Michael Davis' Commentary on "New Supervisor Policies"
What makes this case seem hard is that everything is, or at
least seems to be, extreme. Tom Banks is in the last day of his
month's training. According to his trainer, Charles Yost, Banks
is already good enough to be out on his own. Banks agrees. Yost
is also quite ill, his sick leave already exhausted, and his
finances so bad that he can't afford to take off a day without
pay. He is unwilling to tell his superior, Howard Hanson, any
of this. He tells Banks, "Howard doesn't have anyone available
to replace me this week and this job can't wait." All this may
be as it seems. Then again, it may not be.
For example, Hanson might have someone to spare for a day of
supervising or he might do it himself. He might even be willing
to wait until Monday. After all, his motto is "Better late than
sorry!" What Yost is proposing to Banks is that they cut Hanson
out of the decision-making process, that they take over
management of this job to do something (they should know) their
employer would probably not approve. Whether or not Banks is
ready to supervise installation of containers on his own is
almost irrelevant. Though later events may suggest Banks needs
more training, he has already received as much training as he
is going to get. One day more or less should make no difference
to his reliability.
The question is simply who should decide to put aside
Axtell's standard procedures for the convenience of one of
Axtell's employees. Clearly, Hanson should. Even in the short
run, this might also be the more prudent course. Hanson could
do things neither Yost nor Banks could. For example, Hanson
might have informed Cameron Chemical, the company for whom the
work was to be done, obtained its approval for Banks to work
alone, and told Banks to go ahead. Hanson might have thought
such a departure from his usual (but not legally mandated)
procedure permissible given both Banks' training and Cameron's
approval. Well, that's not how Banks thought about it. He and
Yost made the decision on their own. By all rights, that should
have been the end of it. But it was not.
Three installations performed on that day seem to have been
defective. Chemicals leaking from three containers damaged
valuable equipment. Cameron is threatening to sue. What should
Banks tell Hanson when he tries to find out what happened? The
truth: though the records report that he and Yost inspected the
three installations on the last day of his training period, in
fact he alone inspected the, Yost being too ill to do his part.
Why not tell Hanson that? He needs the information to formulate
his legal strategy. The information is hardly decisive. It
reveals Hanson's legal position to be only slightly weaker than
he supposed it to be. Axtell's procedure at Cameron on that
day, though not quite Axtell's usual procedure, still went well
beyond what the law requires or the industry generally
practices. Cameron's storage facility, improper handling of the
containers,or even sabotage still remain more likely than three
improper installations Banks failed to catch.
People not used to business often panic at the first mention
of a law suit. Yet, law suits are simply part of doing business
(and usually end up as disputes between insurance companies).
Hanson should no more be shielded from the facts while he
prepares for the suit than he should have been shielded from
deciding whether Banks should go it alone. Once Hanson knows
what happened, he will be in a better position to decide
whether to fight or settle. But what if Hanson responds,
"That's not what I want to hear"? Banks should look Hanson in
the eye: "I'm sorry, Howard, I failed you when I was a trainee.
I've learned my lesson. I've learned to keep you informed. You
can fire me if you like, but I'm not going to lie for you.
Think about it: If I lie for you in court, will you ever be
able to trust me again? Can you run this business with liars?"
Whatever Hanson answers, Banks should not lie about any of
this. Lying is never part of an engineer's job. (NSPE Code
If, however, Hanson simply asks Banks not to volunteer the
information to anyone else, Banks should do as told. Indeed, he
should keep quiet anyway. The information in question is
clearly confidential. (NSPE Code III.4.) Though there are times
when confidentiality must be violated, this is not one of them.
Neither the public health, safety, or welfare is at stake.
Banks does not know, or even have good reason to believe, he
made any error at Cameron. Banks should not worry about working
with Axtell's lawyer. Presumably the lawyer will coach Banks in
how to avoid revealing confidential information during legal
proceedings, not try to get him to lie about what happened at
Cameron. Like engineers, lawyers have a code of ethics. Their
code forbids them to cooperate in perjury.
Cite this page:
"Michael Davis' Commentary on "New Supervisor Policies""
Online Ethics Center for Engineering
National Academy of Engineering
Accessed: Saturday, May 25, 2013