This is a complicated question and I thank you for raising it. Unfortunately, there are times when we may find our professional organizations in conflict with our personal values. There is no hard and fast rule about which way we turn in these situations. We must rely on our own judgement, and try to ensure that we make decisions with as much information and wisdom as we can. Judaism, however, offers several guiding principles that we can use when facing an ethical dilemma in our work:
Find yourself a teacher - I find that one of the most important relationships I have in my employment is my mentor. These are wiser colleagues who I can turn to from time to time when I have a problem, or need some advice. Judaism believes strongly in shared wisdom, and acknowledges that we do our best when we are not in a vacuum. I would encourage you to seek out someone, either inside your organization or someone you trust from outside your employment, who can be of help. Personally, I have both and I find that they provide invaluable advice.
The law of the land is the law - from time to time we confront a policy or procedure at work that goes against a particular Jewish practice. Although it is appropriate to seek a remedy for the situation, we also must acknowledge that we won't always find a solution. Unless there is some other violation, a contract violation or a breech of an agreement, I think we have an obligation to try and comply.
Seek justice, go and pursue it - justice is a complicated thing, and can be hard to find. In our search for justice, we acknowledge a higher calling, and also recognize that the search for justice does not mean the finding of justice. As my grandfather, alav hashalom, used to say - they don't call fishing, catching, for a reason. But, at all times we want to see ourselves as in pursuit of what is right, even though we live in shades of gray.
Self care - Judaism understands that care of the self is a primary value. Whatever happens, you should be working in a way that allows you to care for yourself, provide for your needs, and support those you love. If that is not congruent with your work situation, perhaps a change is needed. If your work is not allowing you to care for yourself, perhaps the business ethic of your employer does not match yours. Whatever the case, remember that your well being is more important.
I wish you good luck. I have dealt with ethical problems with employers in my own work. They are complicated. Sometimes organizations don't recognize the mistake, and often times the organizational leadership simply does not want to recognize their own fault. It is sad and can be painful. Whatever your situation, I hope that with good counsel, you are able to resolve it in a way that leaves both you, and your employer, feeling well served.
This is an important question. The balance between being successful at work while maintaining one’s sense of ethics or religious values can sometimes be difficult to accomplish. On one hand, people need to work and make a living and it is important to learn to be accommodating. On the other hand, one’s values and ethics are the core of what defines a person, and giving up on them is almost a mini-death.
As I do not know what particular challenge you are facing, it is hard to give an answer or even a “Jewish” reaction; the devil is in the details. Instead I will offer multiple reflections with the hope that something will be helpful.
If your work environment is not conducive to your acting in a way that would make you feel like a good person, you should think about leaving. This does not need to be done rashly or immediately, but I suggest starting the process. In the end, this will be a constant tension and may cause you to regret your actions in the future and to be unhappy with yourself in the present.
If what you are experiencing is more a culture where you are supposed to turn a blind eye to the ethical lapses of others, you may want to consider how bad the lapses are—are there legal violations that you are aware of, are others being harmed by fraud or abuse or something to that effect? I think that Judaism would not look kindly at even tacit involvement in actions that hurt others or take advantage of them. If this is occurring, I would suggest reporting the activity and leaving. If the violations are less stark and just represent things you would not consider best practices or professional behavior, this may be something you can make your peace with and might not, and I would suggest playing it by ear. If you find that your own ethics are beginning to be compromised, then it may be time to move on.
Finally, if you are in the situation—and I pray this is not the case—where the job is virtually forcing you to behave in a way that you consider to actively violate your own ethical norms, my answer is that you may not do this. A job is a wonderful thing, and I cannot advise someone to take the plunge into unemployment, come what may, but I will say that you should not act unethically under duress or for any other reason. In the end, my assumption is that you will regret this behavior long after this job is a distant unpleasant memory. There is a security blanket of sorts in the USA for unemployment, and, perhaps, this is the situation where it should be used.
Of course, I do not know your financial situation, the nature of your employment and skill sets, or the nature of the ethical violation, (it could be relatively minor?) so I cannot give clear advice. However, the bottom line is that—ultimately, no job is worth sacrificing yourself to. Sublimating your own ethical sense for the short term gain of appeasing an employer or coworker would be, to my mind, an example of being penny wise and dollar foolish in a matter that involves your own soul.
What should you do when your personal values are in conflict with a certain ethic at work? What does Judaism say about this?
Given the generality of your question, it isn’t so easy to give a simple answer. After all, what “values” are we talking about? What “certain ethic”?
On the other hand, it’s fairly straightforward. If your employer is expecting you (or others in your workplace) to behave in an unethical manner, then your employer is acting unethically. You may think that you don’t have a choice – but you do. In general, in Jewish law, “Ein shaliach lidvar aveirah,” i.e., “There is no agency when it comes to transgressions.” In other words, when it comes to acting in the world, you yourself must be a moral actor. You can’t blame your unethical behavior on your employer. If you sense a conflict between your ethical principles (which I presume have been informed by Judaism, and are not simply “personal”) and those of your employer (which I presume have not), you should speak with someone in authority at work. Clarify exactly what is being asked of you (or of others). You may find that you misunderstood, and in fact an ethical quandary does not exist. But if you confirm that there is indeed a conflict, then you need to ask yourself: Do you want to act unethically? Do you want to stand idly by while someone else behaves unethically? Do you want to work for an unethical employer?
First, go and read Rabbi James Greene’s well-conceived and practical response, if you haven’t already.
I would add only a few thoughts to his.
With regard to “The law of the land is the law,” if the ethic at work conflicts not only with your personal values but also with the law of the land, consult an attorney, and if you have the luxury of leaving your job, do.
“Justice, justice shall you pursue”: Considering carefully the culture of the workplace and your individual circumstances, is there a safe and respectful way to raise your concerns and perhaps effect change? Whether you answer yes or no, be smart and follow up on Rabbi Greene’s first suggestion, “find yourself a teacher.” This is especially important prior to making politically risky moves at work.
As Rabbi Greene suggests, self-care is a central Jewish value. We are all created in God’s image, and obligated to care for our bodies as well as our souls. If you need your job, and if opportunities for cultural change at work or finding a new job are lacking, and the conflict is ethical but not legal in nature (i.e. your employer is neither breaking the law nor asking you to do so), you are justified in keeping your job if you must in order to provide for your basic needs and those of any others who rely on you.
Remember Rabbi Hillel’s teaching: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? Our needs sometimes conflict with others’, especially when viewed primarily in the here and now; and yet both ethically and practically, now and in the long run, our needs and others’ are always inextricably linked. The real challenge for you at work, as for all of us at any time, is how to properly balance the three implied responsibilities of Rabbi Hillel’s words: to act in your self-interest, to act on behalf of others, and to act without delay.
And again, you don’t need to face this task alone. Find that teacher, that mentor, as soon as you can.
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