Legal Law

Categories of ethical dilemmas in business

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

1. Taking things that do not belong to you

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

2. Saying things you know are not true

When a car dealer insists to a customer that a used car has not been in a previous accident, when it has, an ethical breach has occurred. When a store clerk 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) has occurred.

3. Giving or allowing false impressions

There is an urban legend where 2 CDs were sold in a TV commercial that claimed that all the hits from the 1980s were on the 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 discovered that all the songs had been covered by a band called The Original Artists. Although technically true, the impression given by the infomercial is 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 tasked with choosing a new highway construction company travels the state looking for highways 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 study on the safety of a new product, or choosing to bring your company’s proprietary information to a new job are examples that fall into this category.

6. Taking unfair advantage

Have you ever wondered 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 employee actions outside of work can have a negative effect on a company’s image. This is one of the main reasons companies minimize social interactions or events, outside of the office, so that drug or alcohol related events cannot be traced back to the company.

8. Perpetuation of interpersonal abuse

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

9. Allow organizational abuse

When an organization chooses to operate in another country, it sometimes runs up against a social culture that requires child labour, 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 the rules

In some cases, people or organizations break the rules to speed up a process or a 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 may damage the reputation of the organization they work for.

11. Condonation of unethical actions

Suppose you’re at work one day and notice that a colleague of yours is using petty cash for personal purchases and doesn’t report it. He may know that a new product in development has security issues, but he doesn’t say so. In these examples, failing to do 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 being committed on a daily basis? Sometimes an organization must balance the need to do business with any ethical dilemmas that may arise while doing business.

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