This editorial was originally published on Sept 3, 2009. It is being re-run as Steve is out of the country.
Enron. Worldcom MCI. Tyco. These companies all committed some type of fraud in reporting their financial performance to the world. I'm sure there were many more companies doing similar things, but these are the most well known cases of the last few years. More are coming, I'm sure of it, with the economy in a downturn, and executives looking to still make their bonuses and keep jobs or reputations, I'm sure that some will succumb to the temptation to "cook the books" and report incorrect results.
However I'm not sure how many executives will be able to do that themselves, or with a small number of non-technical people. More and more we find systems feeding data to each other in an automated fashion, so it might not be as simple as entering some incorrect values in a few places. So they might come to the DBA for help. And if someone comes to youh, asking for changes to data, or worse, auditing systems, what do you do? If someone offers you money, or threatens your job, how do you handle it?
I'd like to think that most people wouldn't participate in something like this, but I'm sure someone will, even if under duress. What do you do in that case? It's easy to say you ought to report them, but it can be hard to find a job in this economy. You might not want to jeopardize your livelihood, especially if you are the sole supporter of your family.
And then there's the reputation you'll get. Can another employer trust you to keep information confidential? Most people agree that sexual harassment should get reported, but often women that do so face prejudice at future jobs, where men may not want to work with them for fear of being accused of inappropriate action.
It can be a hard decision to make. Ultimately I think if you are asked to do something illegal, you need to document what occurred for your own protection, and refuse to do it. Protect your job, especially if you suspect that there may be repercussions, but don't participate.
And consider finding a new company or position. Working for someone that is willing to break the law, or even your own moral code, is a disaster in waiting.
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