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“The Padding that Hurt”: Human Resource and Ethics

The case scenario The padding that hurt does appear to contain a number of ethical issues, which call to be resolved in one way or another. The main of them can be outlined as follows. Should Sue Davenport (Human Resources Director) persist with insisting that Dan Murphy (Senior Vice-President) must be held accountable for his fraudulent activities – something that may cost Davenport her job? Or, should she instead just stick to the advice of the Audit Committee Chair to let go of her insistence, in this respect, in exchange for being appointed to head the Company’s new Quality Assurance Division?

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The fact that the mentioned issue is indeed ethical can be illustrated, in regards to the clear ethical implications of the concerned person’s would-be decision to tackle the Chair’s proposition either positively or negatively. After all, if decided to push with the case, as the corporate code of ethics prescribes, Davenport (a single parent) will be facing the prospect of not being able to provide for her four children. Hence, Davenport’s actual dilemma – do the considerations of ensuring the well-being of her children surpasses those, concerned with the person’s possession of the acute sense of professional responsibleness?

Another issue of the clearly ethical importance has to do with the fact that, as the case scenario implies, not disclosing information about the incidents of corruption that take place within the company, may, in fact, prove beneficial to this company’s functional integrity. As it was mentioned in the case scenario, “The Chair countered that Murphy’s actions were not widely known and that morale would suffer more if he was disciplined than if the incident was glossed over” (The padding that hurt, p. 2).

Such a situation, however, is clearly unethical – at least in the formal sense of this word. Moreover, it presupposes that requiring employers to observe the code of corporate ethics, while they address their professional duties, may be deprived of any rationale, whatsoever. After all, making exemptions out of a particular rule has always been considered the actual indication of this rule’s lack of discursive soundness. In light of this suggestion, Davenport’s appointment would signify her willingness to turn a blind eye to the violations of the company’s ethical code by employees in the future, for as long as it helps this company to remain competitive – a clearly unethical development.

The case scenario’s third most important ethical issue is concerned with the fact that it implies that it is not utterly uncommon among top-executives to resort to intimidation, as the most effective way of ‘correcting’ the behaviour their subordinates. After all, the CEO’s hint that Davenport and Robert Drew (internal auditor) may no longer be considered valuable employees, in case they refuse to drop their charges against Murphy, was essentially a threat. It is understood, of course, that this practice’s continual deployment can hardly be considered appropriate, as it stands in contradiction to the very notion of ethics. At the same time, however, the fact that intimidation continues to remain one of the most effective methods of organisational governance may also be regarded as such that implies the discursive outdatedness of the notion of corporate ethics in its present form.

Even though there can be only a few doubts as to the clearly ethical sounding of Davenport’s dilemma, the application of different ethical theories to assess the case in question will result in yielding a number of equally valid and yet conceptually inconsistent insights into what should be considered the ethically appropriate approach for addressing the challenge, on her part.

For example, if assessed through the conceptual lenses of the ethical theory of Egoism, the most ethically appropriate course of action, on the part of Davenport, would be deemed her willingness to accept the Chair’s proposition. The reason for this is that the mentioned theory is based upon the assumption that, “An act is morally right if and only if no alternative to that act has higher agent utility than it has” (Burgess-Jackson, 2013, p. 533). In other words, while deciding in favour of either to accept or to decline the offer to head the Quality Assurance Division, Davenport would have to be mainly concerned with reacting to this offer in the manner most beneficial to her personal well-being. In its turn, this would naturally make her conclude that acting as a responsible mother of four should be prioritised above remaining committed to the provisions of the company’s code of ethics. Consequently, Davenport would be much more likely to go along with the Chair’s suggestion.

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Had Davenport been the proponent of the ethical theory Utilitarianism, she would have handled the situation quite similarly. The logic behind this suggestion has to do with the Utilitarian proposition that, in order for a particular course of action to be considered morally sound, it must be capable of serving the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of people – even if it happens at the expense neglecting the would-be ensued negative effects. As Shoemaker (2000) pointed out, “Utilitarianism is an ethical theory for ranking various outcomes from an impersonal standpoint. Utilitarians hold that the best stale of affairs among relevant alternatives contain the greatest net balance of aggregate individual welfare” (p. 185).

