One of the partners from an accounting firm goes to one of the computer technicians and recommends him to go to one of their clients from the firm and installs a computer program with one of the licenses from the firm. The technician tells the partner that he cannot install the program because it is illegal to install programs in other computers without the right licensing. The technician also recommended that it would be better for the client to buy the license and that he would install the program for his company. His boss answered that he is one of the most important clients in the office and that the client wasn’t interested in buying the program. Nevertheless, he promised that they would install the program and that he shouldn’t worry because he would make himself responsible. What are the possible solutions available to the technician and what should he do? (15 Marks)

Mentors Comments: 

  • The question is an example of a typical problem concerning ethics, that we encounter in our everyday life. Its main purpose is to test our ability to identify the key ethical issues involved in the question and form a practical yet ethical opinion as to what should be done in this regard.
  • Discuss points about the possible alternative solutions available in this situation. E.g installing the software; not installing the software; installing as well as informing all the stakeholders etc.
  • Discuss the ethical, legal and professional implications of each of the decisions/ solutions.
  • Based on your discussion, form a personal opinion as to what should be done in this regard.

 

Answer:

The above case study deals with the employee facing the ethical dilemma of whether to follow his employer’s orders or do the job ethically.

The possible options available to the computer technician are:

  • The computer technician can follow his superior’s orders and install the program for the client’s company. This would ensure the job of the technician is not lost and as the employer itself has already told the technician that he would take responsibility if anything goes wrong so he can install the software freely without any liability.
  • The computer technician can reject his superior’s orders and act ethically by rejecting it. He can make the employer understand the consequences of the move adversely. Even when the employer does not listen then he might reject the order.
  • It would be unethical for the technician to install the software. The technician is being asked to install the software on someone else’s computer, not the computer of the technician’s company. Were it the computer of the technician’s company, the technician could claim that he or she is only following orders for the partner’s responsibility. But assuming the software has the customary non-transferability clause, meaning the holder of the license cannot extend the license to others, the partner is not only creating liability for the technician but for the client, as well. The partner cannot make himself responsible for doing something that the client is liable for.
  • As with most property cases this one touches on fairly well developed legal notions. The ethical thing for the technician to do is also the legally correct thing to do: to refuse to carry out the instructions. As a practical matter, the technician probably has to weigh the extent and role of corruption in the situation, the consequences for refusal, and the protections for people who do the right thing. Ethics is not about always doing the right thing, but about being able to know the difference between right and wrong.

 

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