Grey matters ethical dilemma: Warn or weed out?

Brandon and Greg’s firm has become aware of a photo they have shared that shows them indulging in a recreational drug while on holiday at a location where the drug is legal. How should the firm deal with this?

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Brandon and Izzy met at the UK branch of a major international financial services firm where they both work. After a few years they decided to get married. For the honeymoon, they chose to spend time in the US, starting with a week in Las Vegas, then followed by a week skiing in Vail, Colorado – a place they had always wanted to visit.

All went as planned and the wedding lived up to their hopes and expectations – the flight to Las Vegas even departed on time! The attractions of five nights in Las Vegas meant that by the time the couple got to Vail they were feeling ready for a rest. But the desire to explore got the better of them and they were soon itching to hit the slopes.
Chance meeting

While strolling about the village the couple were surprised to hear Brandon’s name being called. A man came hurrying towards them with his hand outstretched in greeting. “Hi Brandon, what a surprise to see you here – and this lovely lady you are with must be Izzy?” Turning to Izzy, he introduced himself as Greg, a colleague from their firm’s Chicago office, whom Brandon had met on a couple of business trips to the US.

Greg explained that he was also on holiday in Vail, where his family owned a timeshare apartment, and he insisted that Brandon and Izzy should join him and his partner for dinner before they returned to the UK at the end of the week. Unable to say no to Greg’s generous invitation, the couple agreed that they would meet for dinner in a restaurant and then go on to Greg’s apartment for a nightcap.
“Wonderful end to the vacation with Brandon; can’t wait for this to be legal everywhere!”

After five days of exhilarating skiing and accompanying nightlife, Brandon and Izzy returned home feeling that they had achieved their dream holiday. As an added bonus, Greg had invited them to join him in Vail for a future visit. Returning to work was a struggle but sharing photos of the trip with colleagues kept the memories fresh for a while longer.

Three weeks later, Brandon is called into his manager Karl’s office, where Karl tells him that Carol in the HR department has asked to see him at 4pm that day, although she has not said what it is about. Brandon tries to draw Karl on what it could be, but Karl insists that he knows nothing. Mystified, Brandon returns to his desk and spends the next hour imagining all the things that HR might want, before making his way there for the 4pm appointment.

Brandon is shown into Carol’s office and is somewhat surprised when her opening comment is that she enjoyed his photographs from Vail, and that it looks as though he had a very good time. This leaves Brandon feeling slightly alarmed and wondering how Carol has seen his pictures. However, he is unconcerned about the content,which he believes is quite innocuous. Carol then passes her iPad across the desk and Brandon sees a picture of himself and Greg leaning back on a sofa in Greg’s Vail apartment, wreathed in smoke, with the caption under the picture saying:

“Wonderful end to the vacation with Brandon; can’t wait for this to be legal everywhere!”

Seemingly innocent, Carol asks Brandon what “this” might be, to which Brandon responds by asking the nature of her enquiry and whether he should be accompanied by someone before answering.

The dilemma: Brandon has gone on holiday to a state of the US where the use of cannabis in private is legal.

A breach of contract terms

From a photograph posted on social media, Brandon’s employer has become aware that he appears to have used a drug which is illegal in the UK. Furthermore, the use of the drug is in breach of the terms of his contract.

Another employee of the firm, who is employed in the US, has also apparently used a recreational drug, the use of which is legal in the state where it was consumed, although not throughout the US. Accordingly, it does not constitute a federal offence. But it is against his firm’s term of employment.
How should the firm handle this?

A. Although contrary to Brandon’s terms of employment, the ‘offence’ did not take place on company property and was not in itself illegal. It will not bring the firm into disrepute and a warning as to Brandon’s future behaviour is sufficient.

B. Since Brandon is in breach of his terms of employment, he must be subject to the firm’s formal disciplinary process.

C. Brandon was on holiday at the time and his firm should just ignore the social media posting.

D. The firm must ensure that whatever action is pursued must apply equally to both Brandon and Greg.

This dilemma appears in the Q3 2017 print edition of The Review. The results of the survey and the opinion of the CISI will be published in the Q4 2017 print edition of The Review.
Published: 15 Aug 2017
  • Integrity & Ethics
  • Grey Matters

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