Justify your response with references to any of the Learning Resources from Weeks 1–4.


To prepare for this Discussion, consult the case studies from this week’s Learning Resources and select one.

Post by Day 3 a brief description of the ethical dilemma/situation presented in the case you selected to analyze.

  • Explain how individual, organizational, or situational causes—or a combination of the three—led to the situation, then explain the ethical principle/standard(s) violated in the case.
  • Justify your response with references to any of the Learning Resources from Weeks 1–4.
  • Describe one way that this dilemma/situation could have been avoided or mitigated.

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Week 4 Case Documents

Case 12: Maintaining Confidentiality and Objectivity A. Facts of the Case A multinational organization contracted with a consulting psychologist to assess candidates for promotion to an executive-level job in a socially conservative country. The psychologist was a male in his mid-thirties. The psychologist conducted the assessments and recommended a male candidate who had a stellar performance record with the company and showed the most potential for the new job. The recommended candidate was also highly regarded by top management. The individual selected was scheduled to begin the new job after a 2-week vacation. Before leaving on vacation, the new executive, who had always been friendly with the psychologist, met with him and expressed relief over the results of the assessment. The executive then started rambling a bit in idle conversation. His expression appeared to be worried. Sensing there might be something troubling the executive, the psychologist asked if there were other issues on his mind. The executive then confided growing anxieties over some unelaborated personal conflicts and revealed that the real purpose of his 2-week “vacation” was to seek out some professional counseling. The executive stated that he was particularly eager to resolve the conflicts before starting his new job. He noted that top management knew nothing about this issue and believed the executive really was indeed taking a vacation prior to going overseas. The psychologist expressed empathy, suggested (on request) the name of a good clinical psychologist, and agreed to keep the foregoing discussion confidential. The executive thanked the psychologist for his understanding and advice. When leaving, the executive hugged and, to the psychologist’s surprise and embarrassment, quickly but not too subtly, fondled the psychologist. The psychologist chose to ignore the gesture and bade the executive a polite farewell. After some reflection on the matter, the psychologist decided not to say anything to top management about the meeting, including the behavior that occurred at the close of the meeting. He felt bound by his promise to keep the conversation confidential. The psychologist concluded that the executive deserved an opportunity to perform well in the new job. He believed that whatever problems might arise in the new job could be satisfactorily dealt with at that time by the company and the executive.

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Case 19: Implementing an Equitable Bonus Plan A. Facts of the Case A company’s compensation manager was asked by the vice president of HR to prepare a proposal for introducing a bonus plan for all exempt employees. The vice president asked the company’s I/O psychologist to advise the company’s compensation manager on the project. Together the compensation manager and the psychologist developed a proposal for awarding annual bonuses to all executives if the company met both revenue and profit goals and to all other exempt employees if the company met its revenue goals. The proposal was presented to, and accepted by, the company’s executive committee. The new plan was then widely publicized within the company. Midway through the first year of the bonus plan, the company’s vice president of finance reported that the company was likely to meet its revenue goals for the year but was unlikely to meet its profit goals due to the new bonus plan. Bonuses constituted a significant portion of the executives’ income, yet in the last 2 years the bonuses had been scaled back due to increased operating costs and a business downturn. Executives were expecting restored bonuses this year. The vice president of finance therefore advised the HR vice president that the employee bonus plan would need to be severely scaled back and even dropped if necessary to preserve the executive bonuses. The vice president of HR then met with the compensation manager and the psychologist to tell them about the new developments. He asked them to prepare a severely downscaled bonus plan and to alert employees of the distinct possibility that there might not be any bonuses for employees this year. The psychologist strongly argued against such a course of action. The psychologist pointed out that the operating profit goal could not be reached without the work of all the employees, not just the executives, and that reneging on a promise would potentially have serious implications. Moreover, the psychologist noted, employees would very likely deeply resent the action and possibly become much less cooperative in the future. The psychologist then offered to resign, citing the APA Ethics Code Standard on “conflicts between ethics and organizational demands” and adding that it was critically important for everyone involved in the matter not to tarnish his or her integrity. Probably inspired by the psychologist’s stance, the compensation manager followed with essentially the same arguments and then suggested that the vice president for finance take the problem to the executive committee and make a plea for keeping the promise made to the employees. The vice president reluctantly agreed to do so and was surprised when the committee unanimously agreed to honor the commitment to the employees, even if that meant dramatically reducing bonuses for the executives. As it turned out, the company exceeded its goals by the end of the year, and all employees received full bonuses.

