Though there is sometimes a difference between behaviors that are unethical and activities that are actually illegal, it is up to the business itself to decide how it deals with unethical behavior – legal or not.
Many employees find that discovering unethical behavior among co-workers actually tests their own values and ethical behaviors. After all, unethical behavior that is not illegal frequently falls in a grey area between right and wrong that make it difficult to decide what to do when it is encountered. Furthermore, different people have different views regarding what is ethical and what is unethical. For example, some people feel that it is alright to tell a little “white lie”, or to make one long distance call on the company’s nickel, as long as they can justify it in their mind.
When employees discover other employees doing something that they know is wrong by the company’s standards, their own sense of what is right and what is wrong instantly comes into question. That employee needs to consider how s/he feels about that particular activity, as well as informing about that activity, or turning a blind eye.
Even by deciding to do something about it, the employee who has discovered the unethical behavior is presented with a number of difficult choices. Should the employee speak to the individual directly, or should the employee head directly to a company supervisor?
To make this decision a bit easier, many companies have adopted several techniques that allow for the management of unethical activities. The first step is to create a company policy, in writing, that is read and signed by each employee. This erases most feelings of ambiguity when it comes to deciding what to do after witnessing an unethical behavior.
The second is to give a clear outline of what is expected of the person who has discovered the unethical behavior. It should include the person who should be contacted, and how to go about doing it. With clear instructions, there will be less hesitation in reporting unethical activities, and then they can be dealt with quickly and relatively easily, before they develop into overwhelming issues.
Furthermore, the repercussions of unethical behaviors should be clearly stated. This way, both the person doing the activity, and the witness to the activity will be well aware of the way that things will be dealt with, and there won’t be any risk of someone not reporting unethical behavior because they’re afraid that the culprit will be unfairly treated.
Communication is key in the proper management of unethical behavior in today ‘s workplace.