Chapter8_ManagersEthics_GettingPromotingandFiringWorkers.pdf

Chapter 8: Manager’s Ethics: Getting, Promoting, and Firing Workers from The Business Ethics

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Chapter 8

Manager’s Ethics: Getting, Promoting, and Firing
Workers

Chapter Overview

Chapter 8 “Manager’s Ethics: Getting, Promoting, and Firing Workers” examines some ethical decisions

facing managers. It considers the values that underlie and guide the hiring, promoting, and firing of

workers.

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8.1 Hiring

L E A R N I N G O B J E C T I V E S

1. Locate ethical tensions affecting the breadth of a hiring search.

2. Define applicant screening and mark its ethical boundaries.

3. Define applicant testing and consider what makes an appropriate test.

4. Draw the lines of an ethical interview process.

Help Wanted, but from Whom?

The Central Intelligence Agency’s hiring practices are widely known and well depicted in the movie The

Recruit. After discretely scouting the special capabilities of a young bartender played by Colin Ferrell, Al

Pacino catches him at work, orders a drink, carries on a one-sided and cryptic conversation, performs a

magic trick with a ripped newspaper, announces that “things are never quite as they appear,” and finally

admits that he’s actually a job recruiter.

Ferrell seems annoyed by the man’s presence.

Pacino returns to the newspaper, pulls out a page covered by an ad announcing “Two Day Specials.” He

circles the letters c, i, and a in “Specials” and walks out. Colin Ferrell follows.
[1]

Actually, that’s not true. The CIA doesn’t hire that way. They advertise on CareerBuilder just like any

other company. You can understand, though, why they wouldn’t mind scouting out their applicants even

before allowing people to apply; they don’t want to end up hiring double agents.

Something like that happened soon after Procter & Gamble grew jealous of a competitor’s hair-care

products. Salon Selective, Finesse, and Thermasilk were all doing so well for Unilever that P&G contracted

people to get hired over at Unilever and bring back secrets of their success. The corporate espionage—

which P&G executives characterized as a “rogue operation”—led to a multimillion-dollar settlement

between the companies and left behind the lesson that when you’re the boss and you’re hiring, you’ve got

to make sure that the people you bring in will be loyal to the company.
[2]

The problem is you’ve also got to make sure that they’re going to do good work, the best work possible.

Between the two requirements there’s a tension stretching through every decision to hire a new worker.

On one side, you want to limit the people you even consider to those few who, for one reason or another,

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you know won’t be a total disaster. On the other side, no company can survive playing it safe all the time;

generally, the corporations able to hire the best talent will win over the long run. And one way to get the

best talent is to cast as large a net as possible, let a maximum number know that a position is available,

and work through the applications carefully no matter how many pour in.

Conclusion. Hiring employees can be safe or risky depending on how broadly you announce a job opening.

Three Strategies for Announcing a Job Opening: Nepotism, Internal Public

Announcement, Mass Public Announcement

Start on the safe side of hiring. Nepotism is granting favored status to family members. In the case of

hiring, it means circulating information about open jobs only to your relatives. Naturally this happens at

many small businesses. A sales representative at a small firm importing auto accessories meets a woman

at work. She’s also a rep. Marriage follows. A year later he decides to quit his job and strike out on his own

with a new website project that reviews and sells the same kind of car products. Things go well, page hits

climb, sales increase, and soon he needs help so he hires…his wife. They’ve worked together before, and

they both know the field. Most important, the risk is minimal. Since he’s waking up with her in the

morning he can figure she’s not going to skip out on work just because it’s a nice spring day. And is she

going to steal office supplies? A little money from the payroll? An important client? Probably not. This is a

case where nepotism makes sense.

But what about the other way? What if the husband’s solo venture flops, and at the same time, his wife’s

career flourishes. Now he needs a job, and she’s got the power to hire. A job opens up. Probably, she’s got

junior staff ready for the post, but can she push them aside and bring her husband in?

There is some justification: she’s worked with him before, and she knows he performs well. Plus, as a boss

of his own (failed) business, he’s obviously got leadership experience and he has demonstrated initiative.

All that counts for something. But if she goes with him she’s going to breed resentment in her group. You

can hear it:

“Hey, what do you need to get a promotion around here?”

“A last name.”

And

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Now you might be asking why nepotism bugs me so much. It’s the presumption. It’s the attitude.

