Shady business: What would you do?

Start by sharing the prompt (below) with your students, then ask them to spend the rest of class formulating a written response detailing how they would respond to this situation and why they chose that approach. 

Once you’ve had a chance to review all the responses, select a few students whose essays showcase a wide variety of reactions and rationale. Have these students read their essays to the class, then open the floor to discussion. Ask the class at large to consider the merits—and drawbacks—of each response. Then have them vote on the best and worst courses of action and explain why they voted the way they did. Maybe there is a clear “winner,” or maybe there are a combination of winning elements from several of the most ethical responses. 

Either way, the important thing is to spur conversation about what constitutes ethical behavior, and why being highly ethical is so important. From there, the conversation can evolve into a discussion about how ethics apply to the accounting profession and why, for CPAs especially, they are a central part of becoming licensed. 

Beyond the most obvious matter of ethics, this exercise also gets students involved in big-picture thinking—another key skill accountants use in their day-to-day work— through the situational analysis and consideration of potential ramifications for all involved. 


It’s an average Saturday night at Rowdy Randy’s Pizza and Pub, the local neighborhood restaurant where you’re waiting tables to save money for college. After working there for six weeks you’re finally starting to get the hang of things. You’ve got a pretty good grasp of the menu, are perfecting closing duties, have made a good impression on the folks in the kitchen as well as management, are gaining an appreciation for the art of waiting on customers, have started making some new friends and are even beginning to get some of your own “regulars.” Things are going well. 

While at the register closing out the tab for a particularly large party, you run into your coworker Tom, your next-door neighbor (since you were five) and the one who helped get you the job. As you’re waiting for him to finish his transaction, you notice him re-keying items from a tab that has already been paid in cash. Then you see him pull out a 20% off coupon and enter it into the POS system—essentially reopening the closed tab and adjusting it to reflect a discounted rate so he can pocket the difference. Shocked, and not 100% sure what you just saw, you quickly step to the POS to close out the tab for your 16-top and get back to your other tables. 

Toward the end of the night you notice Tom doing the same thing again: re-ringing everything up with a 20% discount from a ticket paid in cash and taking the difference for himself. After closing, Tom walks with you to your car and you decide to ask him about what you saw. He downplays it, rationalizing that it’s just the same to the restaurant as if the customers themselves had used the coupons, so it’s not hurting anyone. 

“Besides,” he claims, “the restaurant owners are super wealthy. Have you seen their house? And they pay us practically nothing. How do you think they can afford that mansion in the first place? Off of the work of little guys like us, that’s how.” In fact, he tells you, he “can show you how to do it too. It’s easy. In the last six months I’ve been able to earn more than $5,200 extra from coupons alone—enough to cover tuition for the fall semester.” Just then, Tom’s girlfriend pulls up and he jumps in her car. “See you tomorrow,” he says as they drive off.

Lesson plan