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BLAW 3700: Ethics Reflection
Many practices that are considered unethical by community standards or cultural norms (e.g. child labor), by professional codes of conduct (e.g. sexual harassment), and by rules ensuring healthy capitalism (e.g. insider trading), are explicitly embodied in laws. However, the law does not perfectly reflect ethical principles, because some behavior commonly regarded as unethical is not illegal, and certain illegal behaviors may not be unethical. Therefore it is possible to make a legal analysis and a separate ethical analysis of the same case.
As a business major, you are required to take UCOR 2910: “Ethical Reasoning in Business.” Depending on when you took it, and who your professor was, you may have used different terms or a different framework to think about ethical values. But you likely can at least appreciate these five basic ideas about what contributes to human well-being. And even if you have not taken the course yet, you can still make sense of these values.
One complication is that an ethical person will want to apply these values at different levels, namely at the level of individuals, at the level or organizations, and at the level of society. This means that each of the five values prompts different kinds of questions:
Autonomy: A person’s ability to make her own decisions and to control her own life (as the ethicists say, to be an ‘end in herself’) implies that she must be free to do so, and not be used as a means to an end that she did not choose (most closely associated with deontology).
Individual level: “Am I mistreating this person so that I can get what I want?"
Organizational level: “Are we mislabeling our product as "good for the environment" with the hope that our customers will choose to purchase it?
Eg. Socio-economic level: “Does our policy violate the right of some of our citizens to make their own choices?”
Equality: A person must not be regarded or treated as inferior to or superior to other people
g. Individual level: “Do my actions show that I believe that my interests are more important than this other person's interests?”
E.g. Organizational level: “Does everyone of similar work experience on our sales team have a fair chance at that promotion?”
E.g. Socio-economic level: “Does our society have social structures that make success more difficult for one group than another?”
(non) Suffering: Perhaps our most basic moral instinct is that suffering (whether physical or emotional) is bad because its takes away from a person’s happiness (most closely associated with utilitarianism).
Eg. Individual level: “Are my words offensive to this other person?”
Organizational level: “When our employees complain about harassment, do we have policies that allow us to address their concerns quickly and respectfully?”
E.g. Socio-economic level: “Does our government use symbols that are hurtful for some of our citizens?”
Trust: When people cooperate, they form trust, and living in a high- trust environment makes possible many of the things we associate with a good life. So trust is the goal, and cooperation is the way to get it (most closely associated with contractarianism)
E.g. Individual level: “Are my actions compromising the possibility that this person would trust me in the future?”
g. Organization level: “If I betray someone on the team I manage, will that harm my ability to be an effective leader in the future?"
E.g. Socio-economic level: “Does this policy make it less likely that some people will go to the police?”
Virtue: (Excellence): An individual has a character, and many ethical traditions agree that a person is better off when her character is virtuous ("virtuous" and "excellence" are translations of the same Greek word). However, by doing unethical things, I may harm or corrupt my own character by forming unethical habits. So character excellence is the goal, and forming ethical habits by doing ethical actions is the way to get it (most closely associated with virtue ethics). This ethical theory also translates to the levels of society and organization, but on those levels we use the word "culture" more often than the word “character” – but the general concept is the same.
g. Individual level: “If I falsify the numbers on this report in order to make it look like I met my yearly goals, will lying become part of who I am?”
g. Organization level: “Does the culture of our organization make it more likely that our employees will do the right thing?”
g. Socio-economic level: “What kind of society do we want to have?”
Consider the case of Roberts v. Mike's Trucking, Ltd. on page 673 of the text. Consider this case from the perspective of an HR Manager, focusing on the ethical values that should be involved in the decision-making of the HR Manager.
Assume that, as the HR Manager, you heard rumors about Culbertson's behavior, but did not have specific first-hand knowledge. Assume that when Roberts began suffering anxiety attacks and other symptoms of distress, she resigned and during her exit interview did not tell the HR Manager about the behavior specifically, but mentioned that she felt "uncomfortable" at work.
Any or all of the five ethical values described above may be relevant in this case.
Write a personal reflection paper (one to two pages single spaced) that explores your thinking in response to the following questions:
Which values you would consider if you were the HR manager, and why
Your eventual course of action if you were the HR manager
The ways that the ethical values are or are not reflected in sexual harassment claim involved in this case.***
***This last analysis is from your own perspective – not the perspective of the HR manager or any other person in the hypothetical.
Because this is a reflection paper, you do not need to have settled answers to these questions. Your goal is to show that you are thinking deeply about the case and recognize that different choices about values might lead to different courses of action. Imagine that your reflection paper is being read by both a law professor and an ethics professor. One of your goals is to show your ability to connect your business ethics course to your business law course.
BLAW 3700: Ethics Reflection
Many practices that are considered unethical by community standards or cultural norms (e.g. child labor), by professional codes of conduct (e.g. sexual harassment), and by rules ensuring healthy capitalism (e.g. insider trading), are explicitly embodied in laws.