It’s just one more example of how life isn’t fair. Am I jealous? I don’t know. I guess I take

advantage of the company in other ways…LOL. What can I learn from this? That life is good if

you’re born into the right family? That I need to control my attitude and stop letting petty crap

drive me to drink?
[3]

That last paragraph comes from a blog entry titled “Nepotism Sucks.” It does for his company too: few

firms can be successful with employees musing about how they “take advantage of the company” while

they’re punctuating comments about their work with LOL. As for the central issue, he’s right. Basic

fairness isn’t being honored: people are getting considered for a job because of who they’re related to, and

it’s not this blogger’s fault that his last name is wrong.

On the other hand, “Is Nepotism So Bad?” titles an article on Forbes.com that compiles a list of large

companies—including Forbes—where nepotism has been the norm…and successful. According to the

article, experts estimate that executive-level nepotism works out about 40 percent of the time. What are

the advantages to bringing in your own? Familiarity with the business and trust are noted. Another

advantage is also underlined: frequently, relatives don’t want to let their own relatives down. Sons work

harder for fathers, cousins for cousins, brothers for sisters. There’s a productivity advantage in nepotism.

Arguably, that factor weighs more heavily than the bitterness arising when deserving workers already

employed don’t get a chance to apply for a job because it already went to the boss’s sister-in-law.
[4]

Finally, at least theoretically, there’s a creative solution to the bitterness caused by nepotism: make

virtually every post a nepotism-first position. Oil-Dri, a producer of absorbent materials, celebrated its

fiftieth anniversary with a party for all employees. “Would everyone,” the group was asked at one point,

“who is related to someone else in the company please stand up?” Of the seven hundred employees, about

five hundred left their seats.

Internal public job announcements occupy a middle spot on the continuum between playing it safe (only

letting selected people you’re certain will be loyal and at least moderately capable know when a job is

available) and going for the best talent (broadcasting the post as broadly as possible and accepting

applications from anyone).

An example of an internal public job announcement comes from the National Review, a political

magazine and website run by the kind of people who wear suits and ties to baseball games. Their blog is

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called The Corner, and the magazine’s editors fill it with thoughts and arguments about the day’s political

debates in Washington, DC. There’s also a bit of insider humor, provocation, and satire tossed back and

forth between posters. If you keep reading for a few weeks, you’ll start to sense an intellectual soap opera

developing along with the libertarian-conservative politics; there’s an undercurrent of shifting alliances,

snarkiness, and thoughtful jabs.

You’ll also notice that National Review places job announcements on The Corner blog. There aren’t a lot

of openings, but every couple of weeks a little announcement appears between posts.

The National Review Online is seeking an editor with web capabilities. Send applications to

[email protected]

It’s pretty ingenious. The only people who are going to be reading The Corner are

 sincerely interested in the wonkish subjects these guys publish about;

 not out there just looking for any job (at the time they see the announcement, they’re not looking for a job

at all because it’s not a job site);

 compatible on a personal level with the National Review crew. The posters let personalities shine

through, and if you don’t have chemistry with their style of humor and talk, you’re simply not going to be

reading them.

What an internal public job announcement seeks to do is get the most applications in the hopper as

possible, and so the announcement is published on a free Internet page that anyone can see. That’s the

public part. But because the page is only commonly followed by people who are already inside the world

of public policy defining the employees at National Review, the bosses don’t need to worry about the

wrong kind of people sending in résumés. That’s the “internal” part. Recruiters can get a lot of

applicants—increasing their chances of finding really talented people—without worrying too much about a

bunch of lefties who really prefer websites like Daily Kos trying to fake their way into the organization.

Mass public job announcements are just what they sound like. You need someone and you post the

position at Monster, CareerBuilder, and The Ladders. Here you’re giving up confidence that applicants

will fit into the organization naturally, and you’re even risking corporate spying moles like those that

infested Unilever. In exchange, however, you’re getting the broadest selection possible of people to toss

their hat into the ring, which maximizes your chances of finding stellar work performance.

