Hitler had an ethic.
    I don’t work for bosses who rage in the first place; they deserve no employees. The saddest thing is that no one has noticed that among John’s other difficulties is that he works for an intemperate boss who publicly humiliates employees.
    It’s really simple what I’d do. I’d wait until the tirade was done (pragmatism tells me that an intervening request that the boss behave himself would serve no one), and then I’d make myself a friend to John, if he’d like that. Since we’re at work, I’d first do that with a commiserating, encouraging grimace, and if you don’t know what that is then you’ve never been a friend to anyone; it’s the look that says “yeah, it totally sucks”, and by seeing if he wanted to catch dinner after work. And then? I’d listen, and let him talk, about whatever, and just be with him in a basic encouraging, friendly, human sort of way. I’d not give a whole lot of advice. That’s presumptuous. He just lost his house and his kids. Jeez. We don’t know why, but it must be an act of desperate will just to make it to work at all.
    This isn’t ‘enabling’, as it isn’t implied that the man is a drunk, or an abuser; he’s the victim of one of life’s more brutal hits. As I’m old enough (old) to have weathered many such myself, it’d not be pity at all, but honest fellow-feeling. Without that, ethics stay stuck on the lower rungs and life is more miserable for all.
    And no, of course I wouldn’t leap up and take the blame. It’s a noble thought, but grandiose, and likely would humiliate John even more, and put him in the even more miserable position of having to either unmask the “good deed” or feel guilty. Silly idea. Might could give him a hand with that stuff though, and that’d be ethical if the offer was framed in such a way as not to be a further assault on his dignity.

  10. Wow, there’s a few things wrong here. As a former supervisor, the boss handled this very unprofessionally. You don’t just reem someone out in front of other employees. Okay, now that THAT is out of the way….
    I would not take the heat for John. First of all, we don’t know why his wife left him. Maybe there’s more history here than we know. Perhaps he cheated first. Perhaps he was a lousy parent. Perhaps anything. I believe that two wrongs do not make one right. It’s not about taking the grenade for a teammate. It’s about accountable individually. I can appreciate that John is struggling right now, but perhaps it’s because of his own doing. Again, sometimes people need to hit rock bottom before they climb out. I WOULD ensure that he has resources available to him if he gets fired, i.e., a counsellor/therapist, an agency that will find him another job, etc. I would even offer to help him finish the project, providing the supervisor gives him another chance. But I would not lie to bail him out, because there would be no value in that to John, the supervisor, the company, or me. That may sound harsh, but sometimes that’s what happens before the real learning takes place.

  11. I definitely would not take the heat for John – he needs to stand on his own two feet, regardless of his current personal situation. If people keep making allowances for him, he could easily fall into a trap of perpetual self-pity.
    The “poor me” attitude can stay with someone for years – they feel like the world owes them something because of some previous loss or misfortune in life.
    By letting John suffer the consequences of his own doing (or lack thereof in his job role)…he will hit rock bottom & hopefully bounce back sooner rather than later. It sounds harsh, but in the long term he will be much stronger. Even if he loses his job, change is a good thing.
    If the situation is dire or life threatening, then I agree with Beth’s comment about checking in with him and perhaps suggesting a few alternate therapies that could assist with his depression. If he is reluctant to talk & I am truly worried about his health & well-being, then I feel that as his colleague, I have a duty of care to express my concerns to management.

  12. This dilemma is truly bringing more meaning to the daily grind I call work. I still find it difficult at times to find the balance between doing the right thing and doing what work would want me to do.

    I like what Beth has shared – I think this scenario on work ethics deals with values like honesty, accountability and integrity. I too would want to acknowledge John’s personal challenges especially since now it is impacting his work and productivity. If I had the opportunity to help with the report, I would, but not without ensuring that he seek help for his personal problems (like employee assistance programs). “Taking the grenade” may only serve to re-enforce John’s feelings of stress, etc. – he needs to see that there are consequences to not getting the report in on time.

    I am curious though about John’s previous accountability at work. If he was a productive worker before the stressful events, then I would see the benefit of having this brought to the manager’s attention (ie. “have you notice that John’s been stressed out lately and this is not typical of him?”) – the manager’s rage seems to me that the manager may be stressed out too. Again, I would like to know if this is the manager’s typical behaviour or whether this turn of events signals something underlying it all.

    But if John is only a “nice guy”, and has not performed well at work in the past, then perhaps this was a long time coming. It’s just too bad things had to blow up like this. I still would want to point John in the direction of help.

  13. Best response here. I agree. Depending on my mood at the moment, I might also tell the boss to chill out.

  14. Let’s be real, we all have a threshold at which our personal life will affect our work as we are humans after all, we are not supposed to be machines, and it has its positive outcome sometimes as well.

