Uber Plays Dirty – Why The Company Needs An App For Business Ethics Training


We have all experienced that moment where, while we don’t plan on drinking that much, one jack and coke leads to another…and another…and…another, and then he bar is suddenly transformed into an intense merry go round… and, well then it’s time to get in bed. So what do you do? Drive home? Well no, that is stupid and dangerous; you could potentially get a DUI or kill someone.

Attending school at Auburn University, I had the luxury of taking the Tiger Transit, a public transportation system designed to take students to and from the bars, limiting the possibility of drinking and driving. When I moved to Atlanta last year, I was curious if there was something similar, that didn’t involve taking a traditional taxi – I mean come on, this isn’t New York where you can just wave your hand and ten taxis appear all at once.

My friend mentioned a taxi-like service called Uber, which is a venture-funded startup company that makes mobile apps that instantly connect passengers with drivers. What makes it so appealing to my generation (the millennials) is that it uses mobile technology. At my age, who doesn’t have their phone with them at all times? The concept is perfect! It’s easy too; you just sign up using your credit card information and simply press the app and a driver is quickly summoned to where you are at that time. Brilliant! It’s affordable and they have very quick response time. While it seems awesome from the consumer’s viewpoint, according to recent news, Uber doesn’t have the best reputation in terms of being an ethical company. In this blog, I will talk about how business ethics training can help save companies like Uber and yours from spiraling into unethical dilemmas.

Uber Violates Business Ethics

According to CNN, Uber is using a pattern of aggressive and questionable tactics in its effort to control the car-on-demand market. Their biggest competitor is another transportation company, Lyft which has the same business model. Identifiable by their trademark pink mustaches, Lyft offers the same value to consumers – an app that instantly dispatches a driver to your pick up location at the touch of a button. I can see why they are a big competitor; who doesn’t want to be picked up from the bar in a car with a giant fuzzy neon pink mustache on the front!

According to the article, Lyft released information that Uber employees were engaging in unethical conduct by ordering and canceling more than 5,000 Lyft rides since October of 2013- “it’s the taxi app version of ding-dong ditch.” What happens is these fake requests decrease Lyft drivers’ availability and instead send users to use Uber. It not only hinders the company, but also jeopardizes the Lyft drivers’ income and the time and money spent on going to the destination, only to have to turn around, passenger-less. It’s not only unethical but you can probably argue it’s on the edge of violating fair competition laws as well.

See the video here.

Other Shady Tactics

Furthermore, in New York Uber is also telling its drivers that it is against city regulations to work for both Uber and Lyft. Uber employees are apparently receiving text messages from their company saying they are forbidden to drive for another company. However according to the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, this is untrue.

In the battle of which company reigns supreme, Uber chooses to play dirty. They are completely forgoing business ethics and hitting their competitor where it hurts the most – in their limited driver resources. Instead of trying to beat their competitor by offering a better quality service or with other more lower prices, they are using poor business ethics. You have to wonder if such tactics are sustainable, both in terms of the time that Uber is spending on this steal campaign, and the negative reputation that the company is rapidly building.

As a start-up, one of the first things that needs to be addressed is providing your soon-to-be employees with an effective ethics and compliance training program. You can check out our Director of Product John Peltier’s blog about tech startups needing ethics and compliance training. As a startup there is always going to be room to improve, you make mistakes as you go, but failing to be compliant with ethical business practices should not be one of them.

Designing Uber Ethics and Compliance Training Program

As a startup that has catapulted into a net worth of over $3 billion dollars, surely the company developed a business model when the venture began; preparing a Code of Conduct, companies policies and an effective ethics and compliance training program should have been one of the next steps in launching the company. Uber employees participated in unethical behavior that could harm the company’s reputation, long-term profitability, and growth goals. After all, Uber already faces plenty of trouble whenever they try to enter a new city, ethics complaints are the last thing they need during this stage of expansion.

A colleague of mine shared with me a few stories of her time as a Sales Director for Mary Kay. One of the things she mentioned was the incredible training the organization provided for its salespeople. They provided courses not just on the latest products, best practices for sales, and business skills, but also on regulations and ethical guidelines that Mary Kay Corporate expected the consultants, who are essentially small business owners, to follow.

If I were going to design Uber’s ethics and compliance program, I would implement a two-pronged approach, one set of training for Uber Corporate and one for the drivers.

For Uber Corporate, I would launch a full ethics and compliance training program, with an overview of regulations the company is subject to in different areas and ethical guidelines that everyone should follow. All employees would be subject to this training, from the highest executive to the most junior staff members. It would be custom branded for Uber, of course, and in keeping with both their visual themes and tone. Since part of their brand is being cool, luxurious, and cutting edge, the training would reflect the hottest trends: gamification, interactive video, and of course, mobile compatibility. I’d also revisit the Code of Conduct, make sure that it’s both a stunning brand piece and a solid resource for both corporate employees and drivers in regards to ethical situations. Everything would be available via a web portal, so that employees could check in for regular updates.

I would imagine that Uber has some sort of a driver orientation or introductory package that welcomes a new driver to the company. I would include an interactive video course that includes an ethics and compliance module, as well as a copy of the Code of Conduct. This could be just a one-time video that they have to view and attest to watching, which would lay out the behavior expected of drivers and the requirements for maintaining driver status at Uber. Clearly it would define unethical behavior, such as the taxi “ding-dong-ditch” described above, and consequences for both the individual and company at large when drivers engage in such antics. I know there’s some debate about whether or not freelancers or contractors, such as the Uber drivers, should take such courses, but the boost to the company’s reputation and the clear commitment to conducting business ethically makes it clear in my book – the benefits for outweigh the costs.

I would also give drivers access to the web portal, although with a narrower selection of training. If possible, I’d include business courses to help drivers meet their income goals ethically, and send updates when regulations in their specific region change. I might also include shorter vignettes, 1-3 minute videos on whichever compliance or ethics topic would be relevant to highlight that quarter. In fact, it sounds to me like they could use a vignette on fair competition. Check out my colleague Jillian’s blog about a great 3 minute Code of Conduct training, compliments of the Atlanta Hawks.

Of course, Uber may have some, or even all of this, in place already. If so, I hope they begin to behave ethically. I love the service, and I hope they get it together soon – I know I won’t continue to support an unethical business, but I’d really hate to see them fail.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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