The Price of a free gift

Bill Wilson the chief engineer of a manufacturing company had found himself in a very awkward situation. He had innocently received a gift from one of the business associates of the company he was working for. The gift which seemed like a harmless idea ended up costing him his job. Bill’s story is one of the few on the effects that free gifts can have on the judgment of someone or the professional conduct for that matter. He had to pay dearly for his lack of judgment after being enticed with a gift that seemed harmless.

The fact that Bill felt awkward to take the necessary action after being given the task of taking action against their business associates shows the effect a gift can have on ones ethics. Bill together and his wife were invited by their business associates to enjoy a one week holiday with them. Bill had blindly failed to see the implications it would latter have on his reputation as well as his job.  He failed to see it as unethical to take the gift since he was not directly involved in the purchasing of the company’s items. However this kind of reasoning in his part turned out to be the cause of the loss of his job as well as his reputation.

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The effect of gifts on the professional integrity has for a long time been a debatable matter. The phrase “free gift” has been argued by some quarters as being redundant and thus of no consequence at all (Mifflin, 1994). The various organizations of engineers especially in the United States have taken the subject of gifts seriously and have thus found it necessary to offer ethical guidance for its engineers practicing their trade regarding the subject. In light of this the National Society of Professional Engineers had called on its members to resist from accepting gifts if they feel that the gifts would in one way or another affect or seem to affect their professional conduct.

In this perspective the choice generally rests upon the engineers to make the decision on whether it would be ethical to accept a gift. Bill however may have had every right to claim that it was ethical to accept the gift since in his reasoning at the time it was not in any way going to affect his judgment. But the latter came to haunt him since he could not face the business associates who he had been in the trip as their “enemy”. Faced with this situation Bill came to realize that the end always justifies the means and in his case his judgment on the gift caused him his job.

This issue of free gifts and whether or not they cause conflicts of interest has elicited debate across the world. The effect of gifts and their on judgment have been of utmost importance considering the numerous amounts of book volumes that have been authored to give more direction on the subject. Various engineering societies across the world have laid out stringent rules in terms of ethics so as to address this issue in a more precise and effective manner

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The National Society of Professional Engineers has through its “codes of ethics for engineers” highlighted clearly on the subject which leaves no room for any misinterpretation. In one of their clearly laid out rules, they clearly specify that “engineers shall not attempt to attract an engineer from another employer by false or misleading pretenses”. In the case of Bill he was attracted by the gift which he had every right to ignore had he been conversant with this code of ethics.

Bill in his part did not consider the gift as one that would influence his decision at any point in time. However the same cannot be said about the business clients who were working with Bill’s company. It would be imprudent to ignore the underlying agenda they had about the deal. There could have been a possibility however slight it was, that they intended to use Bill to gain unfair advantage from the company in which he was working.                                

All they had to do was to try and gain his trust and thus make him susceptible to their manipulative agendas. The term “free gift” in these modern days when the stakes are very high should be put through very close scrutiny. Bill in his part must have been blinded by the glitter and spark of the gift that he did not try to think of the future implications it would have on him and his future in the company.

Bill in his part is also to blame since he did not find it necessary as it is evident in the case to furnish his superiors with information about his trip with the other company. This is evident in the fact that he only revealed about his associations with the company after he was instructed to take stringent actions on the company. This was a portrayal of guilt on Bill’s side and it was due to this fact that he found it necessary to step down. The case highlights the importance of desisting from gifts since their likely outcome is never to be desired.

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Bill in the end did the right thing by stepping down not only to save the company but also to take responsibility for his actions which can be regarded as professional misconduct. Professional misconduct can be described as “negligence” this means acting in a way that can be considered unethical in carrying out of work. The meaning of the word “negligence” in regulation 941 of section 72 states that professional misconduct occurs when an individual fails to meet the standards that “a reasonable and prudent practitioner would maintain in a normal circumstance”. 

Though in the case of Bill this judgment of professional misconduct may be harsh it only serves as a wake up call to the effects that gifts can have on one’s judgment. Though Bill may have viewed the gift as one given in good faith, it was an act of negligence in his part not to think carefully about the underlying intentions of the gift. This case in itself proves that a free gift may turn out to be the most expensive.

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