Ethics in the Workplace
A Professional Engineer's Responsibility
G. R. Peters, P. Eng.
(Notes for a presentation to Term 2 Engineering students)
You have just started a professional education. It may be a bit early to be laying professional responsibilities on you, but the work term does get you involved with the professional environment in which engineers work, so it is useful to know something about what is generally expected in that situation. At the outset, we must recognize that situations differ greatly among jobs. The work environment and expected behaviour at a small one-person shop, at a large corporation, or a government job may differ greatly from place to place. But there are principles, and it is these general rules which I am going to talk about.
Being a professional means belonging to a profession, and that designation
implies certain structure.
WHAT IS A PROFESSION?
There are certain characteristics which describe a profession, and in particular,
the engineering profession.
Characteristics of a Profession:
- There is a "body of knowledge"
Members of a profession are expected to have education and experience. The public expects you to be knowledgable and expert.
- There is an organization of the members, sanctioned by law
.eg to enforce standards and a code of ethics. The engineering
profession in Canada has the legal authority (and responsibility)
of regulating itself.
- Members act in the public interest: "Public
The engineering profession holds the good of the public to be paramount,
i.e. their most important consideration in all that they do.
- A profession normally has self-governance
In the case of Canada, there is an Act of the legislature for each province regarding the practice of engineering.
Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Newfoundland
In our case the governing body is PEGNL (http://www.pegnl.ca/)
- Founded 1952
- Defines the practice... ie the "practice" of engineering. This is simply a definition of what engineering means, legally.
- Sets admission standards: of education, experience, etc,
- Publishes a Code of Ethics
- Today, we want to concentrate on ethical behaviour, so this is our main focus.
- Enforces standards of professional conduct
- A fundamental professional requirement is that an engineer takes personal responsibility for his or her work.
The Code of Ethics is a guide to expected behaviour:
It is a part of the Engineering Act, and engineers are required to abide by it. If they don't, they are open to discipline by the Association. This applies to employees, and it is important for even work term students to be aware of it.
It is included in your Coop Handbook (Appendix L)
CODE OF PROFESSIONAL ETHICS
Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Newfoundland
1. A professional engineer or geoscientist shall recognize that professional ethics are founded upon integrity, competence and devotion to service and to the advancement of human welfare. This concept shall guide the conduct of the professional engineer or geoscientist at all times.
This is a general, overall statement. An important word is
It comes from the same root as "integer", and therefore refers to wholeness
or completeness. It means that a professional does not apply principles
only when it is convenient. In a matter of professional judgement, you
can't say: "well, I don't agree with it, but that's what the boss said
to do, and now it's his responsibility." That is not to say that an employer
does not have the authority to direct an employee. He does. But the engineer
also has the responsibility to inform the employer what the consequences
might be if he (the employee) is instructed to do something which he thinks
is unwise or unprofessional. Further, if the public (including other employees)
could be endangered by the action, the engineer might have to refuse to
do it. By the way, the "geoscientist" is included in this Code, because in
this province, as with about five others, engineers and geoscientists are
regulated by the same Act.
Duties of the Professional Engineer or Geoscientist to the Public
These responsibilities to the public are the most important of all for
the professional engineer. However, in this presentation since you are
not yet taking the full professional responsibility as an engineer, I will
go rather quickly through them.
A professional engineer or geoscientist
2. have proper regard in all his or her work for the
and welfare of the public;
This is the first responsibility of all engineers.
3. endeavour to extend public understanding of engineering
and geoscience and their role in society;
This is an encouragement by your profession, recognized as a good
service to society.
4. where his or her professional knowledge may benefit the
public, seek opportunities to serve in public
Similar to the above.
5. not be associated with enterprises contrary to the public interest;
This may be hard for you to judge. Who says what is in the public
A professional life can lead to ethical dilemmas. But it is a bit early
for you to have to wrestle with these. Take my Term 5 course.
6. undertake only such work as he or she is competent to
perform by virtue of his or her education, training and
At this stage, the employer usually judges your competence. But as
a professional you will often have to do it for yourself.
7. sign and seal only such plans, documents or work as he or she has personally prepared or which have been prepared or carried out under his or her direct professional supervision;
You will not be signing plans yet. Professional responsibility is indicated on engineering documents by a signed "Stamp"
8. express opinions on engineering or geo-scientific matters only on the basis of adequate knowledge and honest conviction;
It may be a bit early for this, too. The idea is that you don't shoot off your mouth unless you know what you are talking about. On the other hand, you have the right to disagree on professional matters, provided you believe in what you are saying, and have knowledge. It is ok to be wrong (but not good for your professional progress if it happens too often.)
9. have proper regard in all his or her work for the well-being
and integrity of the environment.
This can certainly apply. As a student, you generally have the
guidance of the employer.
