This Is A Lying-Doesn’t-Fly Zone

, , , , , , | Working | December 31, 2020

I work in a department that creates graphics and presentations for the rest of the firm. We have regulars that routinely use our services, but we’re available to anyone in the company.

I’m alone in the center overnight two days before Christmas when I get a call from an unfamiliar employee asking if we can edit a PDF. It’s not an uncommon request; sometimes documents are converted to PDF for sharing or printing, only for a typo or alignment problem to be discovered at the last minute.

Me: “Sure, that’s most likely not a problem.”

Employee: “Great!” 

The employee emails me the file.

I open the file and stare at it, aghast. It’s a note from this employee’s doctor. Evidently, a long-scheduled plane trip over the holidays had been imperiled by a serious injury a few weeks back; the note states that the employee is cleared to fly.

The instructions are to add the word “not” into the note so that it would appear to read that the employee was not cleared to fly.

I’m ready to refuse this outright when I hear the internalized voice of my boss. Like most “cost centers,” our department doesn’t have a lot of cachet within the company, and recent complaints involving a few of us trying to enforce certain standards that not all of the senior officers care about have led to firm instructions from our boss not to refuse anything our requesters ask for.

Basically, our option to say, “No, we don’t do that,” has been taken away, leaving me wondering how best to handle this employee’s request to help them scam their airline without violating departmental directive.

I call the employee back.

Me: *Politely* “I’m sorry, but I do not feel I can ethically handle your request.”

The employee persists.

Employee: “It’s just inserting a word! I simply want to get my plane tickets refunded now that I’ve decided not to take the trip.”

After going back and forth a while, I finally have to say outright that I’m not comfortable falsifying medical documents on the employee’s behalf.

The employee tells me they understand and hangs up, only to call back to say they’re going to try to do it themselves, and asking if I can tell them how to do that.

I’m thinking about PDF-tampering permutations of the old “feed someone a fish” adage as I take another look at the document. It’s an image, not a text-based PDF, so modifying it isn’t as simple as clicking “Edit” and typing in “not.” I tell the employee that the change is not something they can do themselves; they accept this and hang up. I then document everything for my boss, wondering what the response will be.

After the holidays, I hear back from my boss. My refusal to do the job was supported, not because the request was unethical but because it was personal and not business-related.

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