Is Bob Special?

Topic: Training and Development

Characters: Tom, senior auditor at a medium-sized CPA firm Sam, second-year staff auditor Bob, newly hired staff auditor


Tom is a senior auditor for a medium-sized CPA firm. As Tom is leaving the client’s premises for the evening, he encounters Sam, one of his staff auditors.

Tom: Hi, Sam. What are you doing here so late? I thought you would have been gone by now.

Sam: I just finished doing the inventory with Bob. It took us 12 hours.

Tom: Well, we knew that would happen, so we had budgeted some extra time. But boy, 12 hours is still more than we had planned on.

Sam: We did fine in the warehouse, but on the outside inventory we ran into problems with Bob’s wheelchair. I tried to help him over some rough spots, but he just won’t accept help.

Tom: Did the client say anything about Bob’s being there?

Sam: No one said anything directly, but there were a lot of looks. Will Bob always be out in the field with us? Don’t get me wrong. I like working with him. He really does good work, but he slows me down. I guess I’ll see you in the morning.

Tom: Have a good night, Sam.

As Tom heads home for the evening, he ponders the issue:

“How did I get so lucky as to have Bob on my staff? I’m really glad he was hired; it’s about time we broke that barrier. Bob really performed well on that computer project last week. We even came in under budget. It is too bad my manager seems to think he won’t work out.”

“Maybe my manager has a point, though. If Bob ran into problems here, what will he do at the plant in New York where there’s no elevator… or, worse yet, at Pittsburgh with 50 steps and no ramp? The utility industry is our bread and butter. Bob can’t avoid these environmental problems.”

“Is my job to integrate Bob into the team? Or is it to get the work done efficiently? If Bob is going to succeed as an auditor, he needs all these experiences, but that cuts our efficiency. He will always be slower and will often need a coworker. Maybe I could assign him sampling and other computer jobs. He is really a whiz at those. Maybe he’ll turn into an EDP auditor.”

But Bob has his own ideas:

“I’m sure glad I got this job. My professors told me I didn’t have a good chance of getting into public accounting. Even after I got here, I was afraid they wouldn’t send me out to any clients for a while.”

“That inventory did take some extra time. I hope that’s not a problem. It is so much more challenging than sitting in front of the computer all day. I’m really looking forward to my next assignment.”

Author: Jeanne M.  David, Assistant Professor, University of Detroit Mercy

Co-author: Sarah H. Smith, Associate Professor of Accounting, Cedarville College

What Are the Relevant Facts?

  1. Bob has been recently hired as a staff auditor working under the supervision of Tom.
  2. Bob is physically handicapped, and this leads to his needing extra time or some assistance in performing his work.
  3. Bob’s work is evidently of the quality that would generally be expected of a new staff auditor; these is no indication, other than his physical disability, that he lacks the ability to do the work assigned to him.
  4. Tom, as the senior auditor, is responsible for Bob and the other staff auditors assigned to him.
  5. Tom must decide how to assign Bob to various jobs and must consider the effect Bob’s disability will have on Bob’s work, the coworkers, himself, the firm, and clients.

What Are the Ethical Issues?

  1. Is Tom obligated to integrate Bob into the team?
  2. Does Tom have an obligation to provide Bob with challenging work so that he can reach his full potential?
  3. Is Tom obligated to protect the interests of Sam and the other staff employees in terms of Bob’s potential to make the group and especially his coworker less efficient?
  4. What is Tom’s responsibility to the firm in planning and scheduling work for the staff?
  5. What is Tom’s  responsibility to the firm in planning and scheduling work for the staff?
  6. What is the appropriate level of analysis to use in identifying the stakeholders: systemic, corporate, or individual?

Who are the stakeholders?

  • Tom
  • Bob
  • Sam and other staff accountants
  • Tom’s manager and the firm
  • The client

What Are the Possible Alternatives?

  1. Should Tom continue to assign Bob to do field work just like all other staff accountants or put him back in the office?
  2. Should Tom assign Bob field work but allow for extra time or pair him up with a coworker when deemed necessary?
  3. Should Tom investigate the possibility of assigning Bob to some area other than auditing where field work may not be as difficult for him or as frequent?

What Are the Ethics of the Alternatives?

  • Consider the various alternatives from a “utilitarian” (cost/benefit) perspective:
  1. What are the costs and benefits of assigning Bob to do field work and the costs and benefits of putting him to work in the home office? What are the costs and benefits of the other potential alternatives?
  2. How would you measure these costs and benefits, especially as they impact intangibles such as office morale, providing role models for disadvantaged groups, and client reactions?
  3. Which alternative promises to result in the most benefits (or the fewest costs) for all the parties concerned?
  • Evaluate the alternatives using a “rights” perspective.
  1. Do all staff accountants have the right to expect equal treatment from their senior?
  2. Does Bob have this right? Does Bob have any duties attached to this right?
  3. Does Bob need to be assigned to field work like his peers in order to have self [esteem]?
  4. Do Bob’s peers have the right to be free to choose whether or not to be his coworker?
  • Consider the various alternatives from the

“justice” perspective:

  1. Which alternative distributes benefits and burdens most fairly among the stakeholders?
  2. Which stakeholders(s) have the greatest burden in each alternative? Which stakeholder(s) receive the greatest benefit?
  3. Does Bob have task related characteristics or needs which warrant treating him differently from his peers?

What Are the Practical Constraints?

  1. Assigning Bob to field work will generally require extra time, either from Bob himself or from one of his coworkers.
  2. This will be reflected not only on Bob’s performance evaluation but also on the performance evaluation of Tom and any coworkers assigned with Bob.
  3. Even if Tom does not charge the extra time to the clients, they may still perceive that they are paying a higher price because Bob was on their job.
  4. Ill will or morale problems may arise within the team of staff auditors if they feel that their own reviews will suffer because of Bob.

What Actions Should Be Taken?

  1. How should Tom handle Bob in his future scheduling activities?