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VOL. 36 | NO. 36 | Friday, September 07, 2012

Common sense guide to business ethics

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

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Your favorite customer is playing with fire. He’s forgotten some important paperwork and, since he considers you a friend, he’s asked you to cover for him. Sign here, back-date, no problems.

The problem is, you know it’s wrong and it makes you feel uncomfortable but you hate to say no. You’d like to save his bacon but if he’s caught, you’d be the one to fry.

So how do you get out of such situations with your principles intact? In the new book Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything by Randy Cohen, you’ll tackle the ins and outs of right and wrong.

As a 12-year veteran columnist on ethics for the New York Times Magazine, Cohen has been asked a lot of unique questions. Much like his heroine, Ann Landers, he’s dispensed advice, settled disputes, and soothed matters of conscience. This book – including situational updates – is the result.

Let’s take your place of business, for starters. If it has an elevator and you’re on the ground floor, is it ethical to refuse to pay an elevator fee? What about posting a sign that states you’re protected by a security system if you aren’t? No one’s hurt by these things are they?

Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything

by Randy Cohen

c.2012, Chronicle Books


319 pages

What do ethics have to do with government bail-outs? The guy down the street was given a break on his mortgage, while you’ve conscientiously paid yours. It’s irritating, yes, but is it unethical? Or are there other “actors in this drama” who’ve behaved even worse?

Then there’s hiring. These days, you have to be extremely careful in taking applications, interviewing and beyond. Is it OK to Google prospective employees or employers? Is it necessary to bring your personal life to the table? Is it permissible to use a first initial to skew the call-back process?

And on the subject of salaries, Cohen weighs in on transparency and permission to peek at documents carelessly left out.

Should you allow anonymous posting of comments on your website? Cohen says yes, and it’s OK to ask an intern to run for coffee. What about a pregnant employee? Should she come clean about her ambivalence toward work after maternity leave? Should you put a stop to texting during meetings? And what should you do if you accidentally find porn on the boss’s computer?

So you’re faced with an iffy step at work. What next? It’s hard to decide sometimes, but you’ll find a useful voice of reason inside Be Good.

Taking on everything in the workplace and out, author Randy Cohen’s advice is thoughtful and well-considered with a twist of humor and occasional sarcasm. Readers who’ve disagreed with his counsel are also featured here, and Cohen seems to invite further discourse. That lends a certain vitality to this book, breathing life into a subject that sometimes seems lackluster.

While there’s plenty of common-sense inside this book, there’s also much to ponder about right and wrong. Overall, I think that if such issues land on your desk daily, Be Good could keep your feet out of the fire.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.