“Dangerous Dialing” is a fictional story about a person involved in a real-life situation. The story helps us to recognize complicated ethical issues and reminds us how important one person’s actions can be in maintaining a fair and honest workplace.
After Rick had been on the job for three years, his supervisor, Stu, approached him about reclassifying his position by offering him more responsibility. Stu explained that Rick would be given a raise and training to prepare him for his new duties. Although he wasn’t sure exactly what would be required of him, Rick agreed with the plan. He trusted Stu and after a cursory review signed off on the new job description. He attended a week-long training class but, to his dismay, found much of the training to be over his head. He was required to read lengthy cases and reports, and the trainer spoke in lingo he wasn’t familiar with. When he returned to work, he quickly discovered that Stu also expected him to do much more than usual every day as a result of the advanced training he had received.
“That class was really tough,” he told Stu. “It seems like I have to work a lot harder around here than I used to. It’s almost as if you like to see me squirm.”
Stu laughed. Then he got serious. “I know the transition is challenging,” he said. “I’ve been there myself. But I wouldn’t have given you the opportunity if I didn’t trust that you could rise to the challenge. This work is in your job description, and you received training to help you succeed in the role. Now you just need to focus on the work. Lean on the contacts that you made during the training, the resource materials, and notes that you took. Hang in there, Rick. I’m going to support you every step of the way!”
Later that day Rick’s co-worker, Justin, invited him to go out for an off-site lunch, but Rick said that he had to work. “I’m stressed to the max,” he said. “I mean, I had to go to that training and now I have to do all this extra work on top of what I normally do. I’d like to have dinner with my wife for once. You know, it’s harassment, man. Stu has it in for me. He is singling me out. He wants me to fail. I have half a mind to call the IntegrityLine. How else do I get back at him for giving me all this work to do?”
“Don’t call the IntegrityLine, Rick,” said Justin. “Just go talk to him.”
“I have, and he pretty much told me to get back to work and stop complaining. Well, I’ll show him,” said Rick.
Feeling bitter and resentful, Rick called the IntegrityLine and filed a complaint against his supervisor for harassment.
Compliance and Ethics triaged the IntegrityLine report with the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE). Based on the information contained in the report, OIE determined that the allegations did not meet the criteria for potential discrimination. Compliance and Ethics then referred the report to Darlene, the department’s Human Resources representative, to handle. Darlene met with Rick and Stu separately, taking both of their viewpoints into account in order to form a clear idea of the situation.
“What is behind your allegation of harassment?” Darlene asked Rick.
“The guy’s clearly got it in for me,” he said. “First I had to attend a brain-busting training for a week. Then since I’ve been back, he’s been dumping all this new work on me, on top of my normal tasks. He’s taking advantage of me, using his power over me just to see if I can handle the pressure.”
Darlene then spoke to Stu, who explained that Rick had agreed to be trained for and take on additional job duties. Rick had received a raise proportional to the additional work-load but was struggling to keep up. Stu added that he had offered his support to Rick during the transition. It quickly became clear to Darlene that Rick’s claims of harassment were both frivolous and false.
She explained the seriousness of Rick’s allegations to him. “It’s important to report any suspected wrongdoing, but it’s not acceptable to make up stories about another person because of your own job stress,” she said. “Accusing your supervisor of harassment could ruin his reputation at the university and have serious consequences for you.”
“I thought that’s what the IntegrityLine was for,” Rick said.
Darlene responded, “No, the IntegrityLine is for asking for help or clarification on ethics issues and for legitimate complaints about wrongdoing that are made in good faith. If your problem is job performance, I can set up a formal meeting with Employee Relations, Stu, and you to help facilitate a discussion. Another option is to meet with the University Ombuds Office. It’s a safe place for an informal discussion. They don’t take sides but can help facilitate a resolution to the issues you’re facing.”
That evening Rick shared the story with his wife. “I think you lucked out,” she said. “I’m just glad you didn’t get fired for what you did, honey. You’re very fortunate Darlene let you off with just a warning. I really appreciate what this raise will mean to the family. You’ll catch on to all of it soon.”
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