February 2nd, 2010

Step Away from the Latte Drawing: On Ethics

pirate con leche by Chris Blakeley

Yesterday two law librarians (Connie Crosby & Sarah Glassmeyer) received and blogged about their major (and apparently quite unexpected) swag from Thomson Reuters Legal: an 8G iPod Nano. For reference when the price drops on these things in the future, they currently retail about $130-150. Yikes.

I know as a State of Washington employee (for 12 years this month)  that I’m bound by the guidelines in Chapter 42.52 RCW: Ethics in public service. It is a complex law I have never looked through but I’ve received training off & on about it at the University of Washington (UW). How I generally remember our ethics guidelines (not necessarily accurate) are

  1. Don’t accept any gift over $50
  2. Don’t do personal email or fart around on the Internet using company time or resources
  3. If you might work for pay elsewhere, you’d better check with the higher ups at UW to clear it first

These guidelines are why I’m vigilant about not blogging on company time, I’m no one of prominence (not invited to the dinner cruises & parties vendors throw for Medical Library Association/MLA conferences), and I’d assumed that after so many years I had a clear sense of our ethics guidelines.

Or do I?

I took the 39 question state ethics quiz and kind of blew it (30/39 right). Avon catalogs are not allowed at work even if you don’t use work time to collect orders although the fund-raising stuff for our kids is fine. I’m sure my colleagues are relieved to know they don’t have unethical popcorn. I poked around UW’s website and found a January 19, 2010 powerpoint about ethics that had a few more surprises in store for me though.

  1. Business card drawing for a free latte? Nope. I’m guilty of blowing this one; we need to use personal calling cards.
  2. Conference door prize? If you paid for the conference AND used vacation time to attend, enjoy it. Otherwise hand it over to UW. I’m also guilty here, and this week’s Friday Foolery will be my confession on the topic complete with pictures.
  3. I’m also wrong on #3 above, outside work needs to be cleared whether or not it’s for pay.

I love the ending: If you don’t want your mother to read about it in tomorrow’s Seattle Times, then don’t do it.

I hope Sarah has similar clear ethics law guidelines to refer to as a public employee, and Connie can choose her own path as an independent contractor. I love the idea of a charity raffle! MLA is currently updating the Code of Ethics for Health Sciences Librarianship and I’m looking forward to seeing how issues like this are addressed in it. The Cod is watching.

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2 Responses to “Step Away from the Latte Drawing: On Ethics”

  1. Hi Nikki:

    I wouldn’t have had such a problem with it as a law firm librarian, except that it would have upset me to see prices on the product going up while they were sending out such big swag. But, I didn’t mind receiving swag at conferences, and even received a (much less expensive) iPod shuffle previously at a conference.

    What really weirded me out was that I am not a client (no longer working as a librarian), so it seems them sent it to me as a blogger of influence. And I have stronger feelings about that. It is one thing to send me gifts of appreciation as a client, it is another to send me gifts when I am not a client to entice me to blog. And of course the FCC have rules about these things now, so blogging about it becomes a little trickier.

    It is possible they gave away iPods at one of the lawyers’ tech conferences, in which case it was probably (maybe?) appropriate, but I think they just really miscalculated the culture of the industry they were sending these things to apart from that.

    Cheers,
    Connie

  2. […] and makes even such ordinarily dry subjects as ethics (could you come up with a funnier title than, “Step Away from the Latte Drawing: On Ethics?”) laugh out loud […]

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