The litmus test
It often starts with a small decision. We agree to something that falls within a “grey” area, legally or ethically. Decisions that may be marginally legal, but are in principle, unethical. Then it is easier to choose the decision with least resistance. And before we know it, we have “crossed the line”, and it is too late to turn around and change the course of events.
To compound matters, we might become silent accomplices, if we don’t speak up and challenge management on these types of decisions. The Payroll professional cannot stay quiet on moral and ethical matters. Our position as moral compass, and trusted professional, is at stake.
Crossing that line
Once the line has been crossed, it is very difficult to rebuild our purity and reputation.
Please note; I am not referring to obvious, and blatant fraud, or other illegal actions. I mean those decisions that evoke the faintest feeling of unease or unhappiness inside us. It is these issues (categorized as grey areas) that demand of us an ethical assessment of the situation.
This way we can know what the right decision ought to be. It is here that the Payroll professional’s job comes to the fore. We are called to provide up-front ethical leadership. To serve as a litmus test on borderline, grey areas.
Legally right, or morally right
A decision that is legal, is not necessarily morally right. For the Payroll professional, this is often the most demanding aspect of decision-making. Sometimes the easiest option is not the right option. And decisions like these cannot be ignored. Here we as Payroll professionals are required to stand firm, knowing that while the decision being considered might be legal, it is not morally right at all. Here we are obligated to listen to our conscience and apply the “litmus” test to help with the decision.
An example: different salaries, same position.
An excellent example that comes to mind involves discriminatory remuneration practices. Salaries for employees doing the same job often varies. Despite both employees performing the exact same set of tasks and having the same job description. They produce the same (or similar) sets of results, ….yet they earn vastly different salaries!
Example — different salaries, same position?
An excellent example that comes to mind involves discriminatory remuneration practices. Salaries for employees occupying the same job role oftentimes varies. Yet, both employees are performing the exact-same set of tasks and job descriptions. They produce the same (or very similar) sets of results, …yet they earn vastly different salaries!
In this case, although this may not be an illegal practice (based on the breach of some or other labour law). However, it certainly does constitute a morally reprehensible practice (based on the simple argument of moral ethics). This, and many other examples, are the kinds of questions that all Payroll administrators would do well to regularly ponder on and/or raise with their superiors.
The primary, overriding question
What ought we, the payroll professional, to be doing about this?
Here are some suggestions:
- Gather all relevant data to support your argument towards making a morally astute decision.
- Seek to engage with your line manager in a private meeting. Do not openly dispute the merits of the issue or contest the decision with an audience.
- By carefully explaining the underlying rationale and showing the reasons you think a particular issue is morally and/or ethically challenging, you can calmly state your case.
- Be ready to clearly present an alternative, suitable solution that you believe to be the right decision.
- Expect, with positive intention, to receive a revised final outcome that (fairly) takes your positive contribution into account.
Payroll professionals the litmus test
Remember that in these types of situations, management is well within its right to insist upon only that which is legal as the basis for decisions. The job, however, of all proud Payroll professionals, is to be the moral compass, pointing management in the right ethical direction. To make our voices heard, calmy and rationally.
Therefore, the Payroll professional is the litmus test representing the values of an organisation. We are called to be brave and ethical, speaking out when necessary. Building on our reputation as the moral compass.