Posts tagged ‘Engineering Ethics’
A candidate of mine was given a 60 day notice that he will be laid off from his employer, due to financial conditions of the engineering consulting firm. This engineer is well-respected in his community and known as an expert in the city and county he resides. His employer asked him to not tell the firm’s clients or employees in other offices that he is leaving. He leads a small office of this national consulting firm. Assuming this engineer has no employment agreement, does he have an obligation to his firm? Does he have a professional responsibility to inform his clients?
Whether you are laid off or choose to leave your current employer, how and should you tell your clients?
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Code Of Ethics should be understood and always in the mind of its members. Engineers face situations that often put them in ethical dilemmas with their employers. Let’s look at our situations above while referencing ASCE canons.
*ASCE canon (professional responsibility) #4 states in part that one acknowledges that “clients should have the autonomy to seek professional services from the engineer of their choice. To do so, however, they must have knowledge of circumstances that might affect their selection, and they must be apprised of the options available to them.” If you are the client manager, project manager or technical leader on a project with client interaction, canon #4 suggests that you let the client know you are leaving. If you are the proposed lead of a proposed project and the client is reviewing other firms as well as yours, you are obligated under this canon to inform them.
*But, one must keep in mind canon #3. Canon #3 tells us that engineers must “issue true statements.” In upholding this responsibility, the engineer must keep in mind that he/she “will avoid any act tending to promote their own interests at the expense of the integrity, honor and dignity of the profession.” One must be careful to not speak badly of their current employer to intentionally cause them to be knocked out of contract consideration. The engineer must speak truthfully while not disparaging another engineer unfairly.
*As canon #5 informs “Engineers shall not maliciously or falsely, directly or indirectly, injure the professional reputation, prospects, practice or employment of another engineer or indiscriminately criticize another’s work.” An exiting employee/engineer must be honest in their assessment of the firm’s ability to continue the client’s work without him/her. What does one say if the engineer assigned to take over the project is incapable of the role? Canon #5 could be viewed as walking a fine line.
Why is it important for your client to know you are leaving your firm? APQC asked executives to “prioritize what they value when hiring a consultant.” Of top and equal importance to these leaders, they place “firm’s experience” and “project team’s experience” with the client’s issue as top reasons to hire a specific consulting firm. Engineers and their employers have a responsibility to their clients to tell them what has happened or will happen with their project and the team. Clients understand business decisions, they make them everyday. They may not agree with the decisions, but they understand them. If they hired the engineering firm for a specific person’s political connection, the engineering firm has now directly impacted their client’s ability to perform.
Informing your clients of your departure is an ethical as well as professional responsibility. Here’s how to make that transition smoother:
- Work with your supervisor to inform your client. You employer will want to minimize the client’s concerns.
- Don’t wait until the last minute or your final day of employment to tell clients.
- Inform client’s in person or by phone if an in person meeting is not possible. Follow up with an email.
- It is also good practice to introduce your project successor and offer to help with a project transition plan.
Keep in mind that while these are your employer’s clients- as described above, the client may be there because of YOU! Always be professional!
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Several studies conducted across the world suggest that the majority of engineering failures can be traced to a deficiency in engineering ethics. Specifically, someone was dishonest in their business dealings as they cut corners to save a dollar or keep a project on schedule. Perhaps they evaluated a situation that they were not competent to assess. In either case a failure occurs and an engineer’s ethics are called into question. Is there ever a grey area when pondering ethics in engineering?
In 1995 thirty-five faculty from across the US and eight undergraduate fellows, gathered to develop engineering ethics resource material across engineering disciplines. Numerical and ethical problems were developed with the support of the National Science Foundation. These materials have made their way into many engineering ethics courses. As I reviewed the civil engineering problems, I, a non engineer, paused trying to think how to answer the ethical issues. For example, in one scenerio, a new female PE, is sent to a construction site to oversee the construction of her first sealed design (a parking garage). After a day of heckling, whistling and additional lack of respect from the construction team on site, she returned to her civil engineering office and sought her colleagues/supervisors responses to issues she had confronted. Getting their input she returned for day two. Concrete is poured and a delay ensues. She confronts the construction supervisor and advised him that if a delay continues, then the poured concrete will need to be removed to avoid a structurally unsound joint. The construction supervisor advises her that her inexperience and lack of construction knowledge leaves her with inadequate knowledge to make an accurate assessment in this case. He assures her that the joint will be sound and she is forced to make a decision to continue or place the project on delay. Under pressure she backs down. Guess what happens? Six months later a crack develops where the cold joint was and two years later an earthquake collapses that part of the garage severaly injuring people. The young PE and her company are found liable.
Some good ethical questions come out of this tragedy: When do you let a new engineer go to a site alone? There has to be a first time at some point. When she returned after the first day describing the adverse working conditions, should she had been sent back out alone? Should the contractor be held liable also?
On the CivilEngineeringCentral Group on LINKEDIN, one member commented “if one has been in the engineering industry long enough, properly resolving ethical ambiguities are inevitable.” He so eloquently continues that when confronted he makes an “attempt to resolve any ethical dilemma through thoughtful deliberation first (never acting impulsively), then by calling my local PE Board for advice, who are exceptionally helpful, then finally as difficult as it might be, by confronting those who are central to the dilemma to offer an opportunity to arrive at an acceptable resolution prior to moving forward with reporting a transgression that might have crossed the line.”
The majority of us have an internal compass that moves when we are off center. When something doesn’t feel right we know it in our gut. We need to trust our instincts, talk with our mentors and our colleagues and make the good solid ethical choices. As ASCE so plainly states: Ethics is a cornerstone of civil engineering practice.
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