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Ethical Dilemma at workplace – A Case Study

The Referral Bonus

A Summary By:
Abhishek Merchant (31)
Every Organization is governed by a set of guidelines for work related behavior of their
Employees. Though variously named let us call them as conduct, discipline and appeal rules.
This will generally cover up to a level below the board level. Any breach/ deviation in the actual
conduct from the stated guidelines/rules can lead to imputing the employee. This may lead to
show cause/charge sheet/seeking explanation etc. depending upon the severity of
While guilty is punished for the actions there is no ethical dilemma. If the innocent is punished
for actions resulting from extraneous factors beyond his control merely based on the fact that
company suffered loss, there arises dissonance. This dissonance in mind of the next superior
puts him into ethical dilemma. He has little choice and has to accept the decision of the
management. The case study deals with such a situation based on my personal experience at
one of an organizations I have worked with.

The organization involved in the case is a software and consultancy service provider. The
stakeholders involved in the case are myself, my boss, Mr. XYZ (the person who had come in for
an interview), the HR and the compliance department.
With over 5+ years of experience and being a senior member of the team, my job was majorly
to lead a module of automation testing, where responsibilities involved ensuring the quality
service being delivered to the client in the given timelines, managing a team and help them
overcome any technical or personal challenges. An additional responsibility I was given was the
people budgeting and conducting technical personal interviews.
With high level of iteration rate in Information Technology industry we had to be on our toes to
find replacements for people leaving the organization. Also the technology we worked on was
niche and it was very difficult to find people matching the exact skillset required. Also due to
the very same reason the organization’s referral system was very rewarding with bonuses up to
50K were given on successful referral.
With about 30 positions open in the organization, a recruitment drive was organized and about
300 candidates were to appear for the same. The day of the interview a very unusual thing
happened: my immediate boss came to me a list of questions to be asked to them for the
The interviews started and the first candidate (Mr. XYZ) came in. I did ask him the same
questions from the given list. I did find the thing fishy as he knew all the answers for the same
by the correct definition and answered even more than I questioned. Just to make sure, I did
pull out some questions from my bag and the candidate was not very confident answering
them. After the interview I did discuss the same with my Boss, but he tried to convince me to
hire him for the team. Here came the Ethical dilemma, should I actually go for the candidate.

Modus Operandi:
On a little further investigation, it was found that there were some people who were actually
referrals of my boss. He normally used to convince his subordinates to hire his referrals.

The Dilemma:
In case I had to hire a person for my team, should I compromise on the technical knowledge of
the candidate, just because it has come from my boss? There are other deserving candidates in
line, should I actually ignore them just because the order has come from my boss?
And the answer was a big NO
I did bring this to the notice of my HR under the whistleblowing policy of my company and
there was a whole scam that opened up. The manager actually had earned about 5 million from
the referrals, most of which a part of such scams. A strict action was taken against him and he
had to repay the amount back to the company.
The department taking interviews should be independent of the department from where the
referral has come. At least for the initial rounds.
The company culture should be so strong and value based that such scams do not take place.
Severe punishment should be given to the defaulters.