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Below the Beltway

Life at the Post-Tattler

What a person does at work can be telling

By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, December 12, 2004; Page W12

Has your company made you take a computer course in business integrity? If not, it probably will. It is mandated for many companies by a new federal law called the "Sarbanes-Oxley Act," which arose in response to recent financial scandals. The theory behind the Sarbanes-Oxley Act appears to be that because CEOs are crooked, you need ethics lessons.

I have just finished taking mine here at The Washington Post. I passed. I thought I would give you a quickie instructional course in how to pass this sort of test, too. It's actually pretty easy because most of the questions read something like this:

It is good to . . .

A. Steal pocketbooks off co-workers' desks.

B. Steal pocketbooks off co-workers' desks, but only if they belong to people you don't like.

C. Never steal anything.

D. Beat people up.

What pretty quickly becomes clear is that this is a course mandated by federal law, in the sense that it is 1) long, 2) silly and 3) uselessly generic. It seems to be applicable to all sorts of businesses, including those employing the recently incarcerated and the cognitively impaired. You are told, for example -- this is verbatim -- that the best way to make sure a laptop computer is not stolen is to bolt it to a larger object that is not customarily carried, such as a desk. You are also told that a smart way to remember your computer password is not to write it in enormous letters and tape it to your computer monitor.

In one hypothetical scenario, you are told that a co-worker, Linda, likes to talk loudly about sexual matters to a colleague, Jim, and that this annoys you and others in the vicinity. You are given several possible options for what to do about it, but none of them is perfect. The perfect answer, of course, would be for you and the others to wait for Linda and Jim to start talking dirty again and then begin to loudly pant and moan.

If in doubt, a good guide to follow on these quizzes is to invariably choose the really elaborate, goody-two-shoes, teacher's-pet answer. It will always be right. Example:

You smell alcohol on another employee's breath. The correct procedure is to . . .

A. Say nothing. Being drunk at work is his business.

B. Throw water on him.

C. Threaten to kill his children unless he sobers up.

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