Drawing ethical line at work


My husband and I (both devout Catholics) have a dilemma. He has worked his way up the corporate chain, finally achieving his dream of being second in command for one division of a large for-profit corporation. When he is allowed to do his job, he is able to enact procedures that help a large amount of people while improving the work culture of the employees. Our dilemma is this: at least 4 times a year, the corporate CEO holds a retreat for the top two division chiefs of all divisions. This is held in very exclusive (outrageously expensive) resorts. The meetings are each 1/2 a day for 3 days- and afternoons are reserved for golf, spa treatments, etc. Evenings are taken up with live music, extravagant meals and entertainment. Spouses are not invited to these retreats- and are not welcome to accompany their husband/wife (paying their own way, of course). Everything is charged to the corporation! My husband and I feel that it is unethical to write these expenses off as the money could be used for so many good things within the corporation to benefit the employees. We also feel that it cheats the shareholders of a good chunk of profit that is frittered away on the leaders’ decadent “retreats”. Now, this corporation makes a huge profit, so perhaps this amount is barely noticeable but it still feels wrong to us. To refuse to attend would be the end of my husband’s job, so he goes along-but each time he goes, it feels more sinful and wrong. Should he draw the line, speak up and (probably) lose his job? Financially we would be fine. But he would be giving up his job opportunity to help others, which he does so well. I’m sure he could find another job with less prestige that would give him equal opportunity to help others…but he already has this one. Any advice?


I assume others will have better answers than me, but…I assume your husband brings home a very high salary, and could certainly afford to donate an amount of money to charity, that would be equivalent to his share of the cost for these “retreats”.

Now, perhaps God is leading him to question his current employment, anyway. But I have heard that sometimes, if a Catholic discloses in the confessional, a sin of theft, embezzlement, etc., but would find it difficult to actually make restitution to those directly wronged, his confessor will advise donating the stolen amount to charity instead.


If he hasn’t yet, perhaps your dh would like to discuss the situation with your priest? :slight_smile:

As for my response, I’d say let it go. A business isn’t a charity, although it can act charitibly, of course. And if the shareholders are aware of these meetings and have no problem with them, it’s the company’s money so the company is free to spend it how it pleases. Sure, this isn’t your dh’s cup of tea, but if he’s expected to go to keep his job, he can go, but perhaps spend his afternoons doing something constructive/charitible, such as helping out at the local homeless shelter, praying in a local Catholic parish church, doing some evangelizing among his fellow company execs by being kindly and friendly to them while playing golf with them.

We have to take people as they are and where they are in order to be a good influence on them. If he joins them he might find ways to gently “push” them to more moderte behavior. For a lot of these people this kind of trip is one of their few outlets for just enjoying themselves. Most don’t have recourse to the benefits of a prayer life and the sacraments. Your dh could be a 5th columnist for Christ by being a loving and understanig presence among his fellow execs. :slight_smile:


Thank you, Toe in the Water. He does make a very high salary and we do donate a good bit to charities and to the church. We have never looked at the donations as restitution for the decadent weekends, rather we have looked at them as money shared with worthy organizations to help others. But, perhaps we could also begin to look at the charitable donations as a form of contrition which would make accepting the retreats as a necessary evil so we can do good things with the money earned! As an aside, I forgot to mention that these retreats are strictly for fun and the meetings are more like team building exercises. Each division’s leaders go to the corporate headquarters quarterly for a review so these retreats do not benefit the division in any way that we can discern.


Thank you!! These are wonderful ideas! I will read this to him when he calls. :slight_smile:


If this is all the ethics questions you face at this corporation you are doing well. Most corporations richly reward top executives. This doesn’t sound particularly outrageous in comparison to other corporations or the government. Unless your husband works for himself he is very likely going to be working for a company or bureaucracy that spends money like this and worse.

The stockholders of the corporation are the people who ultimately decide if this spending is wasteful. Unless they are being deceived they should or could know about it.

