Editors’ note: 

TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected]

I discovered one of my colleagues doing something we consider a fireable offense. I’m not sure if she meant to do it, and it wasn’t something that would jeopardize our business or clients, but it was unethical. I’m concerned that if I don’t report her now, in the future the offense might be more serious. On the other hand, if it was an honest mistake, shouldn’t I offer grace? After all, I make mistakes too.

In Business for the Glory of God, Wayne Grudem observes: “We will find that in every aspect of business there are multiple layers of opportunities to give glory to God, as well as multiple temptations to sin.” This situation is a perfect example of his observation. There are risks if you choose to say something, and there are risks if you choose not to.

Let’s look at this through a theological and practical lens to identify some long-term consequences for the business, this employee, and you. But first, let’s look at some biblical truth.

Guidance from Scripture

God’s Word talks a lot about how to conduct our business with integrity. Through one of the minor prophets, the Lord clearly condemns unethical business practices, such as skimping on standard measures, greedily boosting prices, and using dishonest scales (Amos 8:5).

Proverbs tells us the most valuable thing we can work for is a good reputation (Prov. 22:1). What you do or fail to do at this moment will affect how people see you from now on.

Proverbs 27:18 reads, “He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who looks after his master will be honored.” This verse reinforces the importance of character qualities such as diligence, faithfulness, and loyalty. It also highlights the universal principle of sowing and reaping, which applies here.

Overlooking an Offense

Another verse tells us it is our “glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11). But in this case, overlooking the offense is not a good option in the long run.

There must have been a good reason why this action was labeled by management as a fireable offense. It was something the company didn’t want to happen. It doesn’t sound like it was inherently dangerous to life and limb—you said it would not directly put the business or its clients in jeopardy. However, it could later result in a loss of capital or could damage your reputation.

If the company cannot deal with the situation in an appropriate manner because you decided to be kind and cover it up, you have diminished the company’s capability to meet the human needs of its customers. You potentially put the financial security of fellow employees at risk as well.

Failing to report this incident also sends an unintended message to the rest of your teammates. By not enforcing this standard, you have created a new standard, signaling that others are free to do the same thing. That is the kind of influence you want to avoid.

Finally, overlooking this violation—unless you are the CEO—is not your place. You need to trust your organization’s leadership to decide how to handle it.

Personal Consequences

Whether it was done intentionally or not, it seems clear your colleague knew that what she did was a fireable offense. You’ve already thought of one consequence—if she gets away with it this time, she might do it again, or, as you indicated, do something even more serious down the road. This puts everyone in your organization at risk, including you. But more important, looking the other way will probably harm her development. As you decide what to do, think about how to best love your colleague in the long term.

Remember, your decision affects not just your company and your colleague, but also your heart. It appears you alone discovered this incident. I imagine you didn’t want this burden placed on your shoulders, but it was. Now you have to deal with this uncomfortable spot you are in.

You are free to do as you wish, and there may be no consequences either way. But you asked for some help in knowing what to do, which leads me to believe that if you take no action, this might bother you in the future. Not only could your silence make it difficult for you if management were to find out you didn’t report it, but your conscience may continue to bother you.

How to Confront a Colleague

So, let’s assume you decide to deal with the situation head-on. What’s the best way to proceed?

You have two choices. You could start a conversation with your colleague, or you could go over her head and report the offense straight to management. Which approach do you think demonstrates the most love, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23)?

If you choose to talk with your colleague, try to communicate with her in a way that preserves the relationship and leads her to address her actions.

Here are some wise guidelines I gathered from David Augsburger’s book Caring Enough to Confront, which may help you “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15):

  • “Confront caringly”—Express real concern for the growth of your colleague.
  • “Confront gently”—Remember that a gentle answer turns away wrath.
  • “Confront constructively”—Focus on the long-term benefits of resolving this issue.
  • “Confront acceptingly”—Recognize her good intentions and treat her with respect.
  • “Confront clearly”—Start with the facts; avoid focusing on feelings.

I hope these biblical truths and practical recommendations will be helpful to you, your business, and your colleague, and that this test of your faith provides you a chance to glorify God at work.