Ethics and fair treatment at work

People face ethical choices every day. Is it wrong to use the company e-mail for personal messages? Is Rs 1,000 gift to a client unacceptable? While the scale for judging ethics in the United States cannot be the same as that in India many Indian and global firms operating in India have developed their own code of ethics. For example, Infosys, and the Tata Group are known for their firm commitment to business ethics.

Mangers human resource decisions often trigger ethical issues. For example, the executive director of the Ethics officer association notes that supervisory activities such as disciplinary actions and performance appraisals often raise ethical questions. One survey of 747 human resources professionals find that 54% had observed misconduct ranging from violations of Title VII to violations of the Occupational safety and health act to employees falsifying work records. Another survey fund that 6 of the 10 most serious ethical issues – workplace safety security of employee records employee theft, affirmative action, comparable work and employee privacy rights – were HR related A. U. S Supreme court decision suggest that poor employee relations – for instance, untruthful or incomplete communications with or about employees may over whelm otherwise good defenses to discrimination claims when the claims reach the courts Table below lists the percentage of employees observing various unethical behaviors.

Specific Observed unethical behaviors

1) Abusive or intimidating behavior toward employees – 21%
2) Lying to employees customers vendors or to the public – 19%
3) A situation that places employee interest over organizational interests – 18%
4) Violations of safety regulations – 16%
5) Misreporting of actual time worked – 16%
6) E-mail and Internet abuse – 13%
7) Discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, age or similar categories – 12%
8) Stealing or theft – 11%
9) Sexual harassment – 9%
10) Provision of goods or services that fail to meet specifications – 8%
11) Misuse of confidential information – 7%
12) Alteration of documents – 6%
13) Falsification or mis-presentation of financial records or reports – 5%
14) Improper use of competitors’ inside information – 4%
15) Price fixing – 3%
16) Giving or accepting bribes, kickbacks or appropriate gifts – 3%

All managers thus need to understand the basics of ethics and of the ethical dimensions of their human resource decisions. Let’s look first at what ethics means.

The Meaning of Ethics

Ethics refers to the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group.

Ethical decisions always involve two things. First, they involve normative judgments. A normative judgment implies that something is good or bad right or wrong better or worse. You are wearing a skirt and blouse is a non-normative statement. That’s a great outfit!

Ethical decisions also involve morality. Morality is society’s accepted standards of behavior. Moral standards address behaviors of serious consequences to society’s well being, such as murder lying and slander. They cannot be established or changed by decision of authoritative bodies like legislatures. They should override self interest. Many people believe that moral judgments are never situational. They say something that is morally right (or wrong) in one situation is right (or wrong) in another. Moral judgments also tend to trigger strong emotions Violating moral standards may therefore make individuals feel, ashamed or remorseful.

It would simplify things if it was always clear which decisions were ethical and which were not. Unfortunately it is not. If the decision makes the person feel ashamed or remorseful or involves doing something with serious consequences such as murder, then chances are its unethical. The problem for managers is that many decisions seem to fall on the line.