Duties of the Professional Engineer or Geoscientist to Client or Employer
These are the articles of the code that I want to concentrate on today.
The "client" refers to the situation where the engineer is dealing directly
with someone buying his/her services, e.g. a consulting engineer and the
customer. In your case, we will be talking about an employer.
A professional engineer or geoscientist
10. act for his or her client or employer as a faithful agent or trustee;
This is a central article, and points to the requirement to
further the employer's legitimate interest, and to be trusted with
11. not accept remuneration for services rendered other than from his or her client or employer;
For example, suppose
you are a government employee, and a contractoris grateful for the
assistance you may have given him with a contract,and rewards you
with an expensive gift. What are the expectations of thecontractor?
What is the perception of others?
For example, suppose you are a government employee, and a contractor
is grateful for the assistance you may have given him with a contract,
and rewards you with an expensive gift. What are the expectations of the
contractor? What is the perception of others?
12. not disclose confidential information without the consent of his or her client or employer;
This is fairly obvious when you think about it, but sometimes we can be a bit thoughtless. Don't ever be thoughtless with an employer's property or information. See Article 10.
13. not undertake any assignment which may create a conflict of interest with his or her client or employer without full knowledge of the client or employer;
A conflict of
interest occurs when one has obligations to two parties,and the
interests of the two parties are different. This is probably
rareamong junior employees (except perhaps in romantic circumstances)
but everyone should be aware of it. An important point is that it is
not a defence to say that you recognize the conflict, and would not
be influenced, because you have high principles. Conflict of interest
exists if an person might be swayed. (Perhaps not a paragon of
virtue, like you!)
A conflict of interest occurs when one has obligations to two parties,
and the interests of the two parties are different. This is probably rare
among junior employees (except perhaps in romantic circumstances) but everyone should be aware of it. An important point is that it is not a defence to say that you recognize the conflict, and would not be influenced, because you have high principles. Conflict of interest exists if an ordinary, reasonable person might be swayed. (Perhaps not a paragon of virtue, like you!)
14. present clearly to his or her clients or employers the consequences to be expected if his or her professional judgement is overruled by other authorities in matters pertaining to work for which he or she is professionally responsible.
This is another one which is unlikely to come up in the workplace for
work-term students, because someone else is normally taking professional
responsibility. Keep it in mind for later.
Duties of the Professional Engineer or Geoscientist to the Profession
One might expect that these articles would not apply much to students,
since they are not yet registered professionals, and would have no such
obligations. True, but you are involved in professional education, and
it is worthwhile to learn about the requirements which will come. It is
not too early to start practising.
A professional engineer or geoscientist shall:
15. endeavour at all times to improve the competence, dignity and
reputation of his or her profession;
Now right away, we run into one which engineering students can
identify with! Some of the antics of engineering students (and even some
graduates) do not contribute to the dignity of the profession.
16. conduct himself or herself towards other professional
and geoscientists with fairness and good faith;
It is unprofessional to be dishonest and treat people
17. not advertise his or her professional services in
language or in any other manner derogatory to the dignity of the profession;
This is not too relevant at this stage of your career.
18. not attempt to supplant another engineer, or
an engagement after definite steps have been taken toward the other's employment.
It is a bit early for this, too, and the remaining articles
19. when in salaried position, engage in a private
practice and offer
or provide professional services to the public only with the consent of
his or her employer and in compliance with all requirements of such practice;
20. not exert undue influence or offer, solicit or accept
for the purpose of affecting negotiations for an engagement;
21. not invite or submit proposals under conditions that
only price competition for professional services;
22. advise the Council of any practice by another member
of the profession which he or she believes to be contrary to the Code
ONCE YOU HAVE ACCEPTED AN OFFER...
- A contract exists between you and the employer
- You have a duty to behave professionally (see Article 10)
- The employer has a duty to treat employees (and students) in a professional manner
- The employer also has the authority to direct him/her
Example 1 (Charles B. Fledderman, Engineering Ethics, Prentice Hall, 1999,
8. Many desktop computers come with games already installed on them. In addition there are many web sites where users can download games onto their computers.
Is it alright to play computer games at work? And maybe
few as well?
-How about during lunch?
The computer at work is your employer's equipment. As a faithful trustee,
you use it only for your employer's purposes. This does not include playing
games nor down loading them. If you also do it on your employer's time,
that is worse.
How does article 10 of the Code of Ethics apply in the case of unions?
In isolation, Article 10 would appear to prevent employee engineers
from taking collective action (i.e. strikes), since that could hardly be
seen to be in the employer's interest. But labour laws and practice in
Canada have long since protected the right of employees to belong to a
union, and the right to take collective action. A right that is protected
by law could not be judged to be unethical by the profession. But many would argue that there are better ways for professionals to advance their cause than by resorting to collective action.