Monday, November 26, 2012

Ethics: Where are we now?


How has my ethical reasoning changed?  If I may say so, I usually practice good ethics at home and in the workplace.  The past few weeks of this course has elevated my thinking and given me practical steps to ensure that my actions and decisions are ethical.  I was not sure how concrete this study would be, but the tangible theories and models really have shown me that ethics is more than just a clear conscience.  In the broadest sense, there is a method to the madness!  The truths that we have learned can certainly be used in real world situations.  Currently, I am unemployed but I definitely can see how these things would have been useful in my past.  

I know that they apply to my present, as the other day I was with friends discussing something that happened in a restaurant.  One person ordered all you can eat pancakes and shared them with everyone at the table.  According to the establishment, they are meant for only one individual.  According to my friends it is a cheap way for a group to continue eating until they are full.  I sternly disagreed.  My thinking before the course would have been that it was wrong because it breaks the rule, however, I now see that there is an element of trust being broken between the restaurant and the customers.  I explained to them that it was an unethical thing to do because it made them lie to the waitress – whom was suspicious of what they were doing – and used the ethical principle of duty-based ethics that stands on the concept that some actions are inherently wrong – deceiving the waitress – and that actions are ethical to the extent that it would be alright if they became the standard for everyone – having one person order all you can eat to feed a large group. 
I know, it may not seem like a big deal but things like this have always gotten to me and now I have the rhetoric to support my claims.  Ethics is important and what I learned in this course are things that I should and will apply in and out of the business world.  These are tools for life.    

CASE STUDY 1 – Following Facebook

Adrian Smith won his case because the company’s decision was illegal and unfair.  I find it interesting that a company can try to use a comment made outside of the office on a privately hosted webpage as ammunition for disciplinary actions.  There was not a breach of contract or misconduct according to the Justice.  In reality this should have not gone so far.  Britain has laws granting free speech and an employee has the right to make statements about his personal feelings outside of work.

This does, however, set a precedent for employees to be held liable for personal thoughts and beliefs expressed that are contrary to equality policies or the employer’s stance on a particular issue.  As Mr. Smith states “ ‘Something has poisoned the atmosphere in Britain, where an honest man like me can be punished for making perfectly polite remarks….I am fearful that…there will be more cases like mine’”.  This should be a lesson to both employees and employers.  Unfortunately, employees have to be overly cautious even when it comes to private and polite personal statements.  There is less room for polite personal comments and more enforcement of political correctness.  Employers, in the mean time, should not be too eager to promote equality at the risk of undue alienation.  

I would not have punished Smith for his comments.  Any negative effects of his comments should have been directed towards him, not the company.  His comments were of a personal and private nature.  It is not up to the company to judge those actions and measure them according to company standards.  There are occasions when personal expressions can affect our professional lives, but this was not one of them.  It seems like the company simply wanted to make an example and show that they support the movement towards socially embracing gay marriage.      

CASE STUDY 2 –  A Tweet too Far

This case, the issue over the tweet made by an employee at Cinnamon, takes us into a completely different area of company-employee relations.  The previous case did not merit disciplinary actions.  The comments were made of on a private webpage and were polite in nature.  The comments made by the employee at Cinnamon were on a public page, using a company account, and used expletives in reference to a specific customer.  The nature of the comments was offensive, despite the intention of being in jest, and made using a company account which reflects the organization’s voice and opinions.  In this case the personal comments definitely overlap into his professional life and needed to be addressed by the company.

According to the article, the employee was disciplined and an apology was issued.  This was the correct course of action in my opinion.  If I were a business professional, I would have probably done the same thing.  The employee did need to be disciplined for using the company account to offend a customer which in the process reflected poorly on the company.  I would have also issued an apology to the customer and reassured the public that his comments were not sanctioned by the organization.  The addition of advising other restaurants to be more prudent about their social media use was something that I may not have thought about but think to be a great step towards renewing the company’s positive reputation.  

Companies should learn that allowing employees access to company social media accounts is risky and should be tightly monitored, perhaps comments should be reviewed and approved before they are posted.  Employees should take note that speaking wildly on behalf of the company is not acceptable and will have repercussions.  This case is a warning and reminder to all of us. 

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