This question was posted a couple days ago:

How should I handle a conflict of interest of a coworker?

Three of four answers stop just short of saying the CEO is a criminal:

MrFox's answer

if the CEO is getting some sort of kickbacks for spending the corporation's money in a certain way, they are breaking the law. They are not just doing something shady or immoral, this is white collar crime that can carry a jail term. In a more lenient case it would just be a shareholder lawsuit. Either way, this is a pretty serious matter.

MeredithPoor's answer

Quite possibly the behavior of this manager is criminal. If it has left your customers exposed, it will destroy your business.

Michael Zedeler's answer

If you are sourcing work from a company that you are the slightest affiliated with, you are in a conflict of interests. This may potentially be very harmful to the company that you are working for and in some cases illegal.

The latter two answers are the more extreme of the three (MrFox lists illegality as only two out of three possible explanations in this case), and are both heavily downvoted, but I strongly feel that these sorts of answers are not appropriate and should be flagged/removed.

We do not provide legal advice because that is the realm of a lawyer. While not legal advice, accusing third-parties of illegality or wrongdoing on the basis of a question has a huge potential for harm if the person asking takes action based on those (potentially very wrong) assumptions.


Should we flag answers that imply the legality/illegality of actions as asking for legal advice so as to have them removed? Is downvoting the only appropriate recourse?

  • I haven't had a chance to put a lot of thought into this yet, but the debate and disagreement in the comments makes me think the question could be "primarily opinion based".
    – jmort253
    Dec 11, 2013 at 2:15

3 Answers 3


My first answer dealt with the answers to the specific question on TWP. This will deal with the question that was asked at the end of THIS question here on Meta

Should we flag answers that imply the legality/illegality of actions as asking for legal advice so as to have them removed? Is downvoting the only appropriate recourse?

NO. But they should be sourced. If someone is claiming it could be illegal they should be able to provide a reference to the laws they feel may be being violated, or a link to a similar situation where the result was a criminal or civil case being filed, and preferably concluded that agreed that the situation violated the law.

We have a back it up policy but for some reason this has not been enforced in quite some time. When you see these problems I urge you to flag the answer and request that the back it up policy be enforced.

  • Thanks for the answer Chad. In the circumstance that they are not sourced though, they are very dangerous answers (in that the consequences of blindingly following what the answers say are higher than the average question not asking about malfeasance or misconduct). Should be be flagging if there are no references?
    – jmac
    Dec 13, 2013 at 0:02
  • 1
    @Jmac - Yes we have a back it up policy and if it needs to be enforced. The more of us that flag something the more likely the mods are to take action. Dec 13, 2013 at 0:41
  • Chad, sometimes you remind of Judge Dredd. Good answer. "Back it up" is really something that we should remember. I include myself on this also... :_|
    – Hugo Rocha
    Dec 17, 2013 at 14:00

Any question that asks us to judge the ethics or legality of a situation or policy should be off topic.

This question does not do that specifically, but the answers decide to try to answer that anyway. I have flagged several of the answers as very low quality because they do not attempt to answer the question but instead attempt to judge the legality or ethics of the situation.

The question is "Is the situation as described a conflict of interest, and if so what can be done about it." None of the current answers even try to address that.


First, ethicality and legality are different things. Your title talks about eithics and your question is about legality.

While I agree that specific legal advice is not permitted, I think if a question asks about certain behaviours, and it may be illegal, it is entirely appropriate that the questioner be warned about the potential illegality. Not doing so would probably be worse for the questioner than not doing so. For example, if a questioner were to say that one of his workers had got pregnant and asked about firing her to avoid giving maternity leave, an answer that didn't point out this would be illegal (in most jurisdictions) would be seriously incomplete.

Questions specifically asking about legality should be off topic, but that wasn't the case with these examples. It would be better for answers that claim behaviours to be illegal were covered with appropriate caveats ("may be", "if it is as you describe", etc.), but that's a matter of phrseology.

I should also note that one of the answers you single out was upvoted and accepted. The others were downvoted for reasons other than the claim of illegality. I don't think the community thinks this is a problem.

  • My title talks about ethics because we do not know the specific jurisdiction of most questions and cannot know if behavior is legal, only if it is ethical. The asker is leading in this case toward implying the behavior is illegal, confirming that assumption would be similar to legal advice. I strongly don't think it's appropriate, especially given the lack of details. No amount of qualifications will make it any better, I think that judging the ethics of situations without all the details is a very dangerous road to go down as a community.
    – jmac
    Dec 13, 2013 at 0:06

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