Overhearing a conversation concerning a potentially immoral and illegal act concerning public safety, one is put into an awkward situation of making hard choices directly affecting safety and livelihood of many individuals. It is of utmost importance to consider both the immediate and long term ramifications of any action you may take in such a precarious situation. In the situation of overhearing the Vice President of Production ask the environmental consultant advice on how to dump toxic waste into a holding pond, it becomes apparent there are both civil and criminal issues to consider.
Reaching the appropriate decision of what action to take is not an easy decision. Environmental ethics relies heavily on the business’s commitment to minimizing environmental harm. As the assistant to the Vice president you have an ethical obligation to your boss, the company, and the community. As an employee, you must decide how to handle the information you overhear the Vice President discussing with the companies environmental consultant. Breaches in ethics regarding the conversation you overhear vary in severity.
The first matter to consider would be whether or not what you overhear the UP and consultant discuss is fact or hearsay. The conversation between the Vice President and consultant regarding dumping into the holding pond has the potential to cause the environment harm. There are basically two ways to handle the conversation overheard. As an employee you must decide whether to go internally with the information you overheard. Should you go to the President of the company? You risk the fact that the President may be fully aware of the conversation between the Vice President and the consultant.
If you feel this may be the case, you should consider weightlessness. Going straight to the appropriate state or federal agency with the information you have heard. As an employee you could face the legal ramifications if your company violates any State or Federal Acts to protect the environment. As a whistler’s you would most likely be protected from civil liability should the company perform an illegal activity. The breach in ethics would be whether or not to covey the information internally or externally.
If the information is not released internally to the President the company could suffer serious consequences. Likewise, if the information is not released to a State or Federal agency, then you as well as the company will be legally penalized in a civil suit if the company performs any illegal action. Strict guidelines have been established for handling of substances identified as toxic under the National Environmental policy Act and state environmental acts. These acts have clearly defined policy on production, handling, transport, and disposal of such substances.
Unauthorized disposal of identified substances by a senior corporate employee would most likely be classified as knowingly violating these acts and such actions carry defined rimming penalties. Any employee having knowledge of the act takes the risk of criminal prosecution. Under laws such as the Weightlessness’s Protection Act (Title 26 MRS.., Chapter 7, Substrates V-B), there is protection for weightlessness that come forth to disclose information concerning such illegal activities, however, most of these laws require bringing the problem to the attention of your employer first (U.
S. Department of Labor, 2004). In 1972 the Clean Water Act (CAW) established means of enforcement for federal and state environmental agencies to protect natural water resources. Knowing violations Of the act can result in fines up to $50,000 per day and imprisonment. The defense might be made that the pond is not considered “navigable waters” as defined under the CAW; however, the federal courts have extended a very broad definition to this term. In the case of United States v.
Harebell, the defendants were sentenced to 51 months of imprisonment in addition to fines (Sorely, Reed, Shed, & Marmoreal, 1 999, p. 283). Further criminal penalty might arise from other federal and state acts such as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCA) of 1976. This act requires enumerators of toxic substances to identify such substances and comply with established record keeping procedures. Depending on the toxin in question, EPA licensed transport and disposal may be mandatory with records maintained through a manifest system.
The RCA carries criminal penalties of both fines and imprisonment similar to the CAW. Both the RCA and CAW authorize imprisonment of up to 1 5 years if the extent of the violation is considered to be knowing endangerment. Options for handling this particularly awkward situation all have negative aspects and potentially undesirable consequences. Choosing not to take action is the riskiest and therefore has the widest spectrum of possible outcomes from maintaining the status quo to fifteen years of imprisonment.
Opting for internal solutions may be a wise choice but can also raise other problems depending on the response of the corporate member to whom you bring the issue. Going outside Of the company to State or federal agencies has the most predictable outcome and the most predictable negative outcome. There is the slim possibility that taking no action will result in nothing happening with no problems occurring in the future. However, this option leaves the whistler’s with the greatest risk of negative outcome if a violation is discovered in the future.
It is very likely that the assistant to the UP of Production will be investigated and if prior knowledge of the violation is determined, the assistant can face severe criminal prosecution and civil liability. In the case of United States v. Automated Medical Laboratories, 770 F. Ad 399 (4th Cirri. 1 985), the corporate officials tried to lay the blame on a single employee claiming the employee’s self-motivated actions caused the violation (U. S. Dept. Of Justice, 2004). Internal solutions require more courage but have the potential for a positive outcome while leaving open the option of external reporting if necessary.
The most direct option, requiring extreme discretion, is to confront the UP or the environmental consultant about his intentions. This could bring a quick end to the situation as it might have easily been a misunderstanding or the dumping of the particular toxin in question may not be in violation Of any law. This does however tip your hand and may result in negative consequences depending on what type of person you are dealing with. There may be other internal options such as approaching a higher executive if there is an open door policy or reporting it through an internal channel offering anonymity.
These channels may offer alternatives to allow others with more authority to resolve the issue but also offer the risk of retaliation by those being investigated. Several factors influence the practicality of internal reporting: credibility of the reporter, personality of the violator, organizational tolerance, and possibility of retribution. In a study of 725 weightlessness, the vast majority turned to external agencies only after efforts to resolve the matter internally failed (Keenan & Krueger, 1 994, p. 23). This same study showed that over half of all weightlessness were at a level reporting directly to a CEO or UP.
In a survey of 8,500 randomly selected employees within companies with an issues management program, 92 percent reported no reprisal against employees using established internal reporting methods (Callahan & Drinking, 1994, p. 176). Reporting the incident to the state environmental protection agency may prevent the incident from occurring, but it may also cost the whistler’s in he long term. Take for example Ernest Oliver who reported his company to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
After leaving the company, he was unable to acquire work as a well paid chemist and forced to take up a new profession as a plumber. He took the ethically correct action but it ruined his career as a chemist (May 29, 2001 Chattanooga Fax). There is also the possibility that the action of dumping toxic waste into the company’s holding pond may not be deemed a violation or no prior dumping has occurred therefore there is nothing for the environmental department to rosette. This would most likely ruin the weightlessness’s career over hearsay between corporate officials.
A lack of action would seem the most inappropriate, risky, and unethical choice allowing the environmental damage to occur while leaving the non- reporter open to great personal liability. Immediately reporting the incident to an external governing agency could be premature, self-destructive, and have long term negative consequences. The most viable option is to first report the matter internally especially if there are established venues in which o address the issue or if the potential violators are openly approachable.
Statistically this is the safest and most common route taken by employees in similar situations (Callahan & Drinking, 1994, p. 178). Internally reporting the matter also leaves open the option of handling the problem externally later while reducing many Of the risk taken by not allowing the problem to be resolved internally first.