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Essay: Critical Analysis of Article 77.7.iii

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  • Published: 12 July 2022*
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Would you sell out a co-worker to get ahead? Make negative statements about another practitioner’s business in an attempt to take out the competition? This paper will review and analyze an article in the code of ethics that pertains to these very concepts: the malicious damage to another practitioner’s business or reputation.

The topic of “Ethics” is becoming increasingly important and recognized in many professions throughout the world. Professional ethics, as is it applies to the practise of engineering, can be generally defined as “the principals of conduct governing an individual or a group” (1). This is in essence, synonymous with the idea of “Morals”, that many of us were taught by our parents or teachers while growing up. A “Code of Ethics” is something that exists in many industries, to act as a set of standards or moral guidelines as to how you should practise, while respecting all parties involved and the environment. These are present in many industries, including the practise of engineering in Ontario, as well as rest of Canada.

Professional Engineers Ontario is a governing body for the practise of engineering in Ontario. They have created rules and regulations as to how to properly practise, with the primary documents being the Professional Engineers Act, and the supporting regulations 941, and 260. Ontario Regulation (OR) 941 provides further detail and guidance as to how the Professional Engineers Act should be implemented and, in this paper, a specific article from the Code of Ethics in OR 941 will be reviewed and critically analyzed.

Critical Analysis of Article 77.7.iii

The article which will be investigated is Article 77.7.iii of the PEO’s Code of Ethics under Ontario Regulation 941:

77. The following is the Code of Ethics of the Association:

7. A practitioner shall,

iii) not maliciously injure the reputation or business of another practitioner

In the article, “maliciously” refers to the idea of someone doing something with the intention of doing harm (2). In other words, a practising engineer must not intentionally hurt the reputation of or intentionally cause damage to another engineer’s business. There are many different scenarios in which something of this nature could occur from general bad-mouthing, stating negative comments, or even as far as making false allegations towards the business of another practitioner.

Violations to this article of the code of ethics occur in a wide range of severity, from minor incidents, such as one employee bad-mouthing another business, to much more serious and potentially devastating situations such as in the event of severe defamation leading to malicious prosecution lawsuit. In legal terms, defamation refers to when someone makes a statement intended to hurt someone else’s reputation (3). This is in essence the same issue that article 77.7.iii is addressing.

The laws around defamation vary widely around the globe and are generally not definitive, or “black-and-white”. In many cases, there is some “gray area” between what may be considered free speech and what would be a violation to the article in discussion. Later, we will consider how PEO has approached the issue of defamation and review some of their guidelines, but first I will provide some examples of actions that may be considered a violation of this article of the code of ethics.

Violations to Article 77.7.iii

Depending on one’s personal views, article 77.7.iii could be read as to mean that making a negative comment about or bad-mouthing a co-worker would be considered a violation. As the code of ethics is a set of standards, and not laws, this is true, although many of these “minor” violations typically sort themselves out through other routes such as what are considered common acceptable social behaviors. Nobody likes someone who talks badly about everyone else, and sooner or later that individual will be known for their negative comments and attempts to hurt others reputation. Below are some examples of a potential violation to article 77.7.iii.

Practitioner “bad-mouthing” another practitioner

The simplest example is that of a practitioner making generally negative statements or false claims about another practitioner for the sake of hurting the competitor’s reputation and/or gaining their business. This can occur at the level of individuals, or all the way up to large corporations. It is important here to note the large range in severity. A single practitioner saying one or two negative comments about another practitioner in an isolated incident is likely not something that would be considered a violation (unless, of course the allegations were very severe). On the other hand, if an individual is repeatedly slandering another’s business this may be a more serious issue. Consider a simple case of an employee repeatedly saying negative things about a co-worker in an engineering firm. These are all technically violations of article 77.7.iii.

Several members of a group or business defaming another business or individual

The larger the scale, the higher the severity. For example, consider a case where there are several members of a business repeatedly making negative comments and/or false claims about another’s business. This is serious as it can be very damaging, and disciplinary actions are often needed. While there are some legal boundaries in place to prevent publicly defaming another company or individual, what happens behind closed doors may be a different story. These situations don’t only occur in the practise of engineering, but also in other industries around the world and notably are very prevalent in politics. A recent Canadian case involves a former B.C. Liberal premier Gordon Wilson who has undertaken a defamation lawsuit against several other political members. False allegations were made by the defendants, primarily through social media, in an attempt to destroy the reputation of Wilson. The legal claim stated that “The Defendants, together, and individually, undertook a campaign to destroy the Plaintiff’s reputation from the position of authority and credibility granted to them by their offices.” (4) They were attempting to ruin his reputation as a means to gain more power. While this case is not directly related to the field of engineering, it illustrates what article 77.7.iii attempts to prevent from occurring. Two competing engineering firms could potentially participate in a similar situation as it outlined above, which would definitely be unethical and a violation of the article.