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Beyond the advantage of many applicants, there are good ethical arguments for mass public job

announcements. The simplest is fair play: everyone should get an equal opportunity to take a run at any

job. Just past that, there are concerns about discrimination that are eased by mass announcements. While

there’s no reason to launch charges of inherent racism at nepotistic hiring practices, it might well be true

that if a small business is initiated by an Asian family, and they start hiring relatives, the result at the end

of the day is a racial imbalance in the company. Again, no one is equating nepotism with racism, but the

appearance can develop fairly easily whenever job announcements are not publicized as widely as

possible. The parallel case can be made with respect to internal public job announcements. If 90 percent

of the people who come in contact with the “help wanted” message happen to be women, sooner or later,

there’s going to be some guy out there who complains. So, one argument in favor of mass announcements

is the stand it helps take against illegal and unethical discrimination.

Another argument for mass announcements is reciprocity. If a company is trying to sell a product to the

general public, to anyone who’s willing to pay money for it, then shouldn’t they allow everyone a shot at

becoming an employee? It doesn’t seem quite right to profit from anyone—to try to sell, say, a car to

anyone who walks in the door—and then turn around and not give all those consumers a decent chance at

earning a living there at the dealership.

Conclusion. Announcing a job opening is not automatic. You can announce the spot more publicly or less

so. There are advantages and disadvantages to the various approaches, but there’s always an ethical

responsibility to clearly account for the reasons why one approach is selected over another.

Ethical Perils of Job Announcements

Ethical perils of job announcements include

1. describing a position in ways that don’t correspond with the reality,

2. announcing a post to people who really have no chance for the job.

Once you’ve identified the demographic pool you’d like to recruit from, it’s easy to oversell the job in the

announcement you post. The most blatant cases—You can earn $300 per hour working from home!—are

obvious frauds, but even sincere attempts can cause misunderstandings. Say a job requires “occasional

travel.” Fine, but does that mean occasionally during the year or occasionally during the month?

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The much more severe case of insincerity in job announcements is posting one before an audience that

has no reasonable chance of getting the job. When Hooters posts a “server wanted” sign, we all know what

they’re looking for just like when the rough bar next door advertises for a bouncer. But what if it’s a formal

restaurant advertising for a waiter? If the place is across town, you can’t just drop in to check out the kind

of people they hire. So maybe you go through the application process and make the telephone calls and

finally go in for the interview. As you walk through the door, the first thing they check out is your weight

profile. Then your jaw line, haircut, eyes, and the rest. They want to see how you compare with the other

waiters who all look like they model on the side.

If you’re lucky, you see yourself fitting right in, but if you’re like most of us, you know the interview’s over

before it started; the whole thing has been a huge waste of time.

Now put yourself on the other side. As the restaurant manager trying to fill the position, you know

you should put the requirement that applicants be devastatingly handsome into the ad. The duty to be

honest requires it. The duty to treat others as an end and not a means requires it. The idea that our acts

should be guided by the imperative to bring the greatest good to the greatest number requires it. Almost

every mainstream ethical theory recommends that you tell the truth about what you’re looking for when

you announce a job. That way you don’t waste peoples’ time, and you spare them the humiliation of being

treated as irrelevant. So you should want to put in the ad something about how only potential movie stars

need apply.

But the law virtually requires that you don’t put the line in. If you explicitly say you’ll only consider

exceptionally attractive men for your job, you open yourself to a slew of lawsuits for unfair and

discriminatory hiring practices. In fact, even Hooters aren’t safe. In 2009 the chain was sued by a Texas

man named Nikolai Grushevski because they refused to hire servers who looked, well, like him. When it

gets to that point—when hairy guys can get away with calling lawyers because they aren’t hired to serve

food in short shorts and halter tops—you can understand why restaurants don’t want to publicly admit

exactly what they’re looking for.
[5]

Bottom line: if Hooters just comes out and states what it is that makes their kind of employee, they can get

sued. So they’re much better off just making the announcement ambiguous. That way, when it turns out

that no hairy guys ever seem to get hired, they can always say it’s because they didn’t seem so adept at

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dodging tables while shooting around with trays of beers and sandwiches. Or whatever. One lie is as good

as another so long as it keeps the restaurant out of the courtroom.

For managers, this is a tight spot. They’re caught between what’s right and the law. In ethical terms,

they’re stretched between two conflicting duties: to tell the truth and to get the famous Hooters Girls into

the restaurant.

Screening

Reducing a large pool of applicants to a manageable selection of people for serious consideration

is applicant screening, sometimes referred to as filtering. Screening begins with the job announcement.

Requirements like “three or more years of experience” and “willingness to work the night shift” go a long

way toward eliminating applicants.

It’s impossible, though, to completely define the perfect applicant beforehand, and even if you could,

there’s almost always going to be someone like Nikolai Grushevski who shows up. So screening continues

as the preliminary review of applications and applicants to see who can be quickly crossed off the list

without any serious consideration.

Legally, who can be crossed out? The default response is no one. In its broadest form, civil rights

employment law guarantees equal opportunity. All applicants deserve to be considered and

evaluated solely on their ability to do the job, and the federal government’s Equal Employment

Opportunity Commission is stocked with lawyers who are out there doing their best to make sure the rules

are upheld. For managers, that means they’ve got to take all applicants seriously; they’ve got to pursue

interview questions about ability, training, experience, and similar. Now, this is where a guy like

Grushevski can come in the door and say, “Look, I can deliver a round of burgers and beer as well as any

woman.” He’s probably right. Still, he’s not the right person for the job; there’s no reason for a manager to

lose valuable time dealing with him.

Similarly, a wheelchair-bound man shouldn’t be a beach lifeguard; an eighty-year-old shouldn’t be flying

commercial jetliners; the seven foot one and 330-pound Shaquille O’Neil isn’t going to be a horse jockey.

There is a legal way for companies to summarily screen out inappropriate applicants: by appealing

tobona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQs). BFOQs are exceptions granted to equal opportunity

requirements. A form of legalized discrimination, they let managers cross off job applicants for reasons

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that are normally considered unfair: gender, physical size, religious belief, and similar. (As a note, race

isn’t allowed to be considered a BFOQ.)

When do bosses get this easy way out? When they can show that the otherwise discriminatory practices

are required because of a business’ nature. So while it’s clear that Shaquille O’Neil’s intimidating size

doesn’t mean he’ll be a bad accountant, the nature and rules of horse racing require that riders be

diminutive, and that means Shaq would be a disaster. A horse owner can show that the job requires a

physically little person to be successful. Thus size becomes a BFOQ and a legitimate way of screening

applicants for that particular job.

A maker of men’s clothes can reasonably screen out women from the applicant pool for models—but they

can’t eliminate female applicants from consideration for a sales position. Or they could, but only if they

could show that maintaining a masculine public image was integral to the success of the company. For

example, you could imagine a company called Manly Incorporated, which sold products based on the

premise that every employee was a quality control officer.

Along similar lines, a Catholic school may screen atheists from the search for a teacher, but it’s harder to

justify that filter for janitors. At the airport security line women can be assigned to pat down women and

men to men, but either may apply for the job to hand check the carry-on bags.

Another common screen is education. Imagine you have just opened a local franchise of Jan-Pro, which

offers commercial cleaning services to car dealerships, gyms, banks, churches, and schools.
[6]

What level

of education will you be looking for in potential employees? Since the job involves mixing chemicals, it

seems like requiring some basic education is a fair demand, but is a college degree necessary for the work?

You may have one as a manager, but that doesn’t mean you should necessarily demand that much from

employees. And on the other side, is it fair to screen out someone who’s got too much education, say a

master’s degree in chemistry? It does seems reasonable to suspect that this kind of person will soon

become bored pushing a vacuum over carpets.

Then again, do you know that will happen? Is it fair to screen based on what you suspect might occur?

Another type of screening catches high-risk lifestyles. Smoking is one of the most often cited, and the

Humana company in Ohio is one of a growing number that’s directly banning smoking—on or off work—

by new employees.
[7]

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These healthy lifestyle policies set off firestorms of ethical debates. With respect to smoking and in broad

strokes, the company has an interest in prohibiting smoking because that should mean healthier workers,

fewer sick days, lower health insurance premiums, and higher productivity. In short: better working

workers. On the other side, job applicants (at least the smokers) don’t believe that they’re less productive

than everyone else, and anyway, they resent being excluded for a recreational habit pursued on their own

time. In long discussion boards—there are hundreds online—the debate plays out. Here’s one exchange

from a typical board:

bonos_rama:

I wouldn’t hire anyone that has a habit of leaving their desk every hour to stand outside for

10 minutes. Doesn’t matter if it’s to smoke, drink coke, or pass gas that they’re leaving, it’s

bad for productivity.