Also it is worth considering that the money spent goes to provide jobs for those at the luxury resorts.

I can understand seeing this spending as wasteful but I don’t think that will change. And I’m not sure it is really your husbands job to rein it in.


The question comes down to whether it’s in your husband’s job description to question this. That’s the only issue involved. It’s not his money to decide what is a wise and what isn’t a wise expenditure–it’s the shareholders’ money and they elected a board of directors, who hired officers to spend money wisely. If these expenditures are not in his job description, then he has no business making an issue about it. He should concentrate on doing his job very well, and if he moves up to make these kinds of decisions then he can bring it up then.


Well, I’d actually go a step further than just looking at your current level of charitable giving, and deciding this justifies the status quo as a “necessary evil”, and that you are justified to continue your current lifestyle without any changes at all.

Maybe God is making you and your husband consider, if you really are contributing as much as you can. Perhaps you should give away even MORE of your money, or perhaps, contribute in another way, such as put in time and effort, not just money

One could certainly argue that if the money you’re giving away now, is such a small part of your income that you wouldn’t even miss it, then even your charity doesn’t go far enough, because you’re not actually sacrificing anything.


"Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood (Mark 12: 44).


My husband says, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!” :p. All of your advice is so excellent- and makes a lot of sense. As you may have figured out already, he is currently flying out to one of these retreats. He plans to locate a church in which to pray today- and hopefully an adoration chapel. He also is going to focus less on himself and more on truly listening to and interacting with the other execs. He had decided on the plane that this situation was one that he needs to discuss with our priest, so plans to do that when he returns. And, he wants to give the amount spent on his part of the retreat to a charity. You all have given him a lot of peace and purpose today and I appreciate it so much! Seriously! He was ready to resign last night rather than face another one of these “retreats” but now he is seeing a larger picture. Thanks!!!


So glad to hear this. :smiley: Sometimes we can only see a problem from one angle–it can help to have others input–persons to bounce things off. As I was thinking some more about your dh’s dilemma, I remembered that people like Ven. Archbp. Fulton Sheen and Fr. Benedict Groeschel were great friends of people in high places. They were able to be a guiding light to politicians and business leaders who have heavier burdens to bear than the average person. By being a part of their world and not simply railing against it, they were able to influence them to better behavior and thinking. Your dh has a golden opportunity to do the same, with tact, love, and patience in prayer. :wink:


In addition to helping the poor, homeless, and hungry, another way to truly help others is to set up scholarship funds for young people who can’t afford to continue their schooling. Also, the many animal shelters are looking for help. I get mail from them every day and I wish I could send them all millions of dollars, but I can’t.

Our church has a building fund to help with repairs and maintenance. Since buildings seem to always need something done, giving the money to the church makes sense. Also St. Vincent de Paul.


My last job held annual sales meetings where they put us up in nice hotels, paid for all our meals (good meals), paid for some form of entertainment, and the bar tab usually exceeded the dinner bill.

But in the end it had a legitimate business purpose. We went over the previous year’s sales, set targets for the next year, often did some training, and the meals/entertainment/bar tab were targeted at keeping morale high.

Perhaps your husband would be better off making suggestions for the next retreat that involved making some incremental changes that would make the retreat of more value to the shareholders. Perhaps he could ask if they could fit in a training session or a review of the financials or something (he would have to determine what would be appropriate). Culture change takes time. This would likely be something that he would need to chip away at a little bit year by year.




I don’t see that as an ethical issue, not at all. Companies spend money on all sorts of things to reward employees. Some employees get a bigger share of those rewards, just as some employees get paid more, and some get bigger commissions and bonuses which are not always in proportion to the work they do. Perhaps it is not fair, but that doesn’t make it evil.

Don’t worry. These retreats benefit the company indirectly in several ways. It is a reward (perquisite or “perk”). It serves a team-building purpose. It also promotes communication and friendships at a more personal level than the office environment. That can be very good for the company. I can’t imagine the shareholders would mind.


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