The modern workplace can be an ethical minefield. This monthly column helps you tackle the thorny, but very real, challenges that management accountants face in the workplace.
Written by the CIMA professional standards team and based on realistic situations, the following is a practical guide to using the CIMA Code of Ethics to guide good decision-making.
You’ve been working as an accountant at DodgyCorp for five years when you find out your role is at risk of redundancy. You’ve had multiple disagreements with your line manager, who you feel has treated you unfairly, being overly critical of your work and excluding you from the team.
You see on Twitter that a previous colleague who was made redundant last year has tweeted:
So glad I left @DodgyCorp last year. Terrible company who mistreat their employees. And I’ve heard rumours that they’re in the red. Can anyone confirm? #bademployer #avoid
You happen to know that DodgyCorp is facing financial difficulties, and you agree with what your ex-colleague has written. You would love to reply to the tweet and confirm their suspicions — that would send a clear message to the company that it is treating its employees badly, as well as warning any potential employees and investors about the cultural and financial issues at the organisation.
What should you do?
Ethical issues and guidance
Whilst it might be tempting to retaliate against the way you have been treated by DodgyCorp, you should be very careful. You have obligations to keep information gained as an employee confidential.
Under the fundamental principle of confidentiality, the CIMA Code of Ethics states that you must not “disclose confidential information acquired as a result of professional and business relationships outside the firm or employing organisation without proper and specific authority, unless there is a legal or professional duty or right to disclose”.
As a management accountant, you are likely to have access to financial information that is not publicly available, and you must not share this information unless you have been authorised.
Social media can be a public forum. You should be very careful posting or responding on social media, especially where it relates to your job or you have identified yourself as an employee of an organisation.
Many employers include a clause in an employment contract or have a specific social media policy which states what you can and cannot say on social media. You should make sure you are familiar with any policies.
Even if there is no policy, you should be cautious about criticising an employer on social media, as it could make your situation at work worse. It may also look bad should you apply for other positions in the future. Many employers will look up a candidate on social media platforms during the recruitment process, and being critical of a previous employer is unlikely to create a positive impression.
You should also consider how it might affect the reputation of the management accounting profession, were you to post negative comments about an employer and especially where you are identifiable as a CIMA member.
Under the principle of professional behaviour, the Code states that “a professional accountant shall not bring the profession into disrepute.” You should consider whether your posting about the behaviour of others in the organisation, or the financial difficulties of the organisation, could make either yourself or others appear unprofessional.
When it comes to social media, the best approach is to be cautious. Consider whether you have the correct privacy settings in place, and remember that even if you do, others may be able to share comments you have made, and it can quickly move out of your control. Be aware that liking or sharing posts can be interpreted as your endorsing a point of view. It is also important to note that laws on what you can and cannot share relating to an employer vary by country, so you should be aware of your particular context.
— Bryony Clear Hill is the associate manager–Ethics Awareness for CIMA and is based in the UK. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.