ST. LOUIS — Corporate America, years ago, started to deal with some of the issues now pummeling the White House, and experts say that if President Clinton were chief executive of a business, the outcome would be more decisive.
He'd be fired.
"In the environment that exists today ... it's hard to imagine a CEO of any major company surviving these kinds of revelations," says Michael Malone, partner and head of the litigation department at Battle Fowler, a major New York law firm.
"... if you're talking about the average publicly owned company, it's just hard to imagine a CEO surviving that."
"It would be: Out! No golden parachute. Maybe a little severance. But out of here.'" adds Anthony Parinello, corporate trainer and author of "The Power of Will."
Corporate America has become increasingly strict when it comes to sex in the workplace. What might have passed with a wink in the 1980s is off bounds today.
And that suggests a difficult path for Mr. Clinton.
"The public has a tremendous capacity and a deep yearning to forgive," says Rushworth Kidder of the Institute for Global Ethics in Camden, Maine.
"The challenge is when the emotion says 'forgive,' and the reason has not yet heard a real apology. That I think is an emotional wringer running at warp speed. That's why we say: 'Please let's not impeach. Let's get past this.' "
In coming weeks, Mr. Kidder expects a more measured, rational response.
Here are some of the questions a corporate board would face as it decided what to do with CEO Clinton:
A board would investigate the whether the accusations are true, often using an outside legal firm. In this case, the president's admissions would likely bring dismissal, say corporate ethicists.
And if the CEO lies to the investigators, that alone can bring dismissal.
"Almost every corporate policy manual and ethics code requires all employees of the corporation to cooperate with an investigation," says Michael Daigneault, president of the Ethics Resource Center, a nonprofit ethics research and consulting group in Washington, D.C.
Private or public
Clinton's supporters try to separate his personal weaknesses from his job performance. But many ethicists argue against that.
"When someone looks at a CEO today, there's some kind of moral force," says Blaine Lee of Franklin Covey Co., a leadership consulting firm in Salt Lake City.
"When someone stands up and says, 'I represent you,' we have huge expectations. You need both character and competence to be trustworthy."
A wayward CEO often puts the company at serious financial risk, says Elizabeth du Fresne, a senior partner at Miami law firm Steel, Hector & Davis.
Since the US Supreme Court expanded the definition of sexual harassment a decade ago, many companies have been hit with a barrage of expensive judgments.
In 1994, secretary Rena Weeks won a $3.5 million judgment against Chicago law firm Baker & McKenzie because one of its partners harassed her. This year, drug company Astra USA agreed to pay out nearly $10 million to women who had been harassed by senior executives.
Corporate boards often ask Ms. du Fresne to tell executives, face to face, to clean up their acts. "Most of them look me in the eye and say: 'You're probably right. I won't do it at work again.' "
Harm to the work force
Unpunished ethical infractions hurt company morale, argues Claire Gaudiani, president of Connecticut College in New London. Other employees suspect favoritism.
"The inability of a leader to master himself or herself is a major cause of disrespect," she says. "... smart people don't want to work for someone who can't control himself or herself."