Mother of a

Dr.:

But it’s OK to stand by the coffee pot and discuss sports and politics? Productivity actually

improves when you get away from the computer every hour.

matt12341:

Even discounting the productivity argument, smokers tend to have more long-term health

problems, leading to higher insurance premiums so companies end up paying more.

jamiewb:

What if we apply this logic to people who are overweight? What about people who have a

family history of cancer? Or a higher incidence of diabetes? As long as it doesn’t impact job

performance, I don’t think it’s fair to refuse to hire smokers.

happily-

retired:

I think it is a great idea to not hire smokers. Up next should be obesity, as it leads to diabetes,

heart problems, joint problems, etc. Companies following that path would be demonstrating

good corporate citizenship by fostering a healthier America.

Zom Zom:

Yes, the good citizenship of fascism. Now my employer has the right to dictate what I do with

my body? “Land of the free,” unless your boss doesn’t like the choices you make.
[8]

You can see that underneath the back-and-forth, this is ultimately a debate about ethical perspectives.

One side tends toward a utilitarian position: the greater good in terms of health and related issues justifies

the filtering of smokers in hiring decisions. The other side tends toward a fundamental rights position:

what I do with my time and body is my decision only. Both sides have strong arguments.

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Criminal record screening is another common filter for job applicants. Most states won’t allow employers

to deny someone fair consideration for a job only because of a prior criminal conviction. There’s wiggle

room, though. In New York, Article 23-A of the correction law certifies that employment may be denied if

 there’s a direct relationship between the criminal offense committed and the employment sought,

 the applicant would pose an unreasonable risk to property or the safety or welfare of others.

Those are big loopholes. The first one means the Brinks armored car company can legally refuse to

consider ex-bank robbers for a position. It may also apply to the shoplifter who wants to be a cashier or

the drug dealer who wants a job in the pharmacy.

The second exception is still broader and applied in Grafter v. New York City Civil Service

Commission.
[9]

In that case, the Fire Department of New York refused to hire Grafter because he’d been

caught drunk driving on his last job. A potentially drunken fireman does seem like a risk to the welfare of

others. Pushing that further out, the same would probably go if he applied to be a taxi driver. In fact, the

list of jobs that may seem dangerous for others if the worker is drunk extends a long way, probably

everything in construction, transportation, or anything with heavy equipment. So the law does allow

employers to resist hiring convicts across a significant range of wrongdoing.

Finally, the basic ethical tension pulls in three competing directions for any manager facing a criminal

hiring decision:

1. The ethical responsibility to recovering criminals. Rehabilitation (via honest work) is good for ex-

convicts.

2. The manager’s responsibility to the company. Managers need to avoid problems whenever

possible and keep the machine running smoothly so profits flow smoothly too.

3. The company’s responsibility to the general public. If a taxi syndicate is hiring ex-drunk drivers,

you’ve got to figure something’s going to go wrong sooner or later, and when it does, the person who put

the driver behind the wheel will be partially responsible.

Social media is another potential filter. Fifty-six percent of millennial believe that the words and pictures

they put on Facebook and Twitter shouldn’t be allowed to factor into hiring decisions.
[10]

Recruitment

officers, they’re saying, shouldn’t be going through online photo albums to check out the kinds of things

you and your buddies do on Friday nights.

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From the employers’ side, however, the argument in favor of checking the pages is simple. If an applicant

is sufficiently incautious to leave pictures of massive beer funnel inhalations available for just anyone to

see—and if they do that while they’re trying to put their best face forward as job seekers—then God knows

what kind of stuff will be circulating once they’ve got a job. As a manager, it’s part of your job to protect

the company’s public image, which means you’ve got to account for clients and others maybe running the

same Google and Facebook searches that you are.

It’s an easy scenario to imagine: you hire someone with a flamboyant online life. Soon after, a client

working with her gets nosey does a Google image search, and what comes in at the top of the list is a

picture of your new employee slamming beers, chain-smoking cigarettes, or maybe inhaling something

that’s not legal. This isn’t good and the person who looks really bad is the supposedly mature manager

who allowed the whole thing to happen by hiring her.

Of course there’s always the standard but still powerful argument that what employees do after hours is

their own business, but one of the realities inherent in the Internet is that there is no such thing as “after

hours” anymore. Once something goes online, it’s there all the time, forever. Managers need to take

account of that reality, which might mean rethinking old rules about privacy.

Testing

Once an ad has been placed, and applicants have been pooled, …

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