Sunday, October 05, 2008


When does a colleague's behavior rise -- or sink -- to the level at which it warrants being reported to your bosses? Does he or she need to do something egregious, perhaps illegal? Or can it simply be something that doesn't meet your own sense of propriety?

Unless driven by a desire to pay back someone for inappropriate actions or by an unhealthy dose of schadenfreude, employees rarely take joy in ratting out those with whom they work. That explains why one of my readers is struggling to decide what to do.

He is a consultant who was recently hired by a large company to complete a project in the field alongside another contract consultant. In the course of conversation, he writes, the other consultant "disclosed that her consumption of alcohol during a business trip was four to six drinks each evening. I observed such while having dinner with her."

He told her that he rarely drank alcohol while on business trips, in order to maintain his focus, and that he was uncomfortable hearing about her alcohol consumption and would decline to eat with her on future trips.

She seemed to have a hard time getting to work by 8 a.m. and required several cups of coffee to get going, my reader reports, and her production was considerably less than his. Nonetheless, her work has not been questioned by their employer.

The company travel policy states that alcohol consumed during a business meal is reimbursable "assuming the quantity and costs are within reason." Their job does not involve operating equipment, and he has never witnessed her driving after she had consumed alcohol.

My reader could refuse the work assignment with her, but that would cost him lost income. Aside from making her aware of his discomfort with her alcohol consumption, my reader asks, what other ethical obligations might he have?

My reader did the right thing by letting his colleague know that he was uncomfortable discussing how much alcohol she consumed during the business trip. He also was correct in removing himself from future situations that might cause equal discomfort.

But, having ascertained that she is not putting others in harm's way by driving or operating heavy equipment while intoxicated, he has done as much as he can ethically do.

If their employer doesn't have a problem with reimbursing her for her excessive drinking, it is not my reader's role to tell them that their policy is wrong. Likewise, if the employer regards her work as acceptable, it is not up to my reader to determine that she's not performing up to snuff, drinks or no drinks.

While I don't encourage or condone excessive drinking on business trips, it's beyond the scope of my reader's job as a consultant who is only a casual colleague, or of my job as an ethics columnist who doesn't know her at all, to say conclusively that she has a drinking problem and needs help. It would be a very good idea for her to seek help, even if her drinking is not yet affecting her work. But it's a decision that she will have to make for herself.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mr. "know-it-all" is letting his caretaking get in the way of his duty to take care of himself and let his collegue run her own life. There are too many people in the business world who think it is their business to regulate the lives of their business associates. There is a verse in the Bible "how can you see the beam in your friend's eye, when you do not see the log in your own eye", or words to that effect. Unless the collegue's drinking is affecting his own work, then he should mind his own business. For sure, going to the boss about this is the wrong thing to do. It is almost certain that the boss already knows about this situation.

Charlie Seng