Nova Southeastern University
Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship
Public Administration Programs
Law and Ethics Course

RIF Case Studies
(Source: Stewart, Debra, "An Ethical Framework for Human Resource Decision-Making," in Ethical Insight, Ethical Action.)

  1. Assume the case of a manager charged with drafting a Reduction In Force (RIF) policy for an agency. Further assume the agency acknowledges the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) as the representative of the nonprofessional employees. The professional staff has, for the most part, been selected and promoted through a civil service system relying heavily on test scores and formal credentials. Yet in the last three years, the total staff has gone from 2% to 20% representation of minorities in all positions; and women, always well represented in non-professional slots, have increased their presence in professional jobs from 2% four years ago to 18% today. These gains are due largely to an aggressive affirmative action program implemented by the agency.
  2. In this difficult legal, moral, and practical situation, the manager is challenged to understand the nature of the harm involved in any particular RIF action, and then balance that action against another potential harm inflicted by an alternative action. Clearly, this case presents potential for injury on a number of fronts. In order to analyze the extent of the injury, the manager first asks who the potential "stakeholders" are in this dilemma. Next, the manager asks what rights or interests each party has. Finally, the manager considers the nature of all the conflicting values among the stakeholders and rates the relative importance of each value. Doing harm to the interests of some stakeholders might derive from avoiding injury to other stakeholders. Yet the task of the administrator is to sort out these potential injuries, and within his or her authority, to select the most beneficial and least injurious decision from the value rankings derived from thoughtful analysis. Viewed from this perspective, the most stringent obligations of the manager are to do good and to avoid doing harm; but defining these obligations in a particular context admittedly is difficult.

  3. Assume you are a division head directing an engineering division in an agency about to undergo a 30% RIF. The RIF policy developed by the staff of the agency head has determined to cut positions in the professional ranks beginning with the lowest civil service positions first. The historically all white engineering division has diversified in recent years, through the efforts of a highly committed personnel unit. The division has been able to recruit and maintain minority engineers so that the divisionís engineering workforce is 10% minority. Because the minority engineers joined the unit in entry level positions, they currently are concentrated in the lowest third of the civil service grades. The chief of the personnel unit in the department has just been replaced and the new chief clearly does not share the commitment to minority recruitment and retention. Because of a more complacent EEO regulatory environment, as well as a heightened concern for legal challenges, generally you believe there is little sentiment in the organization as a whole for continuing to press EEO issues. Yet, you are sure that implementing the policy of achieving the reduction by eliminating the lower grade positions is tantamount to "RIFing" all of the minority engineers.

The questions are: what is a legal, moral, and practical solution to this problem; and does this manager have a moral obligation (perhaps based on the Ethical Principle of Last Resort) to secure an exemption for the managerís unit?