I recently read an interesting and almost comical—if it weren’t so tragic—online forum conversation between a handful of people who were discussing the ethics of a pharmaceutical sales rep reportedly selling samples out of her car. The debate was over whether to report her through the company’s compliance reporting ethics hotline or to take the attitude, as one person said, of “see nothing… hear nothing… report nothing…. Comfortable and prefer to keep it that way.”
Are these employees really that callus toward their company’s ethics programs? The contributors to this forum—all anonymous, so we can’t know for sure whether or not they are really employees of the pharma company in question—are almost unanimous in their belief that their jobs will be in jeopardy if they go out on the proverbial limb and report suspect behavior. From the tone of the diatribe, one can assume that the pharma company doesn’t have the most sterling of reputations when it comes to ethics and the welfare of their employees. While one forum poster references company-required ethics training, he or she goes on to point out that both the fraudulent sales rep AND the fellow employee who knows of the fraud (unless they file a report) could be held liable for the violations under the rule of policy mandated by the company. The pseudo-employee is in a no-win situation.
None of this speaks well for the state of ethics and compliance reporting at this company, but it’s also very disturbing to think that employees of any organization are aware of their ethics program but afraid to use it for fear of retaliation. It’s evident in this instance that reported incidents are taken behind closed doors and remediation is not much of an option. Perhaps it’s time for this company, and maybe all of us, to take an introspective moment to take a look at the ethics of our ethics.