Categories of ethical dilemmas in business

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 or cause of most ethical business dilemmas one may encounter in one’s work. I’ve summarized them to keep them short and simple.

1. Taking things that don’t belong to you
Everything from taking markers from the storage room to sending personal mail through the mailroom to downloading unauthorized games to play on your work computer falls into this category. A CFO of a large corporation took a taxi from the airport to his home in the city. When he asked the taxi attendant for a receipt, he was handed a book full of blank receipts. Obviously, this dilemma of accurately reporting business expenses involves more than one employee.

2. Saying things you know aren’t true
When a car salesman insists to a customer that a used car has not been in a previous accident, when this is the case, an ethical breach has occurred. When a salesperson in 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) has occurred.

3. Giving or permitting false impressions
There is an urban legend that 2 CDs are being sold in a TV commercial that claims all the hits from the 80’s are on CD. The infomercial emphasizes over and over that all songs are performed by the original artists. When they received the discs, upon closer inspection, they discovered that all the songs were covers by a group called The Original Artists. Although technically true, the impression created by the infomercial was false.

4. Buying influence or engaging 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 commission tasked with selecting a new road construction company travels around the state looking at roads at the expense of one of the candidates, a conflict of interest arises. interests that may affect the results of this election.

5. Concealment or disclosure of information
Failing to disclose information from the results of a new product safety study or choosing to take your company’s proprietary product information to a new job are examples that fall into this category.

6. Taking an unfair advantage
Have you ever wondered why there seem to be so many rules and procedures for product safety? This is primarily the result of laws passed by government institutions to protect consumers from companies that have previously taken unfair advantage of them due to lack of knowledge or through complex contractual obligations.

7. Committing acts of personal depravity
Over time, it has become increasingly clear that the actions of employees outside of work can have a negative effect on the image of a business. This is one of the main reasons companies minimize social interactions or events outside the office so that drug or alcohol related events cannot be traced back to the company.

8. Perpetuation of interpersonal violence
At the core of this category of ethical misconduct is the abuse of employees through sexual harassment, verbal abuse, or public humiliation by a company executive.

9. Resolution of organizational abuses
When an organization chooses to operate in another country, it sometimes encounters a social culture where child labor, degrading work environments or excessively long hours are required. It is at this point that the company’s leaders have a choice…either to perpetuate this abuse or to mitigate it.

10. Violation of Rules
In some cases, people or organizations break the rules to speed up a process or decision. In many of these cases, the results would be the same regardless, but by breaking the rules or necessary procedures for that result, they could potentially tarnish the reputation of the organization they work for.

11. Endorsement of Unethical Actions
Let’s say you’re at work one day and you notice that a co-worker is using petty cash for personal purchases and you don’t report it. Maybe you know that a new product in development has safety issues, but you don’t speak up. In these examples, failure to do the right thing creates an error.

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 occur daily? Sometimes an organization must balance the need to do business with any ethical dilemmas that may arise from doing business.

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