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Letter: moral obligations

4 Dec 17

A challenge to the advice in the Ask Ash November column

by George Lawrence Allen

Your pseudonymous contributor Ash’s monthly column on workplace interpersonal and other problems is always interesting and judicious. Last month’s subject-matter (Journal, November 2017, 45) concerned an employed solicitor who is said to have legitimately come into possession of information from her line manager the gist of which was that an unsuspecting fellow employee was facing imminent dismissal for allegedly underperforming at work. This information is said to have been imparted in confidence.

One assumes that, as is usually the case in such situations, the information was first made known and only after that was the recipient told to keep it confidential. The question arises, ought she to tell her fellow employee? Ash says No. I say Yes, especially in the given circumstances of the employee having every expectation of succeeding to her fellow employee’s more lucrative job.

I am in no doubt that there is a moral duty to communicate the information to her fellow unproductive employee who, in all probability would pull his socks up as a result of his being forewarned. Except when contrary to civil or criminal law, one is morally obligated to warn others of dangers of which they may be unaware.

This code of righteous conduct is not new. In the Old Testament, Jonathan warns David of impending harm to David and explains, “If I know that it was determined… that harm should come to you, would I not tell you?” (1 Samuel 20: 9). Interestingly, there has long existed in England a little-known fraternal society whose members are pledged to forewarn each other of covert dangers. The overarching moral principle is, of course, the Golden Rule, common to almost all religions and perhaps most clearly stated (more than once) in the New Testament: “Whatever you wish that others would do for you, do also for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7: 12; Luke 6: 31). Furthermore, this theological approach is in harmony with the categorical imperative.

George Lawrence Allen, Edinburgh

 


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