Is this ethical?

I guess this is probably the right forum. If not, some mod can move it along.

I received an e-mail at work today, and I work for state government. Recently the state government has enacted a set of policies, one of which is a requirement that all employees in the various departments sign and adhere to a code of ethics by a certain date. The COE is written by each department as part of a review process.

The problem is that the COE that I’m being asked to sign isn’t the final COE, it’s one that’s been thrown together in order to meet the deadline. It also only applies to a specific subset of employees, not the organization as a whole. Further, it should have been signed by September 4, but we just received it today. Lastly the employees who sign the COE are supposed to have received training in ethics, presumably prior to signing, and no one in my department has.

IMHO, this isn’t an ethical situation, and I have no intention of signing the COE. I’m curious what you guys think - is it even ethical to ask me to do this?

IANAL, nor do I work in the public sector.

IMHO, it would not be out of line for you to refuse to sign it, because if you did, you would be saying you had had training and had received the final copy, and you didn’t.

They want you to sign saying you’ve done ABC, which you cannot honestly say you have done, so you don’t need to sign it. I would explain to TPTB why you’re not signing it so they can get things straightened out.

Wow - state gov’t sounds a lot like fed gov’t.

I don’t sign unless what I’m signing is accurate. You never know when your signature could come back to bite you in the ass.

That’s kinda how I look at it. Basically, I’m being asked to lie, on paper. It’s ironic that I’m being asked to sign an ethics agreement. . .

You’re not alone.

I wouldn’t sign it if I didn’t agree with it, but can’t they fire you for not signing? I dunno…ethics are important, but a signature certainly isn’t going to stop the unethical from carrying out their unethical deeds. It just smacks of so much blah, blah, blah to me.

Swampwolf - that was funny as hell.

Kalhoun - I don’t see how they could possibly fire me for not signing. I’m pretty sure they’d have trouble justifying it. And I’m not saying I’ll never sign a COE, I’m just not going to sign one under false pretenses.

You have every right to tell your boss, “I’d love to sign this, the moment I get out of the COE training. Until then, I don’t want to perjure myself.”
IANAL, but any document you sign for the state government is probably considered a legal document, and giving false information may be perjury.

Write a paper letter (not an email, not a voice mail, not a conversation) explaining why you will not be signing it and send it to the appropriate parties (your immediate supervisor, possibly someone in HR or Training, whoever’s in charge of creating the ethics statement) and be sure to note explicitly that you will be happy to sign a final version after receiving the required training. Keep a copy for yourself.

Oddly, I was just thinking this morning about the last time I was asked to sign a “code of conduct”-style document, for a job about ten years ago. There was some piece of language that concerned me and I talked to my boss about it and her response was “It doesn’t mean anything.” If it doesn’t mean anything then what does it matter if I don’t sign it? IIRC, I signed a scribble that looked sort of like my signature but wasn’t and probably thought I was damn clever for doing it. Nothing ever happened but I don’t recommend that course of action.

I would definitely do this if someone above me began to pressure me to sign, but if there is not yet pressure to sign, this could backfire–not in terms of immediate repercussions , but in terms of career.

Suppose A tells B to tell your boss, C, that the signed forms have to be in by a certain date and B is the one who has not gotten the rigamarole sorted out. Hitting HR and A with the news that B has, effectively, failed in his mission to create the rigamarole will not make B a happy person. As long as you are not being ordered to sign against your will, there is not yet a reason to go tattling on B.

Good point TND. I sent an e-mail back to my supervisor stating that I wasn’t going to sign it and why, and haven’t heard anything back on it yet. In a one on one meeting yesterday my supervisor told me that she hadn’t signed it either, for the same reasons, and had forwarded it along because the boss of our department required it. I though that was a little cheesy myself - if you’re going to take a stand on principle don’t be wishy-washy about it, ya know?

The COE includes a hotline number to report suspected violations of ethics - I’m tempted to call it and make a report. My big worry there is that, no matter what they say, nothing is really anonymous.

I’d be even more worried that, no matter what they say, nothing will get done.

I wouldn’t sign it unless pressed to do so. If pressed, I’d strikethrough every sentence that wasn’t true or that I disagreed with, initial each change in the margin, and sign it.

And as for any language that you’re told “doesn’t mean anything”? Bullshit. Those things are generally vetted a number of times and a final version has been reviewed by several people many times. Any language that truly doesn’t mean anything isn’t there- if it’s there, someone wanted it there. If it causes you a problem, employ the strikethrough technique. I do it all the time.

That’s the funniest part of this whole thing. This version isn’t even the final version, it’s been thrown together (misspellings and all) at the last second in order to meet a deadline. I guess that I could reasonably accept that I’m not allowed to drevulge information to people if they’d tell me what drevulge means.

dre’vulge (dre-vulj) v (portmonteau of “dredge” + “divulge”)

  1. To give information not easily come by.
  2. To air dirty laundry; to tell unflattering secrets.

You should avoid drevulgement anyway, as it is bad manners. That they need you to sign something to that effect tells me that they don’t trust you. Get out!