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Case 60: Psychologists as Employers of Other Psychologists A. Facts of the Case The managers in a unit of a corporation were having difficulty working together. Their supervisor contacted the company’s internal I/O psychologist for help in reducing the conflict. Because the psychologist was overcommitted with her current assignments, she contracted for the services of another psychologist outside the firm to work with the managers on their identified concerns. Although this psychologist had no experience working in industry, he had an excellent and well- deserved reputation for his work in assessing and treating marital and family conflict. He was also eager to test the generalizability of his theories in industrial settings. From the start of the work with the managers, there were negative comments about the consulting psychologist’s approach and techniques. The complaints primarily concerned the use of seemingly irrelevant examples and a style that the managers felt talked down to them. Initially the comments were made informally to the consultant, but not long thereafter members of the management group working with him complained in writing about the way they were being treated and about the simplistic exercises in which they were asked to participate. Several managers eventually refused further participation even though the contract with the psychologist had 2 months remaining. After hearing the informal complaints and receiving several written complaints, the internal psychologist consulted her boss, who was not a psychologist. As her supervisor recommended, she immediately terminated the contract by a letter stating that the consulting psychologist’s services were no longer required. No meetings were held to review the reasons for the decision, nor was there any telephone contact about the situation. The psychologist’s gate card was invalidated, and security guards were notified that the psychologist was not to be admitted to the plant. After several unsuccessful attempts to reach the contracting psychologist by phone, the consulting psychologist demanded full payment for the contracted services and further challenged the decision to terminate the program midstream. When the payment was curtly refused, the consulting psychologist threatened to sue, at which point the company’s legal advisor made the recommendation to pay the originally contracted amount to avoid litigation.

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Week 5 Case Documents

Case 17: Using Electronic Mail for Providing Confidential Feedback A. Facts of the Case A psychologist employed as an internal consultant for a large, decentralized organization was responsible for implementing a 360° feedback process for a large segment of the organization. In this technique, managers or other employees receive feedback from a variety of sources in the organization, including subordinates, peers, and superiors. As is usually the case, participants in this 360° feedback program were to receive anonymous feedback. They were only to be made aware of the group from which feedback came (e.g., subordinate, supervisor, peer, or client). In search of a cost-effective means of implementing the 360° system, the psychologist contracted with the firm’s management information system (MIS) department to use the company’s existing electronic mail (e-mail) system to deploy the feedback program. Questionnaires were distributed through the e- mail system, and employees were able to respond at their workstations with apparent assurance of anonymity. Company management reacted to the system with great enthusiasm and gave the psychologist special recognition for a job well done. When the psychologist received the database from MIS to begin the analyses, however, she discovered that personal name identifiers were automatically recorded for each respondent. On further inquiries, the psychologist learned from the MIS department that this was a necessary feature of e-mail, intended to prevent fraudulent messages from being disseminated in another person’s name. The MIS department’s manager assured the psychologist that his staff members would not abuse in any way any person’s confidential responses. The psychologist decided to accept the word of the MIS department manager and to continue using the system, which, otherwise, appeared to be working well.

