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Made to Do the Dirty Work

DILEMMA:

I moved to New York, hoping to get into the fashion business. But I needed an income, so I took a position as a sales clerk at a women’s clothing store. I am a hard worker, and soon found out many around me were not. Within six months, I had several promotions, including the most recent one, where I was made the supervisor of the cashiers. I took the responsibility seriously because it is important to make sure the money is handled well.

Not long ago, my boss came to me and told me to fire one of the cashiers for what I considered a small offense and not worthy of dismissal. It did not involve missing money. I explained that this was a minor, first offense, and the person had not received either the proper warning or any training related to doing better. I wanted to work with the person and give her a chance to succeed. My boss insists that the person must be terminated and I am the one who must do this. What should I do?

An East Coast Store Manager

RESPONSE:

Dear East Coast:

Thanks for writing. Unfortunately, getting caught between the demands of a supervisor and a task you deem to be unfair is not an uncommon situation in a work setting. With the facts you present, you should be credited for seeing the situation as one that possibly involves injustice, and for wanting to work with the employee in question.

Is it possible to go to your supervisor again to ask the reasons for firing the employee in question? Perhaps there is more to the picture than what you are seeing. If your supervisor insists that you fire the employee based only on the reason you have conveyed, you could: (1) Object and try to persuade him or her to reconsider based upon principles of fairness. (2) Take your concerns up the chain of command or to human resources. (3) Quit in protest.

I suggest trying options 1 and 2 first. The third option would likely be the least helpful, since your employee will probably lose her position, too, and nothing will have been accomplished in addressing the fairness of the situation.

Kenman Wong
Professor of Ethics, School of Business and Economics
Seattle Pacific University

If you have an ethical dilemma at your workplace,
email Ethics at Work (eaw@ethix.org).
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Ethix along with our diagnosis.

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