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My guess, from multiple observations and sources, is that unethical conduct for business advantage is not only used, but welcomed. The organizations may have massive policies on “ethics” but they are applied primarily to employees doing unethical things for personal gain. If the employee is caught, he/she may be fired.
If the company, in following unethical practices, is not caught and gains something, the executives will feel happy with themselves. They (anyone) talk about “risk taking”, but I don’t think that ignoring ethics or legal requirements is what is meant.
The company may be in union negotiations (or being threatened by unionization) so illegal surveillance, filming etc. of employees can be a “top secret” company initiative. Similarly the surveillance could be of employees claiming to be off as the result of a disability (occupational or otherwise). The point is that companies, if they want to find out something, will not be daunted by ethics or legality and may be happy to install hidden cameras and other devices wherever they may be helpful.
I have less experience of similar approaches to gain competitor intelligence, but I know of a number of cases of sales people (primarily) falsely registering to attend competitor product launches etc. I am not familiar with phone hacking (as in The News Of The World) but I am certainly familiar with company authorized PI’s going through people’s garbage to see what they can find and illegally accessing databases often through police, government and government agency sources. Unethical and illegal practices that may be considered standard operating procedures?
Recruiting is wide open to unethical practices, regardless of policies and processes and it is very difficult to comment without knowing what precisely happens in the interview room and in the deliberations that follow. Human Resources is very involved, but the aspect I am most familiar with is reviewing why a candidate (internal or external) was not selected and in many cases the decision (generally by the manager) was biased or discriminatory. The “like” or “culture” aspect overruling bone fide job requirements.
Some of the worst unethical conduct I have witnessed has related to employees with a disability. Anything that results in performance at less than 100% seems (to “management”) reason to get rid of the employee, regardless of earlier exemplary service. I am familiar with executive management who do not accept certain forms of disability as legitimate e.g. Stress. Everyone claiming “Stress” is “deadwood” and should, in their opinion, be dumped as soon as possible. The law (depending on the jurisdiction) is clear, but the executive feel justified, it seems, in ignoring the law.
Reorganizing is another process that can be manipulated in a very unethical way. There may be a legitimate reason to reduce staff, but executive talk is to use the process to get rid of “deadwood”. Understandable, possibly, but when license is given get rid of the sick, the annoying the elderly, the pregnant, then it is unethical if the process is used to get around Human Rights and other legislation. A job may be “eliminated” to get rid of the incumbent, and hiring for a replacement commence almost while the seat is still warm!
I have included just a few examples of unethical practices that I believe are very common. Is your experience similar? Do organizations believe these practices are acceptable? Do we (Human Resources) believe they are acceptable? Are there other common unethical practices you can think of?
Thank you for your interest. In your opinion, how ethical should organizations be? Does the business end justify the means? I look forward to any comments you may have.
Ian Welsh CHRP
Ian’s style of HR is being resourceful in a human way. His HR experience spans more than 25 years at an executive level within major organizations where his emphasis was on HR solutions – respecting theory but knowing how to apply it in real life situations and recognizing holistic needs. As an Independent HR Practitioner, based in Toronto, Ian continues to focus on “reality HR” with strong communications overtones. He shares his experiences and thoughts on his Toolbox for HR blog “The Search for Mutual Success” and interactively through online discussion.
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