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Case 20: Conflicting Obligations in Survey Research A. Facts of the Case An I/O psychologist conducted an employee opinion survey for one of his organizational clients, a large manufacturing corporation. As was the custom in this firm, the survey included a few places for written comments in addition to the many objective, forced-choice attitudinal items. The company’s policy was to guarantee anonymity to all respondents. Consistent with this policy, when written comments were entered into the computer, any names or other potential identifiers were deleted. All of the original written comments were then destroyed. After the survey results were disseminated, one of the managers noticed a written comment in the summary of the survey results stating that there was an unresolved safety issue in the organization that was potentially life threatening. The respondent insisted that management investigate the issue immediately and that the condition, over time, could be damaging. However, the respondent did not provide enough information to allow management to address the issue. The company asked the psychologist for assistance in obtaining the needed information even if, in the interests of safety, it meant identifying the survey respondent. Since all names and other identifiers had been destroyed, there was no possibility that survey information could be used to identify the employee. The psychologist could attempt to identify the respondent using the demographic data in the survey (e.g., department, job, gender). However, he informed the company that he would not do so, since it would potentially violate the company’s commitment to survey anonymity. After considering the ethical issues associated with ignoring the safety issue versus those connected with violating the promise of anonymity, the psychologist decided that the safety issue still needed to be addressed. Rather than attempting to identify the respondent by name, he used the demographic data to identify a pool of 32 respondents that would include the respondent of interest. The psychologist sent every employee in this group a memo describing the situation, the company’s commitment to preserving respondents’ anonymity and to employee safety, and the need for more specific information regarding the safety issue. The memo asked any respondent with information about the reported safety problem anonymously or otherwise to forward the information to the company’s director of safety.

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Case 30: Recording Data Without Consent A. Facts of the Case An I/O psychologist who managed the employee survey research program for a large organization was conducting a research project consisting of focus groups convened to discuss the results of a survey and to solicit feedback on the survey program. After the first few groups expressed considerable dissatisfaction with senior management, the psychologist decided to audiotape the discussions so that he would have all of the facts and impressions verbatim and could be complete and accurate in quotations included in the presentation to be made to senior management. Because he had no intentions of sharing the recordings with anyone else, the psychologist did not obtain informed consent of the participants being taped. In fact, he did not even make the participants aware of the recording device, hiding the tape-recording device from overt view. During the presentation to senior management, the existence of the tapes was discovered, and the CEO asked to listen to them. The psychologist indicated that he would not be able to share the tapes with anyone because the participants had not been informed in advance that the tapes might be used in this way and because he would therefore be behaving unprofessionally and unethically. The CEO acquiesced to this decision but expressed concern about the psychologist’s judgment. The psychologist then destroyed the tapes to ensure their inaccessibility.

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Week 6 Case Documents

Case 6: Personnel Screening for Emotional Stability

A. Facts of the Case An I/O psychologist employed by a state civil service agency received a request from the state correctional agency to develop a psychological screening procedure for use as part of the process of selecting correctional officers. The assessment procedure was to be used to weed out persons emotionally unfit for this high-stress, emotionally demanding job. The I/O psychologist began work on the assignment by conducting a review of the research literature on personality assessment in employment settings (including correctional jobs) and by reading test reviews. The psychologist discussed the proposed screening program with 10 psychologists located throughout the country. These psychologists were knowledgeable about the appropriate assessment of personnel in high-risk jobs such as correctional officers, police officers, and nuclear power plant operators. The psychologist then conducted a job analysis and identified and defined a dozen job-related, personal characteristics of correctional officers. Potential rejection indicators and possible job difficulties were also described. The objective of the psychological assessment procedures was to screen out at the post-conditional- offer phase persons who were likely to be unstable, dangerous, or violent. Two objective personality measures, for which an extensive research history existed, were selected for use in the assessment process. In addition, evidence from background investigations and oral examinations was included among the selection components. The I/O psychologist retained the services of some clinical psychologists who were skilled in assessing some of the particular behavioral difficulties for which the selection program was intended to screen. However, the clinicians were not trained in the principles or legal requirements of personnel selection, nor were they familiar with the correctional officer jobs. Before the post-conditional-offer emotional stability screening process began, the I/O psychologist thoroughly oriented the clinical psychologists in the general strategy to be used in screening candidates, the results of the job analysis, the requirement that all assessments made must be job related, and the established policy that no applicant would be screened out solely on the basis of scores on the personality measures. The clinical psychologists played a key role in reviewing the personality profiles and the evidence of desirable and undesirable applicant behaviors from the background investigations and oral examinations. They also determined the need to conduct additional assessments before recommending the elimination of an applicant from the selection process. The I/O psychologist reviewed all completed assessments to ensure they were job related and consistent with good selection practice.

