When do you know if a behavior is unethical or it is an indication of poor judgment? This question came up after a recent post I wrote entitled: Company or boss demands unethical behavior. In fact, as I wrote it, I pondered this question and decided to defer to it later.

A reader pushed that timetable up when they wrote asking the same question.

The definition of unethical is:

  1. Not conforming to approved standards of social or professional behavior
  2. not adhering to ethical or moral principles

Synonyms of unethical include: unjust, improper, unprofessional, unfair, irresponsible, incorrect, unrighteous , dishonest, dishonorable and illegal.

Unethical behavior can be clear cut and then there are shades of gray with other situations. For example, what you believe is unfair might be fair to someone else. There are cultural and religious influences that may cause people to react differently to situations.

Think about the following scenarios and whether or not you believe there is unethical behavior present or if you believe there was a lack of judgment. These are real situations with some of the details modified to protect the innocent.

Situation 1

Your boss is in charge of marketing and sales for your organization. You have been tasked to put together the projections for a new ad campaign for a client. After you have done the research it turns out the benefits the company has been talking about to the client are not feasible under the proposed program. Your boss has asked you to “fudge” the numbers so that the benefits and results match what was told to the client in a previous meeting. What would you do?

Situation 2

You landed a new job at a company at a very good salary in the Human Resources Department. For some reason, there is tension with your peers. About a week later someone outside your department makes a snide remark to you about how much money you make and whether you are worth it.

You ask them how they came about the information and it turns out one of your peers in the department shared it with them. What is interesting to note is that individual did not have access to your salary information directly. After some investigation, the paper trail led to another peer who did have the information and shared it inappropriately. You have elevated it to upper management for action. What do you think they did?

Situation 3

Company policy is clear about drinking on the premises, especially since the company is a government contractor. While this is a known rule, your department bends the rules and your boss is one of the biggest instigators of the off hours social events held in the department.

There is significant peer pressure within the group and by the boss to be a participant.  The situation makes you uncomfortable for several reasons:

  1. the policy violation
  2. potential liability of driving afterward and
  3. subtle and overt dissatisfaction from your manager for not embracing the group’s social gatherings.

What would you do?

Situation 4

The company you work for has a unionized manufacturing organization that is paid hourly. The management wants the union leadership to help reshape how work gets done by introducing a team concept. The union leadership has approached the company about all the extra work hours that will be necessary to do it – which means overtime.

The company is under tremendous cost containment restraints and has asked you to get “creative” about motivating the union leadership to take on this project without additional costs.

Someone in the department proposes being flexible on the union leadership’s time cards each week. If a union worker has over 40 hours, they receive a credit for the time to take off another week. The time cards would reflect 40 working hours each week. In the end, it all evens out – right?

You have knowledge of what is going on and have voiced your concerns but the company is moving ahead with their creative plan. What do you do?

Situation 5

Your daughter is getting married and has rented a banquet hall for the reception. Several months before the event, the wedding is called off. It is your daughters’ responsibly to notify the banquet hall owner and she fails to do so until a few weeks before the event. The contract stipulates that there is a cancellation fee with short notice. When your daughter is presented with the bill – tax has been added to the cancellation fee.

Politely, you inquire why taxes are being charged on a fee when the service did not occur. The banquet owner diverts the conversation to gain sympathy for the employees having a short work week because of the cancellation. You inquire if the cancellation fee is shared with the employees to lessen their burden. Silence.

Upon further investigation, it is clear that your state does not allow tax to be charged on a cancellation fee, only on services which are rendered.

Will you be making referrals to this banquet organization in the future, if not why?

Did you find it difficult to know if the behaviors in these situations were clear cut or in the murky water?