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					    Mr. Strain, a professional engineer, who works at a company called Stress Engineering,
learns that his company has violated a purchase licensing agreement: they have installed a
software package on multiple workstations when the agreement clearly permits installation on
only one workstation, otherwise the license fee will increase. What is Mr. Strain to do?

    To answer what Mr. Strain needs to do, we should first analyze the situation. It is quite
clear that Stress Engineering is wrong to have violated the agreement. Not only is this
violation illegal, but by the standards of professional engineering, it is unethical as well.
“Each person has a duty to follow those courses of action that would be acceptable as universal
principles for everyone to follow”, in other words, everyone has a “fundamental duty to act in a
correct ethical manner” [1:116]. Based on this Duty-based Ethics by Kant (1724-1804), an
engineering corporation, like an individual professional engineer, is obligated to protect public
welfare and benefits and has the duty to be fair and honest with its clients, business partners
and employees. Stress Engineering has not served its duty in this matter. In a similar token,
we shall discuss Mr. Strain’s situation based on the Code of Ethics and the Duty Ethics of
professional engineers, and come up with a solution best suited for what he needs to do.

    As a professional engineer, Mr. Strain should be “ethical and willing to put public welfare
ahead of narrow personal gains” [1:5]. As stated in the Professional Engineers Act and Code
of Ethics, professional engineers have duties to the public, to the employer, to fellow engineers,
to the engineering profession, and to him/her self. An engineer is required to consider his or
her duty to the public to “protect the average person from physical or financial harm by
ensuring that professional engineers are competent, reliable, professional and ethical”[1:117].
The engineer also has a duty to recognize the rights of others, a duty to “maintain the dignity
and prestige of the engineering profession and not to bring the profession into disrepute by
scandalous, dishonourable, or disgraceful conduct” [1:118]. As Kant’s Duty Ethics states,
“one should always do one’s duty, even if the consequences in the short run are unpleasant,
since this strengthens one’s will” [1:111]. In Kant’s philosophy, every professional engineer
has a duty to consider the welfare of society to be paramount.

    It is quite clear now that Mr. Strain should follow the Code of Ethics and serve his duties as
a professional engineer in this situation. However, how to solve this problem is still difficult.

    Ethical problems occur often in engineering. For engineers in industry, it is expected to
encounter pressures that constrain their ability to act professionally during his or her
professional career. For example, an engineer may have to choose between risking the health
of workers on a project and stopping the project to install safety equipment, causing delays and
increase costs for the clients or employers [2]. In Mr. Strain’s case, he is faced with two
choices: one, sacrificing the benefits that the company making the software deserves, and two,
reporting the violation, causing increased costs for his company. How will Mr. Strain decide?

   Although problems like Mr. Strain’s does not happen frequently, it does exist and usually

result in ethical dilemmas. When faced with ethical dilemmas, many people are frustrated
when trying to decide where to start and how to proceed to an acceptable solution. Luckily,
there is a similarity between ethical problem solving and engineering technical problem solving.
When an engineer is faced with a technical problem, he or she usually will have more than one
possible solution to choose from, and eventually will choose the one best suited or most
optimum for this problem. The process to solve a technical problem usually begins with
recognizing a need or a problem, followed by investigating, gathering data and defining the
problem precisely before committing to any actions, and ends with analyzing, testing to select
the optimum or best solution. Using the same techniques, three steps can be applied to solve
ethical problems such as Mr. Strain’s dilemma.

    The first step is to recognize the problem, because some ethical problems are difficult to
recognize in the early stage. In Mr. Strain’s situation, he has noticed that his company has
violated a purchasing agreement and sabotaged the benefits of the other company, which is
clearly contrary to the business law and copyright. This recognition is a very important first

    The second step is to investigate and define the problem. Even though it is encouraged to
act speedily and unequivocally when ethical decisions need to be made, since delay may be
interpreted as compromising, it is equally important to gather all the facts before making a
decision, because the proper actions may be quite different from the ones initially perceived.
In Mr. Strain’s case, even though his company agreed to install at only one workstation before
purchasing the software, they installed it on multiple workstations without paying the extra
installation fee stated on the agreement. This action is clearly contrary to the business law
and copyright, hence an illegal action. In a case like this, Mr. Strain, who finds evidence of
dishonesty, should take immediate action to inform management that the action is illegal and
resist any further continuing action to break the law. In addition to this action being illegal, it
has also violated the Code of Ethics. An engineering corporation, like an individual
professional engineer, should obey the Professional Engineers Act and the code of ethics as
well. Installing the software on multiple workstations without proper payment has sabotaged
the benefits of the company that made the software, and in general, the benefits of the society.
Therefore, this is also an action contrary to the Code of Ethics, in which case Mr. Strain should
advise the management of the appropriate section of the Code of Ethics, whether the
management is an engineer or not.

    The next step is to analyze the actions. What would result if these actions took place?
Who would benefit from it? Above questions are easy to answer in Mr. Strain’s case. The
result would be that Stress Engineering pays for the extra workstations on which they have
installed the software, and that the software company gets what they deserve. Stress
Engineering would benefit from this result, because they would have avoided a potential
lawsuit from that software company; the software company would obviously benefit from the
result, so would the finance of the society in general.

    After the first three steps are thoroughly followed, the problem and proper actions to solve
the problem in Mr. Strain’s situation has been clearly defined. Therefore, the last step that Mr.
Strain needs to follow is simply to make an implementation of the proper actions and
communicate those concerns with the people involved in Stress Engineering. After the
actions are made, if Stress Engineering is unresponsive to arguments based on ethics, Mr.
Strain will face with another dilemma, which puts his duty to his employers in direct conflict
with his duty to the public welfare as well as the engineering profession. At this point, Mr.
Strain will again have some possibilities.

    One of the possibilities is Mr. Strain continues to work at Stress Engineering, in the mean
time, trying to change his company policy on ethics. If the management still shows no sign of
correcting their policy, then second possibility is called whistle blowing. Whistle blowing is
used mostly when the management and supervisors refuse to take actions to correct the
problem, and attempts to correct the situation have failed. A definition of a whistle blower is
given as: “people(usually employees) who believe an organization is engaged in unsafe,
unethical or illegal practices and go public with their charge, having tried with no success to
have the situation corrected through internal channels”[1:206]. As a whistle blower, Mr.
Strain will continue to work at Stress Engineering, while reporting to the provincial
associations of Professional Engineers about the illegal and unethical action Stress Engineering
has committed. Although unpleasant and unfriendly, whistle blowing must exist as a last
resort, because it is also a duty of professional engineers to report. The third possibility for
Mr. Strain is to resign and protest, if he should suspect complicity at Stress Engineering.

    Ethics---the study of right and wrong, good and evil, obligations and rights, justice, social
and political ideals, has been a vital and important field of study ever since the start of
civilization[1:118]. The Code of Ethics defines the duties of the engineers to the public, to the
employers, to fellow engineers, to the engineering profession, and to themselves. Professional
engineers’ work frequently affects public health and safety, and influences business and even
politics. Studying ethics helps guide engineers in complex and difficult moral situations to be
qualified as true professional engineers of our society.


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