Ethics in the Workplace

The workplace is considered the professional environment which should be characterized, at least in theory, by a high degree of professionalism and a clear distinction between the work environment and mindset and the personal one. In cases of issues related to ethics in the workspace, the line between professional and personal can be breached and in some cases even broken.

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There are numerous situations in which ethics is put under a question mark at the workplace. Some examples vary from private use of company resources for personal purposes to obtaining financial gains as a result of professional position inside a company.

The first example relates to simple and apparently non-offensive acts that most of the employees tend to make use of during working hours. These include using the company email for personal use such as online shopping to using company resources such as the printer, the fax, the scan, or any other readily available resource that the company puts at the free use of the employee during working hours. Despite the fact that most of the employees in major corporation do it, without any clear and quantifiable effect or loss for the company, it is in fact in breach of the company policy concerning ethics. In this sense, “in most workplaces there’s a principle called “occasional use” that keeps the majority of workers from losing their jobs simply for checking their eBay auction during their break or dropping kids off at school with the company car in an emergency. Occasional use means just that you can use company resources for personal use as long as the use is truly occasional.”(Putnam, 2005) Despite this occasional use, the simple fact of using the laptop for instance for personal reasons is against ethical rules in general. Yet, this does not affect in a major sense the company or the employer, still it reflects a tendency of the employee to act against rules and procedures of the company.

At the other end of non-ethical behavior lie the more important, significant, and damaging non- ethical behavior at the workplace. When dealing with severe breach of ethical behavior, this often relates to high-level employees. In this sense, it is important to take into account the fact that “work-place ethics are most often related to decision-making processes. Most leaders face the opportunity to choose between alternative courses of action in their work situations and other aspects of their lives. Work-place ethics refer to choosing the option that is determined to be the moral or legal “right” choice, even if the other alternative(s) are very attractive and even if you can “get away with” the less ethical choice.” (Bush, n.d) Therefore, ethics refers to choosing between right and wrong, when both options are available.

Bribery is not only a legal offense but also an ethical one. Despite the fact that decision-makers are in a position to influence, through their behavior, the decision making process, they also have access to processes they manage or influence that determine a certain course of action. If their behavior is non-ethical, and in here bribery or favoritism are included, this course of action is not only against ethic policy of the corporation or employer but also against the national laws. Although it may seem as something which lacks any negative consequence such as a dinner invitation and bill paying for a friend that is also the customer of the company, but if thought of from an ethical filter, it may seem un-ethical to cater for a customer outside office hours. A clear example in this sense can be a decision maker inviting a good friend out for dinner during a procurement process in which the friend is a decision maker and the payee is part of the company that is bidding in the procurement process. Although it may seem that this is just an occasion for catching up, it can also be seen as a means to influence the procurement process. This is the reason for which in most cases, the ethics code bans such afterhours meetings or get-togethers.

In order to avoid situations in which employees are not even suspected of unethical behavior, all corporations have a code of ethical conduct. However, “corporate codes of conduct are completely voluntary. They can take a number of formats and address any issue — workplace issues and workers’ rights being just one possible category. Also, their implementation depends totally on the company concerned” (Hamilton, 2011). It must be pointed out that ethical issues are crucial for the way in which a company operates; at the same time, these elements are standard in the sense that they are common sense issues that vary very little depending on the corporation and other policies that the corporation considers mandatory. More precisely, it the company is focused on IT services, the ethical issues will focus on the non-disclosure of information and therefore the use of IT products would be more sensitive and would be part of the ethical code of conduct. For example, the use of the corporate email on non-secure shopping website may be seen as non-ethical because it puts at risk resources of the company the employee may have access to.

Overall, it can be concluded that the issue of ethics at the workspace depends on several key aspects. On the one hand, on the severity of the “breach” of the ethical conduct. On the other hand, on the level at which this breach of ethical conduct is done (see the example of bribery); finally, the nature of the workspace is also significant in determining the degree to which this breach of ethical conduct is done. Regardless, if a workspace has in place an ethical code of conduct, it should be respected, no matter the level or the nature of the position, as it may, at one point, endanger both one’s position as well as the workplace as a whole.

References

Bush, Cathy. “Work-Place Ethics.” N.d. Available at http://www.chsbs.cmich.edu/leader_model/development/media/Targeted%20Lessons/workplace_ethics.htm

Hamilton, Diane. “Top 10 Companies’ Code of Ethics and Conduct” 2011. Available at http://drdianehamilton.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/top-10-companies%E2%80%99-code-of-ethics-and-conduct-2011/

Putman, Mark. “Company Assets and Occasional Use..”Global Ethics University. 2005 Available at http://www.character-ethics.org/articles/assetsandoccasionaluse.htm


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