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Is the Cover-Up Worse Than the Crime? Exploring How Third-Party Group Membership Influences Punishment of Cover-Ups
Although scholars have noted that transgressors may cover-up unethical actions in organizations, empirical research has traditionally treated cover-ups as commensurate with other unethical actions. In this article, we draw on attribution theory to suggest that individuals who cover-up unethical actions are punished more severely than those who only commit the baseline unethical action. Furthermore, we demonstrate that this effect holds irrespective if the transgressor covered up for their own unethical actions (personal cover-up) or the unethical actions of a group member (relational cover-up) (Study 1). In exploring boundary conditions, we incorporate theories of social identity to demonstrate that group membership moderates this relationship, such that in-group third-parties punish relational cover-ups less severely (Study 2). In a final study, we theorize and find support that in-group third parties are more likely to view a relational cover-up as loyal, thereby punishing the transgressor less severely (Study 3).