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The Jewish Ethicist: Complicity

The Jewish Ethicist: Complicity

There is no excuse to take part in fraud, even if you're not the instigator.


Q. I carry out medical tests in a clinic. The clinic routinely falsifies the test results in order to get reimbursed from government programs or insurers for unnecessary treatment. Do I have to quit?

A. Jewish law recognizes different levels of complicity in wrongdoing. Depending on what your role is in your clinic, you could be at any of them or none of them. Let's examine the various levels.

PERPETRATOR: If you are actually falsifying test results yourself, you are an actual perpetrator of wrongdoing, not merely an accomplice. Falsifying test results that are used for monetary claims is itself a serious transgression. It doesn't matter that you personally oppose this policy and that you are doing so only because of pressure from your boss. The fact that someone is ordering you to transgress doesn't reduce your responsibility; it is your job to remember that "Someone" even more powerful is ordering you not to transgress. The rabbis ask rhetorically, "Given the words of the master [God] and the words of the disciple [your boss], whose words should you heed?!" (1)

And the fact that you are threatened with dismissal is also not an excuse; suffering monetary loss can not justify transgressing a prohibition.

ENABLER: If you are a critical link in the chain, then you may be considered an enabler of fraud. One example: if clinics must hire someone with your qualifications in order to qualify for the payments they receive, then without you they couldn't run their scam – even if you personally don't lie.

However, this consideration will depend on the balance of duties. If your main job is to carry out tests for substantive benefit, but occasionally your results are falsified for purposes of fraud, it is not fair to say that you are hired to promote stealing.

Enabling wrongdoing is less severe than carrying it out, but it is still a serious ethical breach.

PARTICIPANT/ABETTOR: If you are part of the chain, but someone else could easily take your place, then you are a participant but not an enabler. Imagine you are the administrative person who files the forms. On the one hand, you are taking part in the fraud, insofar as this is a necessary step and you are aware it is part of the scam. On the other hand, any person can do this job; if necessary the manager could do it himself.

CONDONER: Even if you take no direct role in the fraud, you could be considered complicit if you are seen as condoning it.

Anyone who has the ability to protest the members of his household but doesn't protest, is held liable for the members of his household. For the residents of his city – he is held liable for the residents of his city. For the entire world – he is liable for the entire world. (2)

Given that you have a responsible position in the clinic, you should make it clear to your employers that you don't approve of the fraud and that you refuse to be party to it.

Even if you manage to arrange your work in such a way that you avoid all these different levels of complicity, I would recommend trying to find a new position. Working in a corrupt workplace has a depressing and demoralizing effect on a person and is likely to ultimately affect his own moral sensitivity as well.

SOURCES: (1) Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 42b. (2) BT Shabbat 54b

Send your queries about ethics in the workplace to

The Jewish Ethicist presents some general principles of Jewish law. For specific questions and direct application, please consult a qualified Rabbi.

June 20, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) SusanE, July 1, 2009 8:37 PM

Do I Have to Quit?

The questions should be do I want to work for a sleazy company who falsifies medical records for profit. Do I want to have my medical tests and my childrens medical tests handled by this clinic? Do they pay the author enough to keep his mouth shut about the clinic falsifing medical records? Most people look the other way for enough money. Is he looking for a loophole to keep working there? He does know that he will ultimately take the blame when the clinic is found out, because he carried out the testing.

(3) L Kanterma, June 28, 2009 5:12 PM

"false" test results

It seems very very unlikely the above complaint is true as presented. Medical labs do NOT falsify results. Medical billing, on the other hand, is very complex. Sometimes a claim will be denied if filed in one way and approved (and paid) if filed with a very minimal difference. It is much, much more likely that the clinic is NOT falsifying the results of tests, but merely coding the claim in a way that is likely to be more favorably dealt with. It is more likely that your questioner does not understand the entire process and perceives impropriety where there is none. "Whistle blowers" are also more likely to have an axe to grind against a company or a particular individual. If the complaint IS valid as stated then your answer is perfectly appropriate. But I do feel that you have a responsibility to question facts when an accusation that seems unlikely and even outrageous is made.

(2) Sarah, June 28, 2009 12:46 PM

yishar coach

Your articles are always a pleasure to read and to learn from. Thank you!

(1) observer, June 21, 2009 10:47 PM

What about whistleblowing?

You have not addressed the issue of "whistleblowing". In most cases, if one reports such activities to appropriate authorities, it will set off a chain of events that will lead to the fraud being stopped, and the perpetrators being punished. But the whistleblower generally risks his job (even though it is generally illegal for companies to fire a whistleblower.)

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