The relationship between ethics, morality and social issues in the legal environment can be sometimes confusing. It has to have just the right balance. For when they overlap, something unethical can also become something illegal. When they do not overlap, the illegal action can somehow seem ethical. Or it can still be legal but seem unethical. Of course the overlap is when you have the clearest course of action. For when it is an unethical situation, and not illegal, it comes down to the company’s personal code of ethics.
In business today, law and ethics is NOT the same thing.The definition of law is consistent universal rules. It is widely published, generally accepted, and usually enforced. The laws describe how we are required to act in our society. The terms of this definition go as follows: * A law is consistent if two requirements contradict each other, neither can become law.
A law is universal if two or more requirements are applicable to everyone.
For a law to be published it must be written for public accessibility.
For a law to be accepted, it must be generally obeyed.
And for a law to be enforced, society must be compelled to obey it if it is not already done voluntarily.The definition of ethics comes from the Greek word ethos which means character, and from the Latin word mores which means customs. In the English Language, we put them together and they define how we interact with each other. Ethics and legalities are usually very similarly related. But ethical values often go beyond legal duties. Sometimes the law tells us what is ethical.
That doesn’t mean they always coexist in harmony. The following diagram from the article, Law vs. Ethics, Anstead, 1999. shows how law and ethics overlap.In today’s business world, private companies and organizations usually establish their own code of ethics that are enforced internally instead of abiding only by the government laws. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have to follow government laws or our society’s unspoken code of ethics, but within their workforce, they have a clear set of rules and regulations that their employees adhere to and have usually signed in agreement.
This is where the overlap in the above diagram would be and it also gives a clear course of action if something unethical or illegal should happen. There is a definite relationship between law and ethics.It seems most important at the managerial level. They are the people in these companies and organizations that make sure all employees follow the business’s own code of ethics as well as abiding by all Federal Laws, State Laws, and Local Laws.
So, they would have to have the highest understanding of our Legal System, as well as the Company’s mission and goals. There are two approaches you can take to ethics within the business organization. There is the Individualistic approach, which means “every person in an organization is morally responsible for his or her own behavior and any effort to change that, should focus on the individual. (Brown, 2010) The other approach, the Communal approach means that “individuals are viewed not in isolation, but as members of communities that are partially responsible for the behavior of its members.So, to understand and change the individual’s behavior, we must understand and try to change the communities. ” (Brown, 2010)
Any effective solutions must take both the communal and Individualistic approaches into account and find the more suitable in each situation. When facing such dilemmas, the weights we assign to certain values will sometimes lead us to choose those organizational policies or actions that promote the common good. At other times, our values will lead us to choose the policies and actions that will protect interests and rights of individuals. But perhaps the greatest challenge in discussions of ethics in organizations is to find ways in which organizations can be designed to promote the interests of both. ” (Brown, 2010)
Sadly, at some point nearly every employee of almost every business will find that another employee is doing something unethical.This will undoubtedly test his/ her own ethics and values. Unethical behavior that is still legal falls into a grey area. Because different people have different views when it comes to ethical issues, the witness to this has to ask himself or herself some difficult questions. How do I feel about this? Do I report it or ignore it? For just this kind of situation, many companies have adopted techniques for management of unethical behavior.
First, they create a company policy, in writing, to be read and signed by every employee.This will erase any feelings of doubt by another employee who witnesses the unethical situation. Next, they give a clear outline of what is expected of the person who discovered the unethical behavior. It should include who to contact and how to go about contacting this manager. Clear instructions make for much less hesitation when reporting a situation like this.
It also helps shorten the time in dealing with the problem. Many unethical but still legal issues can get swept under the rug merely because managers aren’t sure how to proceed with it, and then it becomes overwhelming.Also, repercussions for unethical behavior should be clearly stated so both the person committing the act and the person who discovers it will be aware of what is going to happen.
Unethical Behavior – It’s Impact on Today’s Workplace. Retrieved from http://www. anonymousemployee. com/csssite/sidelinks/unethical_behavior. php
Brown, M. (2010). Ethics in Organizations . Retrieved from http://www. scu. edu/ethics/publications/iie/v2n1/homepage. html.
Anstead, S. M. (1999, July 6). Law Versus Ethics in Management . Message posted to http://ansteadsue. tripod. com/ethics. htm
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