Ethics is the cornerstone for every company. These moral rules teach us right from wrong, how to react to a situation, and how to treat other people. Many times, the rules are clear, and we know what to do. But there are times when the situation is difficult to identify as ethical or unethical. These are the grey areas in ethics.
While most situations are different, we’ve collected three examples to cover many of the common grey areas and how to respond.
Case #1: Withholding Information From The Boss
Joanne was working late one night and observed her boss Jerry taking money out of the company’s safe. She knows he has access to the vault and the authority to make petty cash withdrawals. But it’s unusual for Jerry to withdraw money this late at night and it seems he is taking more cash than normal. She wonders whether to tell the manager or let her catch it in the reporting.
There are two basic ways to handle this. If the manager trusts Jerry to have access to the company’s petty cash funds, this means he has proven himself reliable. Jerry may need to make an emergency purchase or had something come up at the last moment. This is a judgement call and Joanne should rely on her gut feelings.
On the other hand, what Joanne witnessed may make her feel uncomfortable. In this case, she can bring it up in conversation with the boss or anonymously report it via their whistleblower program. Never hide anything from the boss that gives you a bad feeling. This could potentially be unethical.
Case #2: Serious Versus Minor Incidents
John entered the break room and saw Jane stealing coffee creamer from the cabinets. He acted like he didn’t see her stealing but later regretted not saying something. Should he report the theft? After all, it’s just coffee.
This is a common situation. It may not always involve coffee. Some colleagues steal pens, paper, etc. The ethical response should be to report it to your immediate supervisor. If you’re not comfortable reporting this minor offense or feel nervous about approaching the thief, consider writing a note indicating that those who steal are hurting other employees.
Case #3: Harm Versus No Harm
James witnessed a male employee telling sexual jokes in front of other women, who seemed very offended. He immediately reported the incident to his superior. The next day, he overheard the same employee telling more jokes but no women where present. The males seemed to appreciate the joke. Should he report it again? Did anyone get hurt?
It doesn’t matter whether someone is hurt or not by inappropriate behavior. You should always report unethical conduct. Allowing this employee to continue telling sexualized jokes only encourages the behavior. Not to mention, one of the males listening may be offended but feels pressured not to report the incident.
Ethical Advocate helps businesses protect their company by providing hotline solutions and training. Learn more about how a whistleblower program can save your company money.