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Find Support When Facing an Ethical Dilemma in Construction

Every day, constructors must make ethical decisions that have a long-lasting impact. It’s part of the challenging nature of an industry that requires integrity in all areas of decision-making.

The challenge is knowing how to handle situations that may lead to unethical behavior. Understanding where to draw the line can help you better understand the best approach when facing an ethical dilemma in construction.

Having a community of supporters in your back pocket to talk through critical issues, challenges, and risk factors is also important. That’s why AIC serves a valuable role in the industry by providing constructors with a Code of Ethics and a support system to follow ethical business practices. Learn more about why community is integral to ethics.

The Value of a Community-Based Approach to Ethics

You don’t have to go at it alone when deciding how to handle ethical situations. Having access to a community of constructors can help you make sound ethical decisions.

The following are real examples of unethical practices, their outcomes, and why a strong community could have helped the constructor avoid the negative consequences of their actions.

1. Bribes Go Two Ways

In New York, former mayor Bill de Blasio launched an affordable housing plan that would have added around 50,000 new apartments to New York City over the course of several years.

In the rush to get their projects approved, some contractors bribed city inspectors with money and gifts to speed up the process. And, the inspectors received the bribes. The issue is that an inspector can stop a job permanently or let it pass, so they hold a lot of power to support the completion of buildings. This is a case of two sides being unethical, one feeding off the other.

Takeaway: Of course, no one should be bribing anyone. The contractors were at fault for offering bribes, and the inspectors were at fault for accepting bribes in exchange for signing off on projects that may or may not have been ready or safe.

The unethical exchange of favors could have resulted in unsafe conditions, accidents, and shoddy workmanship, with disastrous results down the line. Banding together to ensure a fair and balanced inspection process for all could have changed the outcome.

It starts with the contractor not participating in a bribery scheme. Having a community of constructors to discuss the matter with could have resulted in a better decision to act ethically. From an ethical standpoint, protecting the public interest by ensuring that buildings are safe for use is more important than meeting a timeline.

2. Time Sheet Inflation

For some companies, altering the timesheets of labor foremen is a common practice as a way to “tip” the top supervisors. It’s a common form of unethical practices in the construction industry practiced by some construction companies.

If the business is footing the bill, this gratuity might be passed over. But in one case from 2015, the extra money was billed to the clients without their approval. It cost the contractor more than $7 million in fines. Taking advantage of a customer by falsifying worked hours created a rift that was not easily solved.

Takeaway: This case was an example of dishonest reporting. Giving a bonus to top employees seems like a nice gesture, but taking it from a client and passing it off as billable hour is an unethical practice.

Construction managers should always get approval on timesheets and keep detailed, accurate reports. Having multiple eyes on timesheets to ensure everything is above board can prevent this type of costly incident.

Not only does this type of incident hurt the contractor-client relationship, but it impacts the overall view of the construction industry. Leaning on a community of constructors to ask questions about how to handle this type of timesheet dilemma could have prevented poor decision-making that damaged the reputation of the industry.

3. Miscommunication Leads to Tragedy

On a more tragic note, poor communication and a failure to re-inspect design changes can sometimes lead to major safety issues. In 1981, just a year after the completion of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, two suspended walkways collapsed during a dance, resulting in casualties.

The design of the structures was changed during fabrication, so the walkways no longer held to the city’s weight-bearing codes. No side wanted to take the blame for this event, and a simple case of miscommunication and lack of oversight had unfortunate results.

Takeaway: In this case, everyone involved with the change should have checked if it held with the original plans. After hearing about the decision from the constructors and fabricators, the construction manager could have discussed the alteration with the engineers. A proper verification could have ensured that additional supports were included.

Having a community of constructors all looking out for each other would have helped when it came to double-checking and holding each other accountable. Constructors unsure of how to handle these types of complex communication challenges can bounce ideas off other constructors to see how they would handle the situation.

The Importance of Community to Address an Ethical Dilemma in Construction

Participating in a support system is one of the best ways to uphold ethical practices. There is strength in numbers, and being part of a community of like-minded peers will help you stand for a higher level of moral responsibility when managing construction projects.

When you have access to a network of peers that embody the same standards you hold dear, it’s easier to call out unethical practices, teach new constructors the right way to handle ethical issues in construction, and make sure the industry is viewed in the best light.
Would you benefit from being part of a community of constructors committed to ethics? Consider joining AIC. Veteran construction managers are here to talk you through any ethical dilemma in construction you’re facing and offer suggestions on how best to navigate these critical issues. Find out how to sign up today.

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