Regulators have long understood the sensitive nature of the accounting profession, and have taken steps over the years to help prevent accounting professionals from succumbing to pressures to act in unethical ways. However, it should be underscored that the very nature of an accountant’s profession is to help account for and audit a company’s finances. This means that accountants may very well find themselves faced with various ethical dilemmas during the normal course of their careers, and must resist falling into the trap of equivocation.
Ethical dilemmas do not always take the form of what is so often depicted in the media, where a high ranking official in a company approaches an accountant and asks him or her to cook the books. Instead, often ethical decisions must be made on a much lower level.
For example, suppose an officer in a given business receives a personal tax lien by the IRS. As one of the principals responsible for overseeing the accounting department, the officer may apply pressure to company accountants encouraging them to figure out a solution that does not include remitting his or her paycheck to the IRS.
As can be seen in the example above, not all ethical dilemmas will involve acting inappropriately in order to further the company’s fortunes. Instead, it is more likely that smaller and more innocuous seeming ethical dilemmas will arise from time to time, dilemmas that nevertheless test an accountant’s mettle.
One of the best ways to handle such situations is to always maintain a policy of acting above board and in compliance with all accounting regulations and laws. Though this kind of attitude may prove difficult for employers and company officers, over time accountants that adopt such policies will find that they are able to sleep well at night knowing that they have done the right thing.