Let’s imagine this: you join your new job and get trained. It’s all very exciting, you’ve wanted to do little else apart from this your whole life.
You start going to work and are asked to undertake one of your reasonably infrequent functions in a particular way. You see it done like this countless times and although not ideal, it always seems to end up OK. So you start doing likewise without a thought to the contrary.
You learn later – not because you are told, but because you learn of some unfolding events – that the way in which you have been asked to complete this function is a breach of statutory guidelines that were not really made known to you during your training. It turns out they were issued by a Secretary of State under the authority of an Act of Parliament and therefore carry a force of law. You read them and are fairly surprised how little bearing they have on reality.
You learn of this because you see some of your colleagues who have done what you would probably have done, broadly in the way you would have done it, getting into some quite serious trouble. This is not just, “the boss having a word” type trouble or even “formal warnings” trouble. The boss has been going along with it too and when they did your job, they did what you and your colleagues have been doing, in the same way you’ve been doing it. That was the way that they were asked to do it too. This has been the case for decades and your organisation is getting into trouble along with your colleagues.
The problem is, you have started to realise the ‘trouble’ in which your colleagues and your organisation have found themselves, is actually quite serious legal trouble. They have been on the receiving end of advice, direction and / or sanction from a statutory regulator because they broke the law. Sued in the civil courts – successfully; told that they have breached people’s Human Rights. There have even been prosecutions in the criminal courts and high-profile Coroner’s Inquests. Some colleagues actually did sit down with their families to start considering how they will live their lives after being sacked and imprisoned. A few of those discussions ended in personal tragedy: mental health & well-being affected, physical illness following weight gain, weight loss and problems in terms of marriage-ending conversations and personal and professional problems.
Of more importance than a lot of this, are events that have befallen people to whom you, your colleagues have owed a professional duty of care who have been badly let down, despite the efforts and intentions of you all.
The mustered responses to these suggestions of wrong-doing in these different arenas all somehow sounded horribly inadequate, somewhat like a Nuremberg Defence. Of course it turns out – but you admit to knowing this all along – your first responsibility is to the law; not to preferences, directions and personal or even professional opinions which are at odds with the law.
So, you read up on this in detail. What you learn, is that the law wanted you to do it differently all along and if you keep doing what others have done, you could well end up in very serious legal trouble. The ability to do it properly relies upon others who don’t see it your way and over whom you ultimately have no control; and who don’t end up in such trouble as your colleagues when it goes awry. But you learn that various things others don’t want you to do are not actually illegal and would considerably assist you in demonstrating that you did the right thing, as far as you possibly could so.
So what would you do tomorrow?