    But this threshold varies from person to other and it is acceptable sometimes and not acceptable othertimes, so depending on the following factors my action will vary :

    1- The situation and the effect of that delay
    2- The previous history of that friend ( how often his personal life impact his work and to what extent)
    3- How understanding and empathizing this firm is to her employees
    4- What is my current status with the manager

    And my action will vary depending on the factors like this :

    1- It is nobel to take the heat, but what if this was a normal attitude from our friend here not because that incident particularly, in that case after standing with him (not taking the heat) i should work with him to raise his threshold because he’s the mistaken one here

    2- In all cases, i should talk with the manager to understand his situation(unless i took the heat), but if he used to be understanding and that was a normal attitude from our friend here, i will NOT talk with the manager and i will concentrate with our friend only

    3- If i have a good history with the manager, i would take the heat to rescue our friend here

    4- If taking the heat would result in firing me And i really need the job for my kids for example, i don’t find it logical to sacrifice for a person with person other than me ( as in this case other people depend on me )

    5- I think the mentioned case doesn’t belong to all the previous :
    – Normal manager
    – Don’t know exactly the outcome
    – Not a normal attitude from our friend
    – No one really depend on me and it’s not hard to find another job quickly
    I know with my heart that i would take the blame,(but i don’t know if i have the courage to do that becaue i weren’t in a situation like this before), and it will depend on my mood for sure

    And my reasons behind that action are that people are supposed to help each other and “as you sow you will reap”, if not in this life, in the other life.

  15. I would not lie.

    The difference for me lies between helping and interfering.

    I do not believe a person can be helped this way when I observe the situation from a detached viewpoint.

    For most of my own life, my emotional response would have been immediate and I would have stepped in (especially if we were close). I would not have thought about it, and since then have learnt this can get one into trouble.

    The act of thinking during such situations will seem hard, cold and calculating. The reason is essentially because of attachment. I have come to understand attachment does indeed “lead to pain”. Our emotions have extraordinary power which either control or are controlled.

    I believe John’s dilemma is his own. He is completely responsible, and must ask for help. This is not to say I would ignore his state – far from it. I would offer assistance to him personally – just not try to interfere during an opportunity for his growth. I do not have the right.

    During such times it can be impossible to see the gift being presented.

    I can understand this might seem selfish or unfeeling. However, what works as a temporary measure will always have permanent implications which will always need cleaning up. And all we really want to do is help.

    That’s just the way it is. If one could see the whole one would understand how much damage an act of compassion could have.

    I share what I have learnt. It is personal and not meant to instruct anyone else. I will never judge someone’s actions whether they comply with or contradict my own. I genuinely respect everyone’s opinion.

    I can understand this topic can be frustrating and difficult, but perhaps we can all take solace knowing we will always learn from our choices eventually.

  16. I would tell John, after the boss went away,that if he is too stressed I would help him with his work. Then I would give him this web site and I bet when he read everything, he would overcome the hardships and become better at work too.Thank you TDM, you helped me a great deal, your posts are amazing, keep them coming!!Lots of warm greetings from Croatia, Europe,you are read and loved!!

  17. It’s not that I would take the blame for John, it is that I would be a witness to his psychiatrist for him being too depressed to work properly: reports being late, I’m sure other factors too are involved but not explained in this situation.
    To human resources when John files a complaint against his manager for slandering John within earshot of other co-workers, threatening to fire him, and that perhaps the company should pay for him to go to therapy since he is in an apparently hostile work environment, this may have been the original cause of his depression. Even if it is not the original cause it is certainly making it worse, and I’m sure a lawyer would set up a great media exploit of a hard-working down on his luck guy vs. big corporation. Since John’s divorce wasn’t so graceful I’d suggest to hire his ex’s lawyer in the divorce… apparently they are the only one’s really getting anything done right.


  18. I have a problem with this situation as an ethical dilemma. I think the only circumstances where it would be a good idea, and the desirable action, would be if you were also involved in the project. Such as if you and John worked on it together, but he was supposed to turn it in and didn’t. Then I would agree with jumping in to try to deflect John from getting all the blame.
    If you’re a complete outsider though, taking the blame could be a very bad idea!

    First of all, I’d question the motives of someone who would jump in a take the blame. We need to be careful not to mistake compassion for having a martyr complex.

    Secondly, if you were not involved at all, then you’d better be a VERY good liar and hope that John is too, or it’s likely the boss won’t believe you and will just be irritated by the attempt to interfere. Then you haven’t helped anyone just gotten yourself in trouble, and not even 100% wrongly because, even though you had good motives, you lied to your boss.

    Third, this situation could, and probably would, turn into an example of the cynical saying “no good deed goes unpunished”
    If your boss does believe you when you take the blame, then you’ll be facing the consequences of that and, as someone who has taken the blame for something I didn’t do (not at work, it was for my brother when we were kids) I can tell you that punishment is much harder to deal with when you know you really and truly don’t deserve it. Plus, you shouldn’t necessarily expect John to react well to you taking the blame. He didn’t ask you to interfere, so might be angry because of hurt pride, or because it would then put him in the awkward position of having to go along with the lie or get you in trouble eventhough the consequences for both of you might later be worse if the boss finds out down the road that the two of you lied.

    I don’t feel like this is a situation where you can really expect someone to “jump on the grenade” as it were.
    I think better ethical dilemma would be if the same situation happened, the late report ended up hurting the company in a significant way (lost a major client, w/e), and the boss asked your opinion on whether or not John should be fired.

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