American Sociological Association

Case 25. Dual-Role Relationships within an Organization

Situation

Marlan Bethune, a sociologist who provides individual and group counseling for an Employee Assistance Program, comes into contact with most employees in the organization, since he not only provides counseling for substance abuse and marriage problems, but also provides skill assessments and wellness programs for all employees. He has been asked by the CEO to serve on the personnel committee in the decision making that will result in promotions and job eliminations.

(Modeled after case in Ethics for Psychologists, p. 50)

Questions

  1. Is Bethune's participation in the personnel committee appropriate?
  2. What ethical dilemma does Bethune face if he did provide his insights about employees to the CEO and personnel committee?
  3. In this situation in which his professional obligation to his employer is in conflict with his professional role as a clinical sociologist, what are Bethune's options in this situation?

Discussion

Dr. Bethune has made a commitment to the employees of this organization. While he may be able to keep information about employees confidential on this personnel committee and to have that information not affect his own recommendations, the appearance of fairness is in question here. It is inappropriate for Dr. Bethune to participate in a personnel committee when decisions about promotion and termination will be made, as requested by the company's CEO. Dr. Bethune has had a preexisting professional relationship with the employees of the company through the EAP; he has provided counseling and wellness programming. He has likely obtained insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the employees that he has counseled and is obligated to maintain confidentiality of the information. Even if he did not disclose any personal information about employees in a personnel committee, he would be unable to make objective decisions about the promotion or termination of an employee without compromising his role within the EAP. To resolve this conflict of interest, Dr. Bethune would have to refuse the request to become part of the personnel committee. In doing so, it will be important for Dr. Bethune to explain to his CEO how such a dual role within an organization would compromise his effectiveness as an EAP counselor in which the confidentiality of employee information is essential.

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