Introduction: Case Overview
One of the issues I recently observed in the work place was a case involving the misuse of company property. A transport supervisor at the company I worked in would use company vehicles to run a separate transport business during off-peak hours and off-work hours. He would instruct the security personnel to release the vehicles to his personal drivers upon his command and being a supervisor, they always adhered to the instructions. However, this incident was discovered by the managing director, and corresponding disciplinary action initiated against him, which led to his dismissal from the company on account of gross misconduct. The decision to use company property wrongly could have however been either ethical or unethical depending on the perspective and ethical principles applied in decision making.
Case Analysis: Ethical Principles
This case is an example of the many practices considered to be unethical conduct in the workplace. Such unethical behaviour is often driven by individual factors such as personal values and principles of right and wrong. While Floyd et al. report that decision making in behaviour choice requires critical thinking (756), the emergence of opportunities for misconduct only escalates the probability of misconduct by individuals whose values and principles are already compromised. Such opportunities can be averted through the establishment of policies, formal rules and codes that are actively enforced in an organization (Ch. 5 10). In the case under consideration, the organizational culture created an environment that was favourable for misconduct in various ways. For instance, the company managing director frequently practiced laissez faire leadership with senior members of the management team, giving them the freedom to make key decisions on their own. The same principle had been cascaded to the lower levels of leadership, where departmental managers often trust and allow the stronger and more effective members of their respective departments to make key decisions.
The individual in the case took advantage of this situation to make decisions that were aimed at his own benefit, and since that is the way the system had been set previously; there were no concerns from the security teams. Additionally the experience and knowledge possessed by the individual in the transport industry operations also facilitated his ability to misuse the company resources. The decision to engage in the unethical act is most likely to have been guided by the economic value orientation, which purports that an act is considered ethical based on its economic outcomes (Ch. 6 3). The perpetrator then does not consider the nature of the act or its other outcomes besides economic value as they are blinded by the expectation of economic returns. In this case, it is evident the culprit, being aware of the economic benefits to be gained from running his own transport company using the organizational resources, decided to engage in the act, which is technically theft and perceived it to be ethical due to the benefits.
The decision to engage in any conduct should be advised by a clear consideration of various factors such as the justification of the act and the expected outcomes of the act. Wayne recommends the use of various ethical principles such as utility, deontology and teleology to evaluate the ethicality of behaviour at both the micro-level (individual) and the macro-level (organizational) in business (4). The employee should have therefore evaluated his actions not only based on the economic value orientation but also on other principles of ethics. Obligation theories such as teleology or deontology can be used to explain behaviour as ethical based on the means or motives behind the actions. In the consideration of the case activity, the teleological perspective would consider the use of company property for the perpetrator’s own good as ethical because it satisfied the self-interests of the person involved through economic gains (Ch. 6 5). This is contrary to the possible outcome of considering the theological perspectives/obligations of the perpetrator, which would define an action as ethical based on the nature of the action itself or its consequences. According to Sloka and Lorinczy consequentialism defines conduct based on the outcomes (158). Applying consequentialism to this particular case would result in a consideration of the actions as unethical.
The deontological principle seems to be the most reasonable for the evaluation of the actions outlined in the case. The principle begins with the argument that individuals have certain absolute rights (Ch. 6 6). In this case, however, the wrongful use of company property cannot be considered as one of the absolute rights of the perpetrator, hence must be judged using further premises of the deontological principle, the second of which is that ethicalness is defined in terms of adherence to stable moral principles (Ch. 6 6). Wayne also describes this principle as the consideration of an action as ethical based on the moral characteristics of the behaviour itself (5). Since misuse of other people’s property is morally wrong, the transport supervisor’s actions were unethical.
The decision to use company property wrongly can be considered as either an ethical or unethical act depending on the ethical principle selected for decision making. The teleological/utilitarian perspective results in the consideration of the act as ethical as it results in positive benefits to the perpetrator. On the other hand, the deontological principle would consider the actions unethical because misuse of company property is a morally unacceptable business conduct. The decision to terminate the employee therefore was most probably founded on the deontological perspective to ethical conduct.
Works Cited[Instructor’s Name]. “Chapter 5: Ethical Decision Making.” Business Ethics Course Slides, May 2020. [University] [Instructor’s Name]. “Chapter 6: Individual factors: Moral Philosophies and Values.” Business Ethics Course Slides, May 2020. [University]
Floyd, Larry A., Feng Xu, Ryan Atkins and Cam Caldwell. “Ethical Outcomes and Business Ethics: Toward Improving Business Ethics Education.” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 117, no. 4, 4, 2013, pp. 753-776. www.researchgate.net/publication/257542267_Ethical_Outcomes_and_Business_Ethics_Toward_Improving_Business_Ethics_Education. Accessed 23 May 2020.
Sloka, Wlodzimierz and Marketa Lorinczy. “The Perception of Ethics in Business: Analysis of Research Results.” Procedia Economics and Finance, vol. 34, 2015, pp. 156-163.
Wayne, Norman. “Business Ethics.” Harvard Business School, 2013. www.hbs.edu/faculty/conferences/2016-newe/Documents/Norman,%20Business%20Ethics,%20IntEncycEthics.pdf. Accessed 23 May 2020.