Ethics, Employee Relations, and Fair Treatment at Work
Ethics, Employee Relations,
and Fair Treatment at Work
Basics of Ethics and Fair Treatment at Work
The Meaning of Ethics
Ethics and the Law
Ethics, Public Policy, and Employee Rights
Why Treat Employees Fairly?
Bullying and Victimization
What Shapes Ethical Behavior at Work?
The Person: (What Makes Bad Apples?)
Which Ethical Situations Make for Bad (Ethically Dangerous) Situations?
What Are the “Bad Barrels” - The Outside Factors That Mold Ethical Choices?
In Summary: Some Guidelines to Keep in Mind About Ethical Behavior at Work
Using HRM Tools to Promote Ethics and Fair Treatment
Improving Performance through HRIS
Performance Appraisal Tools
Employee Privacy Policies
Reward and Disciplinary Systems
Managing Employee Discipline
The Three Pillars
Managing Employee Relations
What Is Employee Relations?
Improving and Assessing Employee Relations through Better Communications
Developing Employee Recognition/Relations Programs
Creating Employee Involvement Strategies
This chapter explores issues, policies, and problems related to ethics, fair treatment, discipline, and termination of employees. These issues have become more critical in today’s environment.
With the recent events at Enron, WorldCom, and other firms, ethics has become a major issue in today’s world. It is worth discussing what has changed to make this an issue. Is there more unethical behavior or have standards changed, or is it simply that today’s media and communications shed more light on the problems?
1. Explain what is meant by ethical behavior at work.
2. Discuss important factors that shape ethical