Family Business

Topic: Compensation/Discrimination

Characters: Jane, Manager, Payroll Department for R&S Electronic Service Company Brad, Owner of 1tdcS Electronic Service Company Eddie, General Manager Greg, Service Technician and Eddies brother


Jane has just been hired as the head of the Payroll Department at R&S Electronics Service Company, a firm of 75 employees. She was hired by Eddie, the General Manager of the company, who informed her of the need for maintaining strict confidentiality regarding employee salaries and pay scales. He also informed her that he fired the previous Payroll Department head for breaking that confidentiality by discussing employees’ salaries. She was also formally introduced to Brad, the owner, who told her to see him if she has any questions or problems. Both Brad and Eddie made her feel welcome.

After three months of employment, Jane begins to wonder why Greg makes so much more in commissions than the other service technicians. She assumes that he must be highly qualified and must work rapidly because she has overheard Brad commending Greg on his performance on several occasions. She has also noticed Brad, Eddie, and Greg having lunch together frequently.

One day, Eddie gives Jane the stack of work tickets for the service technicians for the upcoming week The technicians are to take whatever ticket is on top when they finish the job they were working on. After putting the tickets where they belong, Jane remembers she has a doctor’s appointment the next morning and returns to Eddie’s office to tell him she will be reporting late for work. When she enters Eddies office, she sees Eddie give Greg a separate stack of work tickets. As she stands there, Eddie tells her if she mentions this to anyone, he will fire her. Jane is upset because she understates that Eddie is giving the easier, high-commission work to his brother. Jane also realizes that Eddie does have the authority to hire and fire her. Since she has only been at the company a short time, she is also still on probation This is her first job since college. She wonders what she should do.

Author: Dr. Marilyn  M. Helms, Associate Professor of Management, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

What Are the Relevant Facts?

  1. Jane is new and somewhat insecure in her position.
  2. Brad is friends with Eddie and Greg.
  3. Eddie and Greg are brothers and are “watching out” for each other.
  4. Eddie is Jane’s boss and will fire her if she goes over his head with this matter or even discusses it at all.

What Are the Ethical Issues?

  1. Is Eddie, the general manager, involved in a conflict of interest in overseeing his brother Greg and in determining Greg’s work assignments?
  2. Is there an obligation to ensure that employees in a business are being treated fairly? If so, upon whom does that obligation fall?
  3. Does Jane have any obligation to inform Brad, the owner, of what the store manager is doing? Does she have any obligation if informing Brad would cost her her job?

Who Are the Primary Stakeholders?

  • Jane
  • Brad
  • Eddie
  • Greg
  • Other technicians
  • All other employees

What Are the Possible Alternatives?

  1. Jane could ignore the problem and say nothing.
  2. Jane could speak to Eddie privately.
  3. Jane could inform Brad of the problem.
  4. Jane could inform the other technicians.
  5. Jane could quit.

What Are the Ethics of the Alternatives?

  • Ask questions based on a “utilitarian” perspective (costs and benefits). For example:
  1. Which possible alternative would provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number?
  2. How would costs be measured in this vignette? How much value should be placed on the right to equal opportunity for equal pay?
  3. Which alternative will allow the organization to retain quality technicians in the long term?
  • Ask questions based on a “rights” perspective. For example:
  1. What does each employee have a right to expect in terms of equitable treatment with regard to pay and commission opportunities?
  2. Which alternative would you not want if you were a service technician?
  • Ask questions based on a “justice” perspective (benefits and burdens). For example:
  1. Which alternative distributes the benefits and burdens most fairly among the employees? The stakeholders?
  2. Which employees carry the greatest burden if Jane does nothing?
  3. Which employees carry the greatest burden if Jane does nothing?
  4. Do all the employees have a right to equitable, fair treatment, even in a small company?

What Actions Should Be Taken?

  1. What actions should Jane take?
  2. Which alternative would you choose if you were in her position?
  3. Why would you make that choice?
  4. Which ethical theories (utilitarian, rights, justice) make the most sense to you as they relate to this situation?
  5. How can this situation be prevented from occurring again?