What it means is that, while thinking ‘utilitarian’ Davenport will inevitably come to recognize the validity of the Chair’s suggestion that it would be so much better for the company (and consequently its employees) if the information about Murphy’s infidelities were to be kept in secret. After all, this would indeed contribute towards helping the company to retain its operant integrity. Moreover, Davenport’s positive reaction to the offer to be put in charge of managing the Quality Assurance Division would empower her rather substantially, within the context of how she would go about making sure that the company’s code of ethics never gets violated again – something that should prove beneficial to the majority of stakeholders in the long run.

Nevertheless, if Davenport were to choose in favour of the ethical theory of Deontology, as the instrument of addressing the Chair’s request, she would be most likely to reject it, as morally inappropriate. The fact that this indeed would have been the case can be illustrated, in regards to this theory’s main assertion that “There are other considerations that may make an action or rule right or obligatory besides the goodness or badness of its consequences – certain features of the act itself other than the value it brings into existence, for example, the fact that it keeps a promise, is just, or is commanded by God or the state” (Gaus, 2001, p. 28).

After all, as the provided quotation implies, Davenport would consider her willingness to agree to the offer to be the proof of its lessened value, as an employee. The reason for this is quite obvious – Davenport would not be able to accept this offer, other than by the mean of breaking the company’s ethical code, which she as the Human Resource Director is expected to enforce. However, the Deontological approach to ethics is very specific about what should be deemed the indication of one’s unethical news – his or her inability to tackle professional challenges in full compliance with the applicable word of the law.

Another major ethical theory, within the conceptual framework of which Davenport could have dealt with the issue, is commonly referred to as Care Ethics. According to it, when it comes to making one or another ethics-related decision, a person must take into consideration the would-be induced synergistic effects on the community of the potentially affected stakeholders. As Vanlaere and Gastmans (2011) noted, “Care ethics is an ethical approach that offers an overall analysis of moral behaviour. It approaches this behaviour in the context of specific care relationships.

This ‘contextual and relational sensitivity’, in particular, is characteristic of care ethics (p. 162). Given the fact that Davenport’s negative reaction to the Chair’s offer will inevitably result in intensifying the severity of emotional tensions among employees within the company, which in turn will have a strongly negative effect of the company’s performance, it would make much ethical sense for her to agree to cooperate with the Audit Committee Chair, in this respect. By doing it, she will be able to contribute to maintaining the organization’s structural integrity. In light of this consideration, Davenport’s willingness to forget about Murphy’s infidelities would have proven a small price to pay.

Finally, Davenport could have chosen the methodological framework of the so-called Virtue Ethics theory for addressing the issue. The main discursive premise of this theory is that “To know that an action is morally right is to know that we cannot be blamed for doing it, although we might not also know whether it is wrong not to do it… When an act is morally wrong, it has something deplorable about it” (Hacker-Wright, 2010, p. 210). What this means is that, prior to taking practical advantage of the theory in question, Davenport would have to identify the qualitative aspects of her own attitude towards the prospects of tackling the situation in one way or another.

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Then, she would be in the position to react to the Chair’s offer in the least guilt-ridden and therefore – more or less ethically sound manner. Given the fact that throughout the case’s entirety, Davenport continued to exhibit the lack of emotional comfy with the idea that Murphy should be allowed to get away with what he had done, it will be logical to conclude that she will decide to reject this offer, as morally wicked.

Even though, as it was shown earlier, there are a few ethical theories that can be deployed by Davenport, while in the process of making her mind about what represents the morally virtuous way to deal with the mentioned offer, it would prove impossible to come up with any assertive recommendations, as to how she should react to it. The reason for this is that, as practice indicates, one’s tendency to act alongside one of the earlier outlined ethical theories is reflective of his or her cognitive/perceptual predispositions, which in turn appear to be predetermined by whatever happens to be the concerned person’s genetic makeup. In other words, it is namely our deep-seated and highly subjective sense of ‘wrong’ and ‘right’, which defines our attitudes towards the issues of ethical significance, and consequently – towards the applicable theories of ethics.

If, for example, the workings of Davenport’s psyche had the quality of being ‘Faustian’ (concerned with the affiliated people’s unconscious belief that conflict is the core of existence), she would be more likely to decide in favour of continuing to press charges against Murphy, as the most ethically sound course of action, on her part. Davenport’s likelihood to act in this way would be heightened even further if her psychological phenotype was that of an ‘introvert’ – a person who experiences the anxiety of self-reflection on a continual basis.

