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Identifying, Evaluating, & Resolving Ethical Issues in Business Management

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Ethical issues are found in life and at work. In this lesson, we focus on the latter and learn how to identify, evaluate, and resolve such issues when you are faced with them.

Ethical Dilemmas

Is it unethical to give someone at another company a gift? Would that gift be considered a bribe? This situation is just one of the many potential ethical issues that exist in the workplace. In this lesson, we are going to learn the basics of how to identify, evaluate, and resolve these issues.

Identifying Ethical Issues

It takes a keen eye and an understanding of numerous issues to identify ethical issues in the workplace. Some of the things you must consider understand are:

  • The potential ethical issues/categories you should be on the lookout for
  • The fine line between an ethical or unethical act within each category
  • Company policies with respect to an ethical issue

Let's break down each point a bit more. We'll pretend that you work for Acme Co., a general construction company. As with any work environment, some general types of ethical issues you are more likely to encounter include:

  • Bribes
  • Conflicts of interest or loyalty
  • Harassment
  • Whistleblowing
  • Honesty and integrity

Now, each of these very broad categories can be broken down into different parts. For example, harassment can be bullying or sexual harassment. Honesty and integrity may involve taking credit where it's not due, among other things. Conflicts of interest could be working on one's own personal business while at work. You get the picture. The point is, in order to identify an ethical dilemma, you must know the major types of ethical issues.

Evaluating Ethical Issues

Now that you are aware of these issues, let's move on to point number two: fine lines. Sometimes, an ethical issue is cut and dry. If you've caught your CFO swindling funds from the company, it's time to blow the whistle. But ethical issues aren't always that easy to identify. Let's say that you see an employee at Acme give the CEO of another company a gift. Is this a bribe, or is it a gift? Well, that involves evaluating exactly what is going on.

First of all, as per point number three, you need to figure out if ANY gifts are acceptable by company policy. If not, well then you definitely have a problem. However, many companies allow some types of gifts. Perhaps Acme Co allows gifts under $20 per employee, per year. That alone can be used a as measuring stick to evaluate whether an employee has crossed an ethical line or not.

However, even then it's not always clear if the employee had unethical intentions with the gift. In that case you'll need to consider the specifics. Consider the following:

  1. To whom was the gift/bribe given to? If it was given to an 'insignificant' individual, then perhaps it was simply a friendly gesture and nothing else.
  2. What was the timing of the gift/bribe? If it was given right before an important deal, where competition was high, then some flags should go up.
  3. What was the nature (quantitative and qualitative) of the gift/bribe? If this was a $20 bottle of wine, and the construction contract was valued at $1,000,000,000, then perhaps it was truly just a gift. But if this was an all-expenses paid two-week vacation for a family of four to a 5-star Caribbean resort, then the gift is much fishier.
  4. What was the intent behind this supposed gift? If it was a simple thank-you gift, that's one thing. If the intent was corrupt in the sense of trying to sway a decision, then it's more likely to be considered a bribe. Intent is often the hardest to prove.

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