Grey matters ethical dilemma: Transfer authorised

This dilemma, updated for 2023, was originally published in the June 2012 edition of The Review as ‘Bonus points’. It incorporates the themes of conflict of interest, respecting others, and speaking up

transfer authorised

Ray has completed nearly a year of his first job in a small branch of a bank, which he joined straight from school. His recent appraisal says that he has performed well and shows great potential. Accordingly, he is not surprised to be told by the assistant manager that the branch manager, Christine, wishes to speak to him.

Christine congratulates Ray on his performance and says that although, as a rule, staff are not able to participate in the bank’s bonus scheme until they have completed 12 months’ service, Ray has done very well and she wants to encourage him. She hands him an envelope, saying that because of the special nature of the payment and the bank’s rules on bonuses generally, he must ensure that he does not discuss it with anyone. Ray feels a little embarrassed to have been singled out but pleased to have made a good impression.

He wonders if he has done anything wrong in accepting the money

Ray enters the staff room where he opens the envelope and is pleasantly surprised to read that £500 has been transferred into his account. Christine includes a message saying that the bonus is her personal recognition of Ray’s hard work and good performance. Ray is a bit surprised at the comment which leaves him unsure whether the ‘bonus’ is from the bank or from Christine herself.

Although Christine has told Ray not to mention the award to anyone, which is the bank’s normal rule regarding bonus payments, he feels unable to keep this to himself. On the way home, he texts his friend Dan, whom he had met on the bank’s induction course, suggesting they meet later for a drink. Dan, who works in another branch but lives nearby, readily agrees.

Later that evening when Ray meets Dan, he says he’s had some good fortune and offers to buy him a drink, “not just the usual pint, but anything you like”. They order cocktails.

The payment could imply all sorts of things Dan asks what has prompted this unusual generosity and Ray says that he is not supposed to tell anyone, but he has received a bonus. Dan expresses surprise, saying that they don’t qualify for the bank’s bonus scheme and that staff have been warned that bonus payments will be very limited this year, so Ray getting one must surely be a mistake.

Ray tells Dan that Christine had said that the bonus was personal. Despite Christine’s warning, he shows Dan the letter. Dan reads it and says that he is very surprised, and it looks as though Christine has given Ray the money out of her own pocket. He says this is rather unusual and he hopes that Ray has not been asked to do anything unusual by Christine.

Dan says that the payment might also be against the bank’s policy as it could imply all sorts of things but, even so, he is enjoying his drink bought with the proceeds of Ray’s bonus. Ray says that he is sure that he has done nothing wrong and suggests that they talk about something else, and the conversation turns to less controversial matters.

At the end of the evening, they go their separate ways, not having said any more about Ray’s bonus, but Ray awakes in the early hours and has difficulty going back to sleep. He wonders if he has done anything wrong in accepting the money or if anything he has done at work might have led to him getting the bonus, but he cannot think of anything.

Ray wonders if he should raise the matter with anyone in the branch, and if so, whom? He also wonders whether he should perhaps phone the helpline number that he was given on his induction, but he is unsure to whom he will be talking and if it will get back to Christine that he has called. That seems to be worse than doing nothing. In the end, Ray falls asleep with the matter unresolved.
What should Ray do? (Voting is now closed)

  1. Approach Christine directly to clarify the situation and return the bonus.
  2. Notwithstanding that he has been told not to discuss it with anyone, Ray should report it to whoever is responsible for HR matters in the branch.
  3. Call a staff helpline and raise the matter.
  4. Do nothing. He was very fortunate to have received a bonus in these difficult times. 
Published: 27 Jan 2023
  • Training, Competence and Culture
  • Integrity & Ethics
  • grey matters ethical dilemma
  • Code of Conduct

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