Chapter 4: Ethical Communication in Organizations

4.0 Ethics in Organizations

Introduction

As the assistant manager at an automotive parts department, Jeremy has lots of experience with cars and the automotive parts business. Everyone has their own preference for car part brand, including him. When he works with customers, he might show them the other brand but tends to know more about his favorite brands and shows those brands more often. However, at the new product training seminar three weeks ago, all managers were told they will receive a bonus for every DevilsDeat brake pad they or their employees sell. Employees would also receive a bonus. Furthermore, it was recommended that managers train their employees only on the DevilsDeat products, so the managers and employees alike could earn a higher salary. Personally, Jeremy feels DevilsDeat brake pads are inferior and has had several products malfunction on him. But the company ordered this to be done, so Jeremy trained his employees on the products when he returned to the store. Last week, a customer came in and said his seventeen-year-old daughter had been in an accident. The store had sold a defective DevilsDeat brake pad, and his daughter was almost killed. Jeremy apologized profusely and replaced the part for free. Three more times that week customers came in upset their DevilsDeat products had malfunctioned. Jeremy replaced them each time but began to feel really uncomfortable with the encouragement of selling an inferior product. Jeremy called to discuss with the district manager, who told him it was just a fluke, so Jeremy continued on as usual. Several months later, a lawsuit was filed against DevilsDeat and Jeremy’s automotive parts chain because of three fatalities as a result of the brake pads.

This story is a classic one of conflicting values between a company and an employee. This chapter will discuss some of the challenges associated with conflicting values, social responsibility of companies, and how to manage this in the workplace.

When people hear the word “ethics” used in modern society, many different images and incidents quickly come to mind. Sadly, the 21st Century has already been plagued with many ethical lapses in the business sector. Turn on any major global news station, newspaper, magazine, or podcast and you’re likely to hear about some business that is currently in a state of crisis due to lapses in ethical judgment. Below is a short list of organizations and various ethical lapses in judgments

Organization Ethical Lapse
Arthur Andersen Accounting Fraud & Shredding documents wanted in a criminal investigation
Bridgestone-Firestone Delaying a recall of defective tires
Catholic Church Sex Abuse and cover up
Coca-Cola Taking groundwater from local farmers in India
Enron Accounting Fraud
Halliburton Overbilling for products and services
McDonald’s 8 individuals provided winning game pieces from McDonald’s Monopoly game to family and friends.
Merrill Lynch Lying to investors
Napster Digital copyright violations
Sanlu Group Co. Chinese based company knowing distributes tainted baby formula.
Tyco CEO was caught embezzling funds.
Xerox Exaggerating Revenues

What are Ethics?

Before we begin to explore the topic of organizational ethics, it is important to identify what is meant by “ethics”.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary[1] the word “ethics” is derived from the Greek ethos or the nature or disposition of a culture; thus, ethics are a set of values that define right and wrong. Once can see the challenge with this ambiguous definition. What exactly is right or wrong? The answer to this question obviously depends on the person and the individual situation, which is what makes ethics difficult to more specifically define.

If ethics are a set of values that define right and wrong, we must also identify what is meant  by values. Values will be used here as the principles or standards that a person or organization finds desirable. So we can say that ethics is a set of principles that a person or organization finds desirable and help define right and wrong. Often people believe that the law defines this for us. To an extent it does, but there are many things that can be considered unethical that are not illegal. For example, take the popularized case where a reality production crew was filming about alcoholism—a show called Intervention. They followed one woman who got behind the wheel to drive and obviously was in no state to do so. The television crew let her drive. People felt this was extremely unethical, but it wasn’t illegal because they were viewed as witnesses and therefore had no legal duty to intervene[2]. This is the difference between something being ethical and illegal. Something may not be illegal, but at the same time, it may not be the right thing to do.

 

 

 


  1. The Oxford English Dictionary. (1963). Oxford, Britain: At the Clarendon Press.,
  2. Weinstein, B. (2007, October 15). If it’s ethical, it’s legal, right? Businessweek, accessed February 24, 2012.

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Organizational Communication by Whatcom Community College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.