Categories of ethical dilemmas in business

First published in Exchange, the magazine of the Brigham Young University School of Business, the following twelve categories were developed to cover the root or cause of most ethical business dilemmas one might encounter in one’s work. I have summarized them to be short and simple.

1. Take things that don’t belong to you

Everything from grabbing highlighters from the storage room, to sending personal mail through the mail room, to downloading unauthorized games to play on your work computer fall into this category. A CFO of a major company took a taxi from the airport to his home in the city. When he asked the taxi driver for the receipt, he handed him a complete blank receipt book. Apparently, this dilemma of accurately reporting business expenses involves more than one employee.

2. Say things that you know are not true

When a car salesman insists to a customer that a used car has not been in a previous accident, when it has, an ethical violation has occurred. When an employee at a store assures a customer that a product has a money-back guarantee, when only exchanges are allowed, another ethical violation (and perhaps a violation of the law) occurred.

3. Give or allow false impressions

There is an urban legend where 2 CDs were sold on a television infomercial that claimed that all the hits of the 1980s were on CDs. The infomercial emphasized over and over again that all the songs were performed by the original artists. When they received the CDs, upon closer inspection, they found that all the songs had been covered by a band called The Original Artists. While technically true, the infomercial’s impression was false.

4. Buying influence or participating in a conflict of interest

When a company awards a construction contract to an organization owned by the attorney general’s brother, or when a county committee charged with choosing a new highway construction company travels across the state looking for roads at the expense of one of the bidders. , a conflict of interest arises that could affect the results of that election.

5. Hide or disclose information

Not disclosing information from the results of a new product safety study, or choosing to bring your company’s proprietary product information to a new job are examples that fall into this category.

6. Taking advantage of an unfair advantage

Ever wonder why there seem to be so many product safety rules and procedures? It is mainly the result of laws passed by government institutions to protect consumers from companies that previously took unfair advantage of them due to their lack of knowledge or through complex contractual obligations.

7. Committing acts of personal decadence

Over time, it has become increasingly clear that actions by employees outside of work can have a negative effect on a company’s image. This is one of the main reasons that companies are minimizing interactions or social events, outside the office, so that drug or alcohol related events cannot be traced back to the company.

8. Perpetuating interpersonal abuse

At the heart of this category of ethical misconduct is the abuse of employees through sexual harassment, verbal spanking, or public humiliation by a company leader.

9. Allowing organizational abuse

When an organization chooses to operate in another country, it sometimes collides with a social culture that requires child labor, degrading work environments, or excessive hours. It is at this point that company leaders have a choice … whether to perpetuate that abuse or alleviate it.

10. Violation of rules

In some cases, individuals or organizations violate the rules to expedite a process or decision. In many of these cases, the results would have been the same regardless, but by violating the rules or procedures required for that result, they can damage the reputation of the organization they work for.

11. Condoning unethical actions

Suppose you are at work one day and you notice that a colleague of yours is using petty cash for personal purchases and does not report it. You may know that a new product in development has security issues, but you don’t speak up. In these examples, not doing the right thing creates evil.

12. Balancing ethical dilemmas

What about a situation that would be considered neither right nor wrong? What should be done here? Should Google or Microsoft do business in China when human rights violations are committed on a daily basis? Sometimes an organization must balance the need to do business with any ethical dilemma that may arise while doing business.

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