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Workplace Ethics, Morals, and the Law

The US workforce is experiencing a labor shortage. And while data suggests many workers are underemployed and underpaid, many industries are having a hard time filling positions.

What this means is it’s even more important for managers to develop employee retention programs, ongoing training, and salary adjustments. However, research also shows that salary and benefits are only a fraction of what is needed to retain an employee’s loyalty.

Recognition and appreciation rates are high when it comes to job satisfaction. When an employee is unhappy they become flight risks. This can spiral into bad feelings, bad attitudes, and deeper issues of discrimination and bias.

As we start a shiny new work year, I want to discuss ethics, morals, and laws in the workplace. I know it’s a downer subject. However, understanding how workers and management internalize behaviors at their core beliefs can be a game changer.

Let’s begin with company ethics.

Workplace Ethics

Ethics are a principle of philosophy that governs right from wrong. What should I do? Oftentimes, the ethics of a society, group, or family unit are aligned. Just like corporate culture. A company may have a stated code of conduct, no stealing, expense reports are due with receipts on the first of the month. No one is allowed to fly business class at the company’s expense. The customer is always right and all efforts should be made to rectify complaints.

When you join a company, you accept its code and for the most part, are not asked to behave in a way that violates society’s norms.


Morals are more personal. Morals and ethics are related and often interchangeable in discussions, but morals refer more to an individual’s personal value system. You can be part of a group that believes in a set of ethics but have different morals. For example. Your company believes the customer is always right. But, what if the customer lied, falsified information, or made personal and false accusations and you don’t believe you should be part of the solution that hands them what has been requested?

You could refuse to follow the customer is always right creed, knowing you could be fired or punished. Or, you could recognize the issues but follow the company policy.


The law refers to a set of enforceable rules set by a governing body in society (thankfully we live in a democracy) with the express intent of people living together in harmony. Yes, not all people agree with all laws, that’s another discussion.

How you decide what is right and what is wrong is often based on the ethics of the group with whom you most identify.

You could share a sense of ethics and loyalty to your workplace but report illegal activity. It could become a case for law enforcement or at the company level, management could decide to stop servicing the client.

I’ve chosen a bland scenario, the customer is always right, to illustrate this discussion. Now, look at it through a lens of sexual harassment, gender-age-racial-able body discrimination, and a workers’ comp situation. Or a case where people are denied overtime pay even though it’s understood everyone works overtime.

When considering the actions of others, co-workers, managers, and subordinates, consider the difference between the ethics of the workplace and what is expected, and the morals of the individual. If their actions do not align with your own or the company, you can take action within the legal bounds of your workplace and authority. If their actions are a matter of differences of opinion, listen. You may learn something or at the very least, understand.

But one thing is certain, a crime is always wrong and should always be reported.

This month’s issue of Wise Words explores workplace ethics and morals to continue the discussion and I hope to provide you with the tools to make your own points understood and respected.

I welcome your feedback, ideas, and the chance to connect anytime you want to say hello. Contact me with your questions and goals for the upcoming year.

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