Discovering that employees at a company are copying books and using company time and products to do so brings up some ethical issues. First, the book’s copyrights are being infringed. Second, using company time, paper, and toner ink is stealing from the employer. What action should witnesses to this activity take?
One course of action is to ignore the copying. Witnesses can pretend they do not see it or that it is not happening. Another course of action is to approach the employees and ask them what they are doing. Maybe just the fact that someone caught them in the act of making copies and is asking them about it will make them stop making copies. One more way to handle the situation is to ask them to stop doing what they are doing because it is wrong on multiple levels. Explain to them how what they are doing is wrong and how it affects the copyrights and the employer. If they do not stop copying or become angry, witnesses can advise them that they will bring this to the attention of the team manager. After witnesses speak to the team manager, it is up to the manager to handle the situation. Witnesses can also avoid confronting the employees directly and just report this activity to the manager.
What would I do? If I am not in management, it is not my job to question what other people are doing or to tell them what they can and cannot do. If I saw someone making copies of just one or two pages, I would not be concerned about it. If someone were making tens or hundreds of copies for their personal use, I would advise the team manager of what is happening. I would be specific as to whom I saw, when I saw the activity, what I thought they were doing, and how many copies I thought they were making.
It is possible that the employer could have some liability regarding the copyright infringement so management will want to know about employees who are making copies for their own personal use while on company time.
My reasons for speaking with the manager include the fact that I do not want to confront the employees who are making the copies. In addition, I would not want the company to be liable for any copyright infringement. Finally, I do not appreciate the fact that the other employees are stealing company resources. When employees steal from an employer, it affects the company in several ways. The company will have less money to use toward upgrading equipment, purchasing regular supplies, and giving raises and bonuses. It is possible that I would receive a lesser raise because the company has less financial resources than it expected due to this employee theft of time and resources. One other reason for speaking with the manager is that the less time other employees spend working, the more work I have to do. That is not fair.
Once I have spoken to the manager, it is up to the manager how he or she wants to handle the situation. It is now out of my hands. I have placed the responsibility for the situation with the manager. The manager can choose to ignore the situation, confront the employee, or simply watch the employee. The manager may choose to watch the employee so that the manager can be an actual witness to the activity instead of just trusting the word of another employee. The best option would be for the manager to see the employee making the copies.
It would be best for the manager to see this for himself or herself for proper documentation in personnel files. If the manager sees the activity personally, he or she can confront the employee directly with what he or she saw. It will be harder for the employee to deny it when the manager sees it. If the manager goes to the employee making copies with the word of another employee, the one making the copies can deny it and say the other employee is making it up and just wants to get him or her in trouble. One of the reasons managers are in place include managing employee behavior.