Alternatively, has Davenport been an ‘Apollonian’ (someone who strives to ‘blend’ with the surrounding social/natural environment, without aspiring to control it), she would undoubtedly find the Chair’s line of argumentation perfectly convincing (Greenwood, 2009). Her decision-supporting considerations would come rather instrumental, in this respect. This, in turn, validates the idea that neither of the mentioned ethical theories represents an undisputed truth-value. Apparently, regardless of what is going to be Davenport’s final decision (as to how she should handle the situation); it will necessarily be ‘egoist’ to an extent.

Nevertheless, it will be thoroughly appropriate to suggest that, for Davenport’s would-be decision to be more likely to end up recognized thoroughly ethical, it must correlate with the currently dominant socio-cultural discourse in the West. In its turn, this discourse revolves around the neoliberal assumption that people’s endowment with the sense of irrational greed is exactly what makes possible the continuation of the socio-economic progress. The discourse in question is concerned with promoting yet another idea – people should be allowed to pursue riches in just about every way they consider the most fitting, even at the expense of destroying the society’s integrity from within (Heise, 2011).

Therefore, Murphy’s fraudulent activities can be interpreted as the sign of his endowment with entrepreneurial industriousness – a rather ‘virtuous’ existential trait in today’s West. Even though Murphy’s tendency to steal from the company is indeed rather despicable, it is nothing to be getting too upset about – especially given that only a few individuals are aware of it. It is specifically the fact that Murphy was not smart enough to leave the traces of such his activities that appears to be more deplorable, than the actual act of theft, on his part, with the latter fitting perfectly well into the definition of ‘victimless crime’. Why should anyone care about $30.000 stolen, while the Federal Reserve continues to put billions and billions of freshly printed USD into the circulation every year, without giving much thought to what would be the eventual consequences?

Despite the fact that this kind of logic sounds discursively illegitimate, it nevertheless does define the corporate realities in the growing number of Western companies. This simply could not be otherwise – being in charge of running a company at the time of the on-going economic recession, which is yet to attain a much higher momentum, naturally predisposes one to think short-term. Thus, Murphy’s theft is hardly something that should be brought against him – it is nothing but the extrapolation of his unconscious anxieties, associated with the realities of today’s living in the West. Because of this, Murphy should be defined as the victim of circumstances, and consequently sparred from being subjected to any punitive action.

Thus, it will be thoroughly logical to suggest that Davenport would be much better off addressing the Chair’s offer as an egoist (accepting it), which in turn will enable her to retain its job and to continue being referred to as a responsible parent. After all, for Davenport to believe that her intervention would change things for the better within the company, she must be assured that despite the conniving/thieving activities, on the part of some of the company’s top executives, most individuals affiliated with it, adhere to the principle of corporate (not personal) solidarity.

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However, given what we know from the provided case scenario, this is clearly not the case, because it is specifically the principle of personal solidarity, which appears to define the interpersonal dynamics within the company. What it means is that Davenport’s decision in favour of trying to bring Murphy to justice would result in having a negative effect on the company’s functioning, as a system. Thus, by adopting an egoist stance, in regards to the ethical issue in question, she would not only be able to take care of her personal interests but also to contribute to the company’s systemic well-being. Davenport should just forget the ‘unpleasantness’, as advised by the Chair. I believe that this conclusion is consistent with the overall logic of argumentation, deployed throughout the paper.


Burgess-Jackson, K. (2013). Taking egoism seriously. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 16 (3), 529-542.

Gaus, G. (2001). What is deontology? Part one: Orthodox views. Journal of Value Inquiry, 35 (1), 27-42.

Greenwood, S. (2009). Anthropology of magic. Oxford: Berg Publishers. Hacker-Wright, J. (2010). Virtue ethics without right action: Anscombe, foot, and contemporary virtue ethics. Journal of Value Inquiry, 44 (2), 209-224.

Heise, T. (2011). American psycho: Neoliberal fantasies and the death of downtown. The Arizona Quarterly, 67 (1), 135-160.

Shoemaker, D. (2000). Utilitarianism and personal identity. Journal of Value Inquiry, 33 (2), 183-199. The padding that hurt. Case Scenario.

Vanlaere, L., & Gastmans, C. (2011). A personalist approach to careethics. Nursing Ethics, 18 (2), 161-173.

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