The term business ethics refers to the concept of right and wrong, good and evil and responsibility in the business environment. This concept really gained attention beginning in the 1980s and 90s in the United States. Somewhere around that time we began to measure business ethics by how much we perceived them to be at odds with accepted social values.
Some areas where businesses have crossed ethical lines include discrimination, privacy, safety, competition, marketing strategies and liabilities. The foundational question becomes, when does a company cross the line in promoting their goals and purposes and infringing on the rights and liberties of one or more individuals?
Individuals run businesses, therefore the ethics of those individuals will influence the ethics of the company. Generally, good business ethics promote loyalty, productivity and quality and eliminate the need for subterfuge.
Harassment in the workplace could include a number of threatening or disturbing behaviors. If someone says or does anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, or puts you at risk, we consider that harassment. A harasser usually selects something to harass you about that distinguishes you from him/her, including gender, race, disability, age, sexual preferences, religious beliefs or family situation.
The most prominently discussed harassment issue in the workplace is sexual harassment. It involves any unwelcome, unwanted or inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature that makes the target feel uncomfortable.
In the United States the government has implemented laws to protect employees from harassment in the workplace. You have the right to work in a place free from harassment and your employer has an obligation to provide that kind of environment. If you feel like a target of any type of harassment, you should know what resources you have to protect yourself. If the company you work for does not have a process in place to deal with harassment issues, seek support from friends or colleagues who can help you find out how to address the situation.
If your boss asks you to look the other way or actually participate in an activity you consider unethical, you have a choice to make. Before you choose to go along with the deception, consider all the implications. Whether you just don’t say anything, or you actively participate, you can be implicated. Don’t expect that someone who bends the rules will protect your reputation—an unethical person generally looks out only for himself.
Fear of losing your job, intimidation and confusion about ethical standards can all play a part in how you decide to act. Take time to think through the possibility of a scenario where your boss asks you to do something unethical—then make a plan for how you would handle it. Saying you just followed orders will not protect you in a court case. Consider what resources exist to help you handle the situation.
If you can stall or stay uninvolved long enough to set up a transfer or find another position, that could keep you from having to get involved in either blowing the whistle or participating.
According to one study, 79% of employees consider stealing or actually steal from their employers. CNN actually reported that one out of every three companies that go out of business, do so because of employee theft.
Definitions of stealing vary greatly. Some lists include gray areas such as stealing time from your employer by taking personal calls at work, taking longer lunch breaks or doing a personal errand while out for business. Other lists more specifically target stealing actual, tangible items from the office, like supplies. And still others include making copies or sending faxes from office machines as a form of stealing.
You can safely assume that anything you do at or from work that you would not like your boss to catch you doing, would probably qualify as at least dishonest, if not specifically stealing.
Is it okay to …
Every business has its own culture and standards of acceptable conduct. If you received an employee handbook, you might find a summary of the employer’s expectations regarding personal performance, including things like taking personal calls, making personal copies, etc. If not, do not hesitate to ask your boss how the company handles such issues. An employer will likely respect you for clarifying how to deal with specific areas not covered in your training.
Again, you can safely assume that anything you do at or from work that you would not like your boss to catch you doing, would probably qualify as at least dishonest, if not specifically inappropriate.
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