Making Work, Work

The Agony Aunt: How do I confront the ethical conduct of a client?

Obelisk recently hosted a discussion on what makes lawyers lose their moral compass. It explored the character traits and situational factors that lead to lawyers condoning and even being complicit in unethical practices. But if you find yourself in a situation where there is a crucial opportunity to put a stop to such behaviour, how do you go about it?

Real life isn’t always like what we see on the screen, with the fearless heroine who puts themselves on the line for the moral good, faces a struggle and is in the end vindicated to great fanfare. People and organisations are much more complicated, and we all have our own fears, doubts and multi-faceted relationships with colleagues and clients. Approaching a situation that has potentially unethical implications is not always a straightforward case of good triumphing over bad, and vindication when it comes can come quietly and without much sense of satisfaction. Ultimately though, unethical practices in an organisation create a toxic environment that impacts on employees and the business as a whole, so it needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity. If you cannot allow the situation to continue in good conscience then you must take some action, even if that action means removing yourself from the organisation.

The question of whether the conduct is simply ethically wrong or if it is also legally questionable will affect how you approach the problem. Go over what protections are in place for you at both an organisational and governmental level. Remember that reporting such behaviour falls under many laws in place to protect whistle-blowers.

If you take the decision to formally report the behaviour, come armed with suggested means of handling the issue. This prompts person you are reporting to into action as they have to respond to the suggested action to take. It also helps to show you are focusing on the remedy, and that your motive is to help the organisation; to be proactive, and not destructive.

Don’t lose sight of your principles – with explanations and excuses your resolve can become watered down. If you decide that you have done all you can do it may be that you have to permanently reconsider position your relationship with the client, so prepare and scope out other opportunities sooner rather than later. Remember your reputation is much more likely to be tarnished by association with a client/company that conducts itself unethically, more than having left on less than positive terms because you took a stand against the behaviour.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? What other advice would you like to see the Attic Agony Aunt provide each month? Let us know [email protected]


By Kayleigh Ziolo

Kayleigh Ziolo has a background in magazine publishing and is writer and Commissioning Editor at Obelisk. She specialises in the subjects of workplace wellbeing, flexible working practices and gender equality.