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Framework for resolving ethical problems

A framework to help resolve ethical problems starting with identifying the problems and parties involved to implementing the course of action and monitoring its progress.

When trying to solve an ethical problem, you may find it useful to refer to the following framework, which is based on the framework included in ICAEW's Code of Ethics.

The ethics advisory team has also developed a Resolving ethical issues flowchart to help members resolve ethical issues as they arise.

ICAEW framework - how to resolve ethical problems

1) Gather the relevant facts and identify the problems

  • Do I have all the facts relevant to the situation?
  • Am I making assumptions? If so, could facts be identified to replace these assumptions?
  • Is it really your problem? Can anybody else help?

2) Identify the affected parties

  • Who are the individuals, organisations and key stakeholders affected?
  • In what way are they affected?
  • Are there conflicts between different stakeholders?
  • Who are your allies?

3) Consider the ethical issues involved

  • Have you referred to ICAEW's Code of Ethics?
  • What are the professional, organisational and personal ethics issues?
  • Would these ethical issues affect the reputation of the accountancy profession?
  • Would these ethical issues affect the public interest?

4) Identify which fundamental principles are affected

  • What are the threats to compliance with the fundamental principles of:
    • Integrity
    • Objectivity
    • Professional competence and due care
    • Confidentiality
    • Professional behaviour
    • Have you considered the following threats?
      • Self interest
      • Self-review
      • Advocacy
      • Familiarity
      • Intimidation
      • If so, are the treats to compliance with the fundamental principles clearly insignificant?
      • Are there safeguards which can eliminate or reduce the threats to an acceptable level? Safeguards can be created by:
        • Profession, legislation and regulation
        • Work environment
        • Individual

        5) Refer to the employing organisation's internal procedures

        • Does your organisation's policies and procedure provide guidance on the situation?
        • How can you escalate concerns within the organisation? Who should be involved, in what role and at what stage?
        • Does the organisation have a whistleblowing procedure?
        • At what point should you seek guidance from external sources such as ICAEW

        6) Consider and evaluate alternative courses of action

        • You should consider:
          • Your organisation's policies, procedures and guidelines
          • Applicable laws and regulation
          • Universal values and principles generally accepted by society
          • Consequences
          • Test your proposed course of action. Ask yourself the following questions:
            • Have all the consequences associated with the proposed course of action been discussed and evaluated?
            • Is there any reason why the proposed course of action should not stand the test of time?
            • Would a similar course of action be undertaken in a similar situation?
            • Would the suggested course of action stand to scrutiny from peers, family and friends?

            7) Implement the course of action and monitor its progress

            When faced with an ethical issue, it may be in your best interests to document your thought processes, discussions and the decisions taken. Written records will be useful if you need to justify your course of action.

            Other frameworks

            In addition to ICAEW's framework for revolving ethical problems, there are a number of other frameworks for resolving such problems which you may find helpful.