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Life at the Post-Tattler

D. Report him immediately to a supervisor, since substance abuse in the workplace can result in slipshod performance and dangerous behavior, including running with scissors or taking out somebody's eye.

In fact, the best summary of this course is that, whatever happens, you must rat someone out. Time and again, you are told to tattle, and, at the end, you are actually given a phone number to call if you want to be an informant. It's called the Ethics Hotline.

Though the whole thing seemed pretty repugnant, it did occur to me that here was, at least, an opportunity to talk to a human being, to provide some sense of proportion. I decided to phone the Ethics Hotline with a true but trivial rat-out, something no one in his right mind would find to be unethical. A co-worker had printed out a single page of her daughter's grade-school homework because their printer at home was broken and the little girl was worried about getting the assignment in on time.

It turns out that the Ethics Hotline has been outsourced to a big national company created for this purpose (Sarbanes & Oxley Inc., I am guessing). I got a communications specialist named Sharon. The following conversation actually occurred.

Me: I would like to report a colleague. Her name is Beth Chang. She is a copy editor. She printed out a page of her daughter's spelling words, utilizing an office computer and printer. I did not personally witness this transgression, but she admitted it, personally, in my presence, expressing no remorse. I have her address and could probably obtain her Social Security number through subterfuge, if that is required. Her daughter's name is Sara. Sara is 7. I do not know if Sara was aware of the offense, but she probably is in possession of the document and might even be coerced into testifying against her mother in an appropriate tribunal.

Sharon: Has the employee done this before?

Me: Um, I don't know. I thought you would tell me if it was okay!

Sharon: I can't do that. I can only submit your complaint to the corporate offices.

Me: But . . .

It was too late. A complaint was duly filed. To comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Sharon gave me a PIN number and a tracking number, and thanked me for my cooperation, because employee informants "help maintain a fair and safe working environment."

Beth, clearly, is doomed. I just hope they don't come for Sara.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com.

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