Professional Ethics in the Workplace and Beyond

It happens all to often and for what seems like an increased frequency: a senior executive at a large company skirts the law, his actions are uncovered and the company finds itself embroiled in a public relations nightmare. Professional ethics seem to be forever tested with most executives resisting doing the wrong thing, while some give in and usually do so with disastrous consequences. No matter what level the employee, ethical lapses can hurt everyone. Read on and we will look at how an ethics policy can help your company keep senior and junior employees in line.

Defining Ethics

Merriam-Webster describes ethics as “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.” Clearly, those ethics are based on a definition of absolute truth, not some muddy grey area that can leave people wondering what is the difference between right and wrong.

Journal of Business Ethics

Journal of Business Ethics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although you might not use the Bible to present such absolutes, you know that the Good Book does present the moral guidelines society demands and that you require. You need to spell out your company’s code of ethics in your employee manual and have each person from the CEO on down read it and sign a related release.

False Credit

There are many areas where employees can violate a company’s code of ethics, perhaps without full understanding that these are. One significant area has to do with taking undue credit for tasks or accomplishments that you did not perform.

Quite frankly, if you did not do the work or were not the sole person accomplishing a particular task, then do not take full credit for it. Acknowledge as much when doing a presentation, whether an oral presentation or company report — cite each person’s involvement including their personal responsibilities. To do otherwise suggests that you are looking to climb the ladder of success on the back of falsehood.

Unacceptable Behavior

Certain workplace behaviors are simply unacceptable. Besides taking false credit, this can extend out in a number of areas including bullying other employees, sexual harassment, stealing personal goods, providing misleading information. The list goes on.

Such behavior can extend to using the computer for personal use including, but not limited to: surfing the Internet in search of shopping bargains, reviewing pornographic websites or sending out personal emails on company time. Make sure that your employee manual outlines what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and the consequences of pursuing an unacceptable path.

Client Interaction

When dealing with clients, the area of professional ethics should be a clear one, but there is some murkiness there too. Outright bribes are wrong, but what if a client offers front row tickets to a sporting event without expectation of receiving anything in return?

Some lapses in ethical judgment are apparent including using tricks to get a client to agree to something he clearly has demonstrated no interest in signing. Lying is always wrong as well as using deceptive tactics that may include baiting and switching products. Spell out the guidelines in your employee manual to leave no ethical expectation unturned!

Ethical Considerations

Violating your company’s ethical policy should bring forth a quick and certain response. As PACE has noted, “Ethical business practices include assuring that the highest legal and moral standards are observed in your relationships with the people in your business community.” Mess this up and you will quickly see customer trust evaporate, perhaps even with your most ardent detractors taking to social media to denounce your business.

Evaluate your company’s ethical policy and work with senior management, your human resources department and other professionals to ensure that your requirements are a sound one. Good business decisions springs from ethical choices — make sure that everyone understands and adheres to your company’s policies.


Merriam-Webster: Ethics —

Workforce Growth: Ethics in Work Environment! —

PACE: Ethical Behavior is Good Business —

Author Information

Harold Miller is an avid blogger and contributor to, a leading used office furniture company specializing in Herman Miller workstations and office chair products.

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