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Case 42: Confidentiality and Objectivity in Reviews A. Facts of the Case An I/O psychologist had been serving on the editorial board of a respected testing and measurement journal for a number of years. While reading an article sent to her for blind review, she recognized the work of a graduate student studying with a colleague at another university. The I/O psychologist and her colleague had collaborated on research and writing projects on a number of occasions, and each had been instrumental in advising and helping to place one another’s graduate students in their professional jobs. At a recent conference, the colleagues and their graduate students had spent an evening together, and it was during this meeting that the I/O psychologist had talked at some length with the graduate student about his research. The two had found many common professional interests in their approach to scale development, and the I/O psychologist respected the graduate student’s theoretical insight. In the manuscript submitted by the graduate student, the I/O psychologist was surprised to find significant psychometric problems, including very low reliability coefficients for the scales developed by the graduate student. He selectively cited only the two acceptably high reliability coefficients out of the eight presented, thus implying that the highest coefficients were representative of the entire range of reliability coefficients. The I/O psychologist was disappointed and a little confused about the problems, given her favorable impression of the graduate student’s skills, but decided to trust her earlier impressions of his work and review the research more positively than she might otherwise have done. After submitting a generally favorable review of the graduate student’s manuscript the I/O psychologist contacted her colleague and discussed how the graduate student could improve his scales before using them in future research.

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Case 61: When Romance Fails A. Facts of the Case An I/O psychologist who was responsible for supervising I/O doctoral psychology student interns, after several months of intense involvement on a high-profile project, found himself romantically and sexually attracted to one of the female student interns. Through a mutual acquaintance, he learned that she was also attracted to him. The psychologist, who was only a year or two older than the intern, was a recent PhD graduate who had earned his doctorate at the intern’s university. They had many common acquaintances and interests. After a few weeks of casual dating, they became involved in an intimate relationship. They both knew that the dual relationship was potentially problematic but felt they were mature enough to handle any complications in a professional manner. Because others might not understand and because it might also have resulted in their not being able to work together, the psychologist advised the intern to keep the affair secret from their work and university-based colleagues. Both parties agreed that their work productivity was being enhanced because of the close contact they had with one another in both their work and social lives. Over time, the romantic relationship soured, and the supervisor stated that it would be best for them to end the affair. The student intern was devastated by this loss, and she became even more upset as she discovered she was now in the position of having to serve her internship under the supervision of one who was increasingly cold, obviously distanced, and who was becoming more and more critical of her work, that, previously, he had praised as being exceptionally good. Both her internship and schoolwork suffered with her emotional distress. When the intern accused her boss of having taken unfair and inappropriate advantage of her, he reminded her that the affair had been entirely mutually consensual. He also stated that because he was not a licensed psychologist (although he was a member of several professional organizations, including the American Psychological Association [APA] and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology [SIOP]) the psychology ethics code did not apply to him. He suggested that it would be best for all concerned if she transferred to another business unit to complete her internship. Ultimately, she did transfer out of his section and completed the internship in a satisfactory manner.

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Week 7 Case Documents

Case 29: Accurately Reporting Research Results

A. Facts of the Case An I/O psychologist in consulting practice was contracted by a company to study predictors of absenteeism. As a recent graduate, the psychologist was attempting to build up her practice and needed the work. In a subtle way, the psychologist exaggerated what the client might expect as a result of the study she proposed to do, implying that the company might experience a significant decrease in absenteeism by agreeing to fund the study and implement its recommendations. As her proposal stipulated, the psychologist reviewed the literature, identified a large number of potentially relevant variables, and prepared a study that required employees to complete a lengthy questionnaire. After the data were collected, the psychologist conducted complex multivariate analyses that yielded only a small correlation with absenteeism. The psychologist felt that if all the results were reported, the inability to say anything conclusive would have been professionally embarrassing, particularly after the expectations she had helped to create in marketing her project. Her report was therefore not very detailed concerning the technical analyses that were performed. She reported none of the empirical correlations of the survey variables with absenteeism. Instead, the psychologist organized the report around meta-analyses of the absenteeism literature. To make the report seem more customized, she added a number of anecdotes from interviews with selected employees. The managers who had contracted for the study were not very pleased with the psychologist’s report. They felt that they had not received what they had been promised in her proposal and that the report provided little locally relevant information they could not otherwise have obtained in-house at considerably less expense. A key manager in the company confronted the psychologist with his concerns. At this point, the psychologist acknowledged that the results of the empirical analyses had been inconclusive and that she had therefore left most of them out. She also stated that she wanted the report to be understandable by the company officials and had therefore excluded some of the technical jargon. The manager insisted that the report be rewritten to report all the work that had been in the original contract. The company’s representatives remained unhappy with the revised final report she submitted. They still found little of use to the company, though at least the actual work performed by the psychologist was now summarized. In response to the dissatisfaction, the coordinating manager in the company stated that the firm would not pay for the psychologist’s originally contracted rate. Unhappily and after considerable protest of unfairness and unprofessionalism, the psychologist reluctantly agreed to the reduced payment. She feared that if she did not accept the revised terms, her professional reputation would suffer, and she wanted to end the dispute as painlessly and quietly as possible.

