I'm in a bit of an ethical quandary.

I'm attempting to study for a professional certification exam that my employer is paying for, and I asked a coworker who happens to be part of the board responsible for maintaining the exam if he had any study materials I can use. In his response, I got 11 emails from him, such as previous versions of the exam, but also including the actual current exam and exam answers. None of that is public information, and when asked via text he replied "please don't tell anyone, I could get in serious trouble."

I reported this situation to my director, who mentioned that he would talk with this coworker, and the director told me to delete the emails in question. Most of the emails I have from him are unread, and I definitely don't want to use the actual test for studying, but I feel uneasy deleting these emails altogether as it feels like destroying part of the record.

Part of what complicates this situation is that company money is paying for this exam, and if I don't take or pass the exam this year I could be made to pay back the money as I didn't fulfill my "professional goal" for the year.

Couple of questions here:

  1. Should I actually delete these emails?
  2. Should I contact the certification agency myself over this?
  3. Should I contact HR directly with this issue?

EDIT: People seem to be assuming that I was complicit in cheating here. Rest assured, my question to the coworker was for study materials, not the exam itself. It's very similar to asking the professor of a class the concepts you should study for an exam. You wouldn't then expect to receive the exam itself. As soon as I realized what I had received and confirmed that it was the actual exam, I immediately reported it to my director.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    Jul 18, 2022 at 15:16

4 Answers 4


The integrity of this exam is now completely compromised, because no only do you have access to all this materiel, but anyone else with access to your mailbox (such as your IT department) also do. You also know that a member of the board who are responsible for this exam is freely distributing the answers to their friends.

The ethical thing is to report this, both to the board of the exam, and also to whoever accredits them (such as the industry regulator). They need to carry out a full investigation, remove that board member, and completely refresh the exam content.

You don't say what the exam is for, so we can't really judge how serious this is. But depending on the type of exam it is, this could have significant real-world implications. If it's an entry-level qualification in using Microsoft Office then it's not such a big deal. But how would you feel having an operation by a surgeon who had been given the exam answers? Driving over a bridge designed by a civil engineer who'd cheated? Saving your money with a bank who's lead security architect only passed the exam because they'd been given all the solutions.

By texting your co-worker and speaking to your director (hopefully that was in person..), you've also created a paper trail. If this ever gets found out in future and investigated, you are complicit in covering it up - which could result in any qualifications you have with this organisation being revoked for cheating.

However, there are likely to be consequences from doing this. Your co-worker will probably lose their position on the board (as they should), and possibly their job. Your director will be unhappy with you, and that may result in you missing out on promotions (or even getting fired). You may be protected under whistleblowing laws, but that depends on your country.

So what you need to do is balance the ethical choice (reporting this), with the choice that benefits you (covering it up and hoping no-one finds out). And really that comes down to how important the ethical side of it is to you, and on how serious the consequences of people cheating their way through these certifications are.

  • 3
    I can't imagine why anyone is downvoting this. It contains an accurate description of the only truly ethical response to querent's position. Jul 17, 2022 at 18:06
  • 4
    @A.I.Breveleri None of them bothered to leave comments, but I presume it's because some people consider "don't be a snitch" to override all other ethical concerns.
    – Gh0stFish
    Jul 17, 2022 at 19:09
  • 2
    I'm actually considering this the most correct answer here, though again, the ask was for study materials, not for the exam. Please be assured there was no "cover-up" here; I never actually asked for the exam nor expected to receive the exam. As soon as I realized what I had and confirmed that it in fact was the actual exam, I immediately reported it to the director.
    – panoptical
    Jul 17, 2022 at 19:38
  • 2
    @panoptical unfortunately you co-worker has put you into a really bad position, where you either have to do the ethical thing and report them (and deal with any consequences of that), or to delete the emails, try and cover up what happened, and hope that it never gets found out. Because if anyone looks into this from an outside perspective, they will 100% assume that you cheated in the exam and tried to hide the evidence.
    – Gh0stFish
    Jul 17, 2022 at 19:52
  • 3
    Thanks. Yes, I will absolutely be reporting this to the certification board.
    – panoptical
    Jul 17, 2022 at 20:10

This questions reminds me a a situation from a few weeks ago:

Accounting giant Ernst & Young admits its employees cheated on ethics exams

Ernst & Young, one of the top accounting firms in the world, is being fined $100 million by federal regulators after admitting its employees cheated on their ethics exams.

For years, the firm's auditors had cheated to pass key exams that are needed for certified public accountant licenses, the Securities and Exchange Commission found. Ernst & Young also had internal reports about the cheating but didn't disclose the wrongdoing to regulators during the investigation.

The director telling you to delete the emails/texts hasn't helped the situation. It just means that three employees of your company are imlpicated in the scandal. You might not have wanted the exam and answers, but now that you have them you need to do the right thing.

Talk to the group that board that runs the exam.

Find how you report ethical issues with your company. Many companies have a way to report ethical issues that don't require you to go though management. They may require you to contact an outside organization, they may have you contact HR, they may have an "inspector general" like function, or a compliance officer. Follow the whistleblowering rules for your company.

If this means that you can't take the exam this year, that is not your concern. reporting the issue may save your company more money in the end because it stops the issue now, instead of years from now.


I reported this situation to my director,

That was a huge mistake. I'm assuming your coworker was just trying to help you and made an honest mistake, but now he is in real trouble.

Should I actually delete these emails?

Yes. What part of "the director told me to delete the emails in question" do you not understand? You have clear direction. Follow them

Should I contact the certification agency myself over this

No. You have done enough damage already. How much more trouble do you want to inflict on your coworker. Let them and the director handle it.

Should I contact HR directly with this issue?

No. Let coworker and the director handle it.

At this point, just follow direction and otherwise stay out of it.

  • 8
    We have no idea what the motivations of the coworker were, but when they state "please don't tell anyone, I could get in serious trouble.", then that suggests that what they did was not a mistake. IMHO the OP reporting to his director was the correct thing to do because the coworker is undermining the legitimacy of the entire certification process.
    – Peter M
    Jul 17, 2022 at 15:50
  • 3
    What do you mean by ‘mistake’? Sending the exam was clearly not an oversight or misunderstanding; but by now I expect the co-worker does consider it to have been an error or miscalculation…
    – gidds
    Jul 17, 2022 at 21:42
  • 2
    @gidds It's possible they simply zipped up a folder containing all the exams, not realising it contained this years exam. Jul 18, 2022 at 5:54
  • 2
    @PeterM People get into serious trouble for making mistakes all the time. Jul 18, 2022 at 5:55
  1. Delete the emails, but forward them to a personal account before you do so. It's important to CYA (cover your... arsenal) in case this comes back to you. For your exam, handle things ethically.
  2. Do not contact the certification agency unless you're looking to get fired.
  3. Do not contact HR unless you're looking to get fired.
  4. Additional point:

company money is paying for this exam, and if I don't take or pass the exam this year I could be made to pay back the money as I didn't fulfill my "professional goal" for the year

If you don't pass the exam, it's unlikely that the company can make you pay any money back unless you've signed a written contract stating that you'll do so. They could terminate you or put you on probation, which are still adverse consequences, but I don't see them dipping into your wallet as reasonable.

  • 5
    By "CYA" do you mean "Create additional evidence that you're cheating in the certification"? Because that's exactly what forwarding emails to a personal account does.
    – Gh0stFish
    Jul 17, 2022 at 19:11
  • @Gh0stFish It could go either way.
    – Xavier J
    Jul 17, 2022 at 19:50

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .