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Question 123: May a mechanic continue working for a business that cheats people?

After taking a course in auto mechanics, I got a job in a shop specializing in exhaust systems, brakes, shock absorbers, and so forth. As far as I can tell, we install good parts, do jobs right, and charge fair prices. But the service manager regularly talks customers into having unnecessary work done “for safety’s sake.” So, I often find myself replacing brake cylinders, struts, and other parts that are perfectly okay. Fortunately, since I never talk with the customers, I do not have to argue with them or lie to them. Still, I don’t like replacing parts that are perfectly okay.

But when I tried to talk with the service manager about what he does, he smiled and said: “Son, it’s my job to deal with customers and your job to do the work on the service order, not argue with me about it.” He made it clear that’s how it is if I want to keep my job.

I do need the job. Will it be wrong for me to keep it?


This question concerns cooperation in fraud. Assuming the service manager is defrauding customers, the questioner need not be formally cooperating. Still, his material cooperation is morally questionable. He is likely eventually to be tempted to cooperate formally, and if his need for the job is not great, his cooperation may be unfair to defrauded customers, especially the neediest. He must judge whether he needs the job badly enough to justify keeping it and continuing to cooperate materially in the fraud. If he judges that he may not, simply quitting would end the occasion of sin for him but would not help those being defrauded. To do that, he should make a serious effort to stop the fraud.

The reply could be along the following lines:

The service manager presumably has much more experience than you do. Is it possible that you are mistaken and are misjudging him? If it is, do nothing until you are certain of the fraud you allege. But if you are sure of it, I offer the following advice.

Assuming the service manager is defrauding customers, you are closely involved in grave injustices. Still, you need not share the service manager’s sinful will. You are only trying to make a living, and what you do to earn your pay is exactly the same as when customers themselves, being overcautious, categorically tell the service manager they want certain work done “whether or not you think it could be put off,” and it turns out to be equally unnecessary. In carrying out the customer’s order in such a case, the shop does him or her no injustice. And in both cases, your intentions can be the same: to do the work well, not only to earn your pay but for the customers’ benefit, since, assuming unnecessary work is going to be done, properly installing the parts does benefit customers, while not doing so could lead to serious accidents or other harm.

Still, you at least are contributing to the success of the service manager’s wrongdoing. I say “at least,” because you also may be tempted to intend part of what he wrongly intends. For example, on occasion you probably will be called on to talk with customers—for example, if the service manager steps out briefly and a suspicious customer questions you—and then you will have to choose between sharing in the deception and risking your job by being honest. In that case, you are likely to be tempted to take part in the wrongdoing itself by choosing to maintain the deception.

Moreover, you must ask yourself whether your involvement in the fraud is fair to the customers. Putting yourself in the place of the neediest of those being defrauded, consider what you would want a conscientious person in your place to do. You say you need the job. If someone else’s need for his or her job were a matter of life and death, or even a matter of staying out of jail or something of comparable importance, out of sympathy you would no doubt regard his or her similar involvement in an injustice to you as acceptable. But if your need for your job is not urgent, would you not want a person in your place to do what he or she could to save you from being defrauded?

What should you do if you judge that you must not go on contributing to the fraud and accepting the bad consequences of doing so? If your sole responsibility were to avoid the occasion of sinning, you could simply give up your job. But you would be replaced, and the fraudulent operation would continue. So, quitting would not by itself save anyone from being defrauded. Therefore, if you conclude that you must not continue as you have been, in my judgment you need not at once quit. Instead, you should accept the risk of losing the job while making a serious attempt to put an end to the service manager’s wrongdoing.

Only you, knowing the facts of the situation and your own strengths and limitations, can decide what action to take. But several possibilities deserve consideration. First, you might talk over the problem with the shop’s owner or another superior of the service manager, if any. But perhaps you have no opportunity to speak with a superior, or it appears that any accessible superior also is involved in the fraud. If this approach seems unpromising or does not resolve the problem, you could communicate confidentially with some agency or person who could prove the shop’s fraudulent practice and put a stop to it—for example, with the police or other, appropriate public authority. If that does not lead to action that stops the fraud and you still have the job, you could take a crusading approach—for example, carefully select several cases in which the work you do is extensive and the parts removed plainly do not need replacement, save the parts and tag them with the vehicle’s license number, and deliver this evidence, along with an explanation of its significance, to a consumer advocacy group or the local newspaper.