PEO’s Perspective on the Article

As was previously mentioned, there is some gray area within what may be defined as a violation to article 77.7.iii. This is due to the fact that free speech is also promoted and considered to be of value and importance to ethical practise. It is not always possible to maintain freedom of speech while protecting the reputation of all, leaving a grey area where people draw their own dividing line, based upon their own values. A journal on the subject of defamation lawsuits stated that “The lines demarcating the interest of speech and the interested of reputation unavoidably intersect.” (5) Due to these inherent difficulties in creating a clear definition, PEO has provided some clarity for the practising engineer. A document titled “Professional Engineers Reviewing Work Prepared by Another Professional Engineer” was written to be a guideline for engineers who are conducting reviews of another engineer’s work. Section 6.2.3 of the guideline notes that while engineers will at times need to be critical and report on negative aspects of another’s work, “…reviewing engineers might also believe they are expected to be critical and to find things that, though not necessarily wrong or detrimental, can be cast in a negative way” (6). For a variety of reasons, people do sometimes feel a pressure to find something negative about another person when reviewing their work. This may due to their ego, their attempts to get ahead or step over another employee, or any number of other reasons. In any case, this type of behaviour is to be avoided. The guidelines state that rather than looking for negative things, the “procedure [for reviewing another’s work] should be conducted in an objective and consistently applied manner” (6). Reviewers should be assessing the work of others strictly on a technical and objective basis, and “not to state how he or she would have handled the work” (6). While the comments in the quoted guideline are directed to those who are reviewing the work of another practitioner, the message can be extended into all aspects of good engineering practise.

Statement on Enforceability

As has been discussed throughout, there is some grey area in defining what would be considered a violation of the article in question. There is a definite potential for violations to occur in say, a large corporation, although these would likely lead to being resolved through external lawsuits and media coverage. Even in smaller scale situations, such as unethical competition between two nearby consulting firms, some may argue that these things already have routes to be resolved. Individuals, groups, or corporations who “bad-mouth” their competition are usually viewed badly and may not do as well as a result. In smaller cases, such as the situation where an individual is repeatedly making negative comments or false allegations towards another practitioner, this would be a definite breach of the PEO’s Code of Ethics. Violations that occur within a company would most likely be dealt with internally through their Human Resources department but may still be considered violations of article 77.7.iii. While the code of ethics is not necessarily enforceable by law, violations of articles can be used to strengthen a legal case against an individual (7). As a practising engineer, one should always try to be objective about others work, avoid making unnecessary negative comments, and avoid becoming involved in anything with the intent to injure another’s reputation. Further to that point, a good practitioner should make effort to stop others doing this, and report as is necessary.

In a case where disciplinary legal action is needed, PEO must first be informed of the violation, and must also have sufficient evidence to make a proper legal case. As a practitioner, it is your responsibility not only to abstain from defaming other practitioners, but also to report other practitioners who are doing this. Without awareness of an issue, PEO will of course not take any action. While a majority of the issues that PEO enforce are related to unlicensed practise and other similar violations, a violation of the code of ethics, if significant enough, may still be grounds for disciplinary actions.

Impact on the Engineer and Society

To recall, Article 77.7.iii states that “A practitioner shall not maliciously injure the reputation or business of another practitioner”. As has been previously discussed, many practitioners are likely to follow this, although not due to a strict following of the code of ethics but rather simply based on their own moral values or upon the social pressures to be a respecting person. Regardless of the motivation, the concept of this article has several implications on the practicing engineer as well as the public. Adhering to the specified article ensures the following:

  • Respect is maintained both within a group of practicing engineers and between competing groups or individuals
  • No false claims or false allegations are made.
    • This avoids potentially swaying the customers or the public’s view of a practitioner or business to a negative viewpoint based upon things that may be untrue.
  • Allows for a competitive market that is based on quality of work and customer satisfaction rather than whoever is better at making the other party look bad.
    • Relates to the point above, ensures that business is driven by positive factors such as quality, responsibility, and respect, versus slander and name-calling abilities.
  • Ensures that the public make decisions based on factual information
    • Particularly in highly technical sectors, the customers or general public may not understand a significant portion of the engineer science behind a project.
    • In these situations, it is possible for the person with the loudest voice to be the person who people will believe, whether or not what they state is true.


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