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 that one might encounter in their jobs. I have summarized them to keep them short and simple.
1. Taking Things That Don’t Belong To You
Everything from taking highlighters from the storage room, to sending personal mail through the mailroom, to downloading unauthorized games to play on your work computer fall into this category. A CFO of a major corporation took a cab from the airport to his home in the city. When he asked the cabbie for receipt, he was handed a full book of blank receipts. Apparently this dilemma of accurately reporting business expenses involves more than just one employee.
2. Saying Things That You Know Are Not True
When a car salesperson 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 clerk in a store assures a customer that a product has a money-back guarantee, when only trade-ins are allowed, another ethical violation occurred (and perhaps a violation of the law).
3. Giving Or Allowing False Impressions
There is an urban legend in which 2 CD’s were being sold on a TV infomercial that claimed that that all the hits of the 1980’s were on the CDs. The infomercial emphasized over and over again that all songs were performed by the original artists. When they received the CDs, upon closer inspection, they found that all songs had been covered by a band called The Original Artists. While technically true, the impression given by the infomercial was false.
4. Buying Influence or Engaging in Conflict of Interest
When a company awards a construction contract to an organization owned by the brother of the attorney general, or when a county committee who is charged with choosing a new road construction company is traveling around the state looking at roads at the expense of one of the bidders, a conflict of interest arises which might affect the results of that choice.
5. Hiding or Divulging Information
Failing to divulge information from the results of a study on the safety of a new product, or choosing to take your companies proprietary product 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 primarily the result of laws passed by government institutions to protect the consumer from companies that previously took unfair advantage of them because of their lack of knowledge or through complex contractual obligations.
7. Committing Acts of Personal Decadence
Over time, it has become increasing clear that the acts of employees outside of work can have a negative effect on a businesses image. This is one of the primary reasons companies are minimizing social interactions or events, outside of the office, so that drug or alcohol related events can not be tracked back to the company.
8. Perpetuating Interpersonal Abuse
At the heart of this category of ethical misbehavior is the abuse of employees through sexual harassment, verbal lashing, or public humiliation by a company leader.
9. Permitting Organizational Abuse
When an organization chooses to operate in another country, it sometimes butts up against social culture in which child labor, demeaning work environments or excessive hours are required. It is at this point that the leaders of the company have a choice…whether to perpetuate that abuse or alleviate it.
10. Violating Rules
In some cases, people or organizations violate 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 required procedures for that outcome, they can potentially scar 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 fail to report it. Perhaps you know that a new product in development has safety issues, but you don’t speak out. In these examples, failing to do right creates a wrong.
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 daily? Sometimes an organization must balance the need to do business with any ethical dilemmas that might arise from doing business.