Loyalty to the Employer versus Responsibility to the Public

An employer has an expectation of loyalty from its employees. Under common law an employee owes their employer a 'duty of fidelity', that is a duty to serve their employer in good faith and not deliberately do something which may harm their employer's business.

In exchange for financial security and personal satisfaction, the employee is expected to use their skills and training to advance the organization's objectives, follow instructions from more senior personnel, protect proprietary information and present the organization in a positive way to the outside world.

The main potential for conflict in the context of ethics and professionalism lies between the interests of the employer in terms of their desire to advance their enterprise and the professional's responsibility to protect the public interest as defined by the Code of Ethics and their personal moral code. For example:

A mining company manager asks a technologist to draw up a waste disposal plan that allows untreated waste to escape from a detention pond into the environment.

In terms of the well-being of the public, the employee has no authority or responsibility for deciding whether the employer will build the detention pond or if regulating agencies will allow the pond to be built as designed.

But in terms of whether the pond will be built to professional standards, the professional does have an obligation to protect the public.

The central question is: When does a professional's responsibility to the public override the required loyalty to the employer? And if the professional decides that to act according to the requirements of the Code of Ethics and his moral principles, how can the employee's rights be protected while at the same time ensuring that the employer can continue to operate as a viable enterprise?

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