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Case 35: Research Responsibilities

A. Facts of the Case A graduate student collected survey material on the effects of employee benefits on job satisfaction as part of his doctoral dissertation. The literature review extended beyond the dissertation subject to include other areas such as total compensation and satisfaction. Because of the nature of the literature collected, the student and his doctoral advisor considered the possibility of extending the research to conduct meta-analyses on data that were not pertinent to the dissertation. Since neither of these individuals was experienced in conducting this type of analysis, they invited a faculty member from another university to participate in the research and to advise them on methodological and analytical issues. In return, this outside faculty member would be a coauthor for publications and presentations based on these projects. A written agreement was drafted by the professors and shown to the graduate student. It specified the number of papers that would be coauthored, the subject of each manuscript, the responsibility of each of the participants for each project, and the order of authorship for each paper. The professors were clear and precise in drafting the contract. The graduate student voiced no concerns at that time and signed the agreement along with the professors. At the time the student graduated, the first two papers were published and presented as the agreement specified. However, after the student began an academic position, he independently submitted manuscripts based on data that were collected as part of the joint research project. When the other two researchers learned of this behavior and protested, the student responded by filing a complaint with a relevant ethics committee. He claimed that (a) the papers he published and presented were based primarily on the analyses and data from his dissertation and (b) he had been forced into an “unfair agreement” by the seniority and the power the two professors wielded over him as a graduate student. On this basis, he stated that he considered the publication agreement not to be binding on him and asked that the two professors be disciplined.

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Case 40: Publication Credit

A. Facts of the Case An I/O psychology graduate student, along with other I/O graduate students, participated as a member of a research team, supervised by a faculty member of the university’s I/O psychology faculty. The research was carried out in an industrial setting. In the faculty member’s publications deriving from this research, which appeared in print 3 to 4 years later, the academic psychologist failed to acknowledge the contributions of the graduate students and incorporated results obtained by other members of the research team without giving them any credit. In doing so, the professor assumed full credit for the research. The research attracted considerable attention and served to enhance the psychologist’s professional reputation. However, the research had been the product of a joint effort of several students and the faculty member, and the students’ contributions were not even acknowledged. In fact, the other participants had not even consented to or been aware that the material they helped to create was being submitted for publication. When the students, by then all professional psychologists, learned of the publications, they contacted their former professor. In his customary gracious, if distant and slightly forbidding, manner, he indicated that their recollection was inconsistent with his and that in his view their contributions were those typical of rather junior graduate students. Moreover, he noted, they had contributed nothing to the write-up of the article, nor had they asked about being included in any publications from the study. The students replied that they had not contributed to the preparation of the articles because they had not been asked to do so and that had they been consulted they would have been happy to do their share of the work. They also noted that they had conducted the literature reviews, gathered the data, and done the bulk of the data analyses. Two of them had successfully defended theses based on this research. The faculty member then stated that he did not concur in their observations and recollections and clearly communicated that the matter was in his mind closed. Dissatisfied with the responses of the faculty member, the psychologists wrote to the editor of the journals in which the publications appeared and to the ethics committee of a national association to which the psychologist belonged and asked for an independent review of the matter.

