The duty to give credit in the workplace

A new bill may change work culture in Israel.

JOURNALISTS AT work at their desks. (photo credit: REUTERS)
JOURNALISTS AT work at their desks.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Ethics of the Fathers includes the saying: “He who brings words in the name of their source brings redemption to the world.” This saying contains values that have been reflected over the years, in Israel and worldwide, in intellectual property laws (moral and copy rights), tort law and ethical and disciplinary codes of various organizations such as academic institutions. Computer programs have been developed to detect, monitor and prevent the taking of credit for the ideas of others and even quoting such ideas without citing their source.
In the academic world this subject is referred to under the title “plagiarism,” which is included in different versions in the ethical and disciplinary codes of the various institutions. The term is broad enough to include a prohibition and a duty: the prohibition is against taking credit for an idea or contribution of another, and the duty is to give credit to the person who came up with the idea or made the contribution. The credit can be given either by including the name of the person who is the source of the idea or the contribution as co-author, or by reference or by other acknowledgment.
What is the rationale behind these models? From a moral point of view, a person should not take credit for another person’s idea or contribution because of the dishonesty involved in such conduct. From an economic point of view, these models recognize that the ideas and contributions of people are valuable, and therefore acknowledging their ideas or contributions is of value in establishing the reputation of a person, which has recognized economic value.
In the field of life sciences for example, it is common practice in publications to include in the list of authors all those who participated: the name of the researcher who made the largest contribution appears as first author and the name of the principal investigator, in whose laboratory the research was performed, appears as the last author and in between appear the names of the other participants in the research including those who performed the experiments.
Thus, credit is given to all those who have participated in the research and experiments which led to the publications.
The value to each of the participants cannot be quantified and does not necessarily depend on their location in the list of authors. It could very well turn out that the value to a person whose name appears in the middle is higher than the value to the first or last authors of their respective places on the list. Perhaps the former will be able to get a job which will materially affect his/her future – who can tell? Plagiarism is also common in the workplace.
There are several international corporations that adopt an ethical code that refers to the subject but in other places, the subject is not regulated.
In this respect there is great importance to the bill presented recently by MK Merav Michaeli and others. This bill recently made headlines as the district labor court referred to it in the case of the housekeeper of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as indicating the growing awareness to various forms of bullying in the workplace.
One of the conducts included in the bill as prohibited is when an employee takes credit for the achievements and successes of another employee or describes another employee as responsible for failures he/ she was not responsible for, while hiding or distorting facts.
If the bill is passed, an incident in the workplace of one person taking credit for another’s work shall be considered unlawful bullying in the workplace. This has far-reaching organizational and social consequences, since it will prevent superiors taking credit for ideas and work of their subordinates and ignoring their contribution.
It should however be mentioned that the above definition in the bill does not apparently refer to the other aspect of plagiarism, namely the active duty to credit the contributor with his/her contribution.
Therefore it appears that if no specific credit is given, the law is not breached.
Many companies and organizations worldwide have opted for the safe method and adopted practices according to which credit is given to the body as a whole and not to individuals. Salient examples are organizations which do not specify the author of the work, such as the weekly magazine The Economist and many auditing companies. Perhaps in the long run, the result of the law – should the bill be passed – will be a widening of this practice in many companies and organizations in Israel.
The author is head of employment practice at S. Horowitz & Co.