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Ever find yourself in a sticky ethical situation? Mr. Ethics has your back! Mr. Ethics is here to take your questions and give you his input on how to best deal with your situation. Have a question for Mr. Ethics? Send it to info@professionalconstructor.org and he may respond to you here on the Mr. Ethics Blog.

 

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Mr. Ethics - July 2017

Posted By Mr. Ethics, Monday, July 10, 2017

Dear Mr. Ethics,

 

We recently submitted a bid for the construction of a new bridge.  In accord with the bid documents all bids were to be evaluated on a point system.  The public owner was to evaluate each bid according to its conformance with plans and specifications.  Another team was going to assess the aesthetic aspects of the proposed bid design.   At the bid opening we were advised that was decided to combine the evaluation teams.  Not only is this a change in the bid process but it may also disadvantage one or more bidders in the way the points are calculated.  I think the owner’s actions are unethical and may also be illegal.  Should I seek legal action or advise the owner that its action is unethical?

 

Sincerely, Undecided

 

Dear Undecided,

 

Only you and your counsel can determine whether to take legal action.  However, ethical actions can have legal implications.  There is no reason you cannot pursue legal and ethical actions at the same time if reason exists for doing each.  Changing bid procedures is definitely unethical and may be a violation of public bidding laws.  At the very least you should lodge a complaint with the owner and consult counsel regarding your legal rights. 

 

Sincerely, Mr. Ethics.    

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Mr. Ethics - March 2017

Posted By Mr. Ethics, Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dear Mr. Ethics,

 

 My company does a lot of public works projects.  For the last three years the State’s Director of Construction has asked me to donate to his kids’ little league teams and buy Girl Scout cookies.  I am glad to do both but I recently saw a newspaper article about a service provider being sued by the state for bribing government officials.  The provider sent a portion of every purchase order amount to the government employee who gave them the purchase order.  Do you think my donations and cookie purchases fall into the same category?  As far as I know everyone in my position buys the cookies and donates to the teams.  I am not doing anything different from anyone else.  It’s just like the other donations I make to my church, the children’s hospital and organizations committed to curing cancer. 

 

Sincerely,  Donator

 

Dear Donator,

 

 The little league donations and cookie purchases you describe do not fall within the category of the other donations you make because they involve a government employee. First, you need to check your state law to determine if your little league donations and cookie purchases are legal. Second you need to determine if you are purchasing cookies and making the donations in order to gain some benefit or advantage from the government employee then your actions are unethical.  Similarly, if you think the government employee is compensating you for donations and purchases, even if you making them with no remuneration in mind, your actions are still unethical.  If neither of the aforementioned conditions exist, but state law prohibits the donations and cookie purchases, you still need to stop despite the actions being ethical.

 

Regards, Mr. Ethics    

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Mr. Ethics - October 2016

Posted By Mr. Ethics, Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Dear Mr. Ethics,

 

We are going through a code of ethics violation complaint investigation in our office.  One of our estimators told us that another estimators discussed a bid with a competitor at a local association meeting.  As our investigation progressed we could not find any support for the complaint.  We advised the accusing estimator we were unable to find any evidence to support the claim and were going to discontinue the investigation.  The estimator said he understood because he really did not hear the other estimator’s conversation.  He saw the estimator talking to the competitor and just assumed he disclosed bid information because we lost the contract the next day. The question we are wrestling with is whether we need to disclose this information to the accused estimator and start an ethics action against the accuser.  The fallout that could occur by taking either or both actions seems to not worth the trouble.

 

Regards, Ethics Investigator

 

Dear Investigator,

 

I am sure that one of your ethical canons references the making of false accusations.  In my opinion I do not think you have a choice but to consider the accuser’s actions to be a potential ethical violation.  I know it may have a chilling effect on people reporting potential ethical violations in the future but everyone needs to know that accusing another of an ethical violation is a serious action and they need to make sure they are not violating a canon.  I also think it is essential you discuss this with the accused individual.  It appears there are some underlying issues between these two (2) employees that needs to be ferreted out and resolved.

 

Regards, Mr. Ethics.

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Mr. Ethics - September 2016

Posted By Mr. Ethics, Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Dear Mr. Ethics,

 

My company regularly gives to a political action committee run by a construction association.  The purpose of the PAC is to promote construction issues to our state legislature and governor.  We always give in accord with the laws governing political contributions.  The PAC association has asked us to host at our company facilities a political round table where construction industry and government elected officials will discuss construction issues in our state.  The even would carry the PAC as the host and we are only supplying the location, food and drink.  This is a good opportunity for us and the industry.  I haven’t said yes to the request because something keeps nagging at me that this might not be the right thing to do.  Can you give me some direction?

 

Regards, Politically Active

 

Dear Active,

 

Donating to candidates and PAC’s is ethical and legal so long as all rules for doing so are followed.  An engineering firm was recently forced to close its doors because it was found to have made its employees contribute to certain candidates.  The firm then reimbursed its employees.  A practice that was neither ethical nor legal.  My concern regarding your opportunity is that if you bid public projects.  If you do public work your hosting of the PAC event could be perceived as a violation of public bidding and contract award codes of conduct and law.  It could be argued that you sought to deliberately influence public officials in order to get contracts.  I would decline the offer for ethical concerns and possible exposure to legal action.

 

Regards, Mr. Ethics. 

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Mr. Ethics - August 2016

Posted By Mr. Ethics, Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dear Mr. Ethics,

 

What should we consider when entering a project contract with a code of conduct provision?

 

Regards, Ethically Aware

 

 

Dear Ethically,

 

Obviously knowing the obligations created by the code of conduct is paramount. Those terms and conditions will set how you should act and what you need to do outside of complying with the code.  If you are performing services on a project and the code requires you to admit to any errors or work defects performed by you; you could run afoul of your professional liability insurance policy.  Insurance carriers want to know where claims may come from before you admit to any liability.  The carrier can argue that you prejudiced their rights by not contacting the carrier first.  Additionally, a failure to comply with the code can result in the imposition of fines or the termination of your agreement.  Any damages arising from either of those actions are not covered by insurance.  As I have previously said, contractual codes of conducts are good but you have to understand the potential consequence of not complying with the code.

 

Regards, Mr. Ethics.    

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