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Case 44: Reporting Data from Research Studies A. Facts of the Case A university-based I/O psychologist developed a relationship with the managing director of a large local organization. Because one of the divisions in the firm had some internal problems, the director, at the suggestion of the psychologist, agreed to allow the psychologist and several graduate students to conduct a series of research studies that would benefit the researchers and possibly assist in understanding the nature of the difficulties. No specific agreements were made about information to be provided to the company’s officials, but over a 3-year period the results of these studies were reported to the director, who continued to encourage the program of research. No monetary compensation was requested by the psychologist, and the organization provided no financial support to the students or the psychologist during this time. At the end of the 3-year period, the director requested a comprehensive and detailed report of all research that had been conducted but offered no remuneration. Because of the voluntary nature of the services and other commitments, the psychologist did not feel obligated to provide the report and ended the relationship. No referral was made.

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Week 8 Case Documents

Case 28: Avoiding Conflicts of Interests and Roles A. Facts of the Case An I/O psychologist employed by a complex multinational corporation was responsible for developing and implementing executive development programs for the company. He created one such program with the assistance of an outside consultant, also a psychologist, who had a national reputation for such work. The consultant was also a faculty member at a local university where he was responsible for recruiting adjunct and part-time faculty. After the contract work had been completed, the consultant, acting without additional input from his university colleagues, or from his employer, offered, and the corporate psychologist accepted, a teaching assignment at a rate of remuneration that was twice what competing universities offered for instruction of similar courses and much higher than what the university itself paid for similar adjunct teaching assignments. Other part-time faculty members were unaware of the pay differential.

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Case 31: Misuse of Data Obtained Through a Consulting Engagement A. Facts of the Case An I/O psychologist’s consulting firm was engaged by a consortium of companies to develop a set of proprietary selection tests for customer service representative jobs. The project made use of a criterion-related validation strategy. The psychologist anticipated, based on her experience with prior, similar projects that a high percentage of the initial pool of test items would drop out after preliminary empirical data collection efforts. To compensate for the inevitable item fallout, the psychologist directed her staff to draft twice as many trial items as would normally be called for. To her surprise, the item analysis conducted after the validation data were collected showed a large percentage of the items to be working very well. In fact, so many of the items had excellent psychometric characteristics that there were enough good ones left over to compose a complete additional test. The consulting firm delivered the validated tests to the client as contracted, and the client was satisfied with the results. A few months later, the psychologist had her consulting firm assemble another customer service test, using the remaining items and validation data from the prior project. Without the knowledge or permission of the original client, she began efforts to market the new test through a test publisher. The new measure primarily used the empirical data from her work with the client organization.

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Case 32: Avoiding Dual Relationships A. Facts of the Case A company employed an I/O psychologist whose normal duties included working directly and individually with supervisors who were having performance management problems with specific employees. Occasionally, supervisors asked the psychologist to work informally with an employee. The psychologist had some success with these referrals, especially in the area of coaching and stress management. As the number of consulting opportunities with employees grew, the psychologist started what became a thriving side business conducting stress reduction workshops and executive coaching out of his home office. In this work, the psychologist encouraged individual participants to discuss their personal problems and concerns, which often were not job related. These services were generally paid for by the company. In a few cases individuals paid for the services themselves. The psychologist continued to work with supervisors and individual employees at the company, making a point (in a low-key but clearly communicated manner) to let his contacts know of the availability of his outside services. He encouraged supervisors to refer their employees who had relevant personal concerns. In time his side business was large enough that he was able to open an office outside the home and hire support personnel. The psychologist felt that the outside contacts helped him be more effective in his primary paid employment with the company. He gained insight into problems employees were having that were not necessarily work related. On a very selective basis, the psychologist then shared these insights with the employees’ supervisors so that the supervisor could better manage the individual on a day-to-day basis. No permission was obtained for this sharing of information. The ethical practice of psychology in organizations (2nd Ed.) by Lowman, R.L. Copyright 2006 by the American Psychological Association (Books). Reprinted by permission of the American Psychological Association via the Copyright Clearance Center.

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