The Ethics of Seduction by Induction


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Chris Bauer helps organizations prevent potentially costly ethical problems. I routinely receive his simple and straightforward reminders on ethics by email. Chris has allowed us to reprint his copy written article below on a topic that we always like to help reinforce.

Accepting incentives or inducements for personal gain in the context of a public employee is serious. Terms such as receipt of gratuities, bribery, kickbacks, or unlawful compensation, helps illustrate this point. Remember to protect yourselves by following the provisions of the department’s Ethical Conduct Policy, 001-010-020.

 The Ethics of Seduction by Induction

Whether it’s goods, services or information, everyone in your organization – including you – is buying, selling, or trading something all day long. For better or worse, along with buying, selling, and trading inevitably come concerns about the definition, use, and acceptance of incentives and inducements. Unless your organization happens to have very clear rules about what you can and cannot offer or accept as a gift or other incentive, guidelines can be extremely murky [We do have these clear rules in DOT]. Though admittedly imperfect, here is the best general set of guidelines I have been able to devise:

  • The more something adds value for your organization, the more likely it is to truly be an incentive and acceptable both legally and ethically. It could be a price break on an item of competitive quality or an offer to do other business at a similarly good rate, etc. The essential factor is that it is clearly a ‘value-added’ proposition and serves to assure that the deal is the best possible one for whoever your organization.
  • The more something adds value for the purchaser personally and not the purchaser’s customer, the more certain it is to be an inducement and needs to be avoided at all costs. Why? Because it doesn’t make something the best deal. Rather, it increases the likelihood that the purchaser will accept something other than the best deal for their customer in exchange for profiting personally.

It doesn’t matter what you are buying, selling or trading, the same principles holds true. The benefits of the deal are to be made by the buyer’s employer or customer and not the individual doing the buying.

Ethically, there is simply no way to justify either seducing customers by inducements or being seduced by them yourself. Should any type of offer feel even remotely like an inducement and you can’t restructure the arrangement appropriately, it is best to run in the opposite direction as quickly as possible.

Reprinted by permission. Bauer Ethics Seminars, 1604 Burton Avenue, Nashville, TN 37215, USA

Article by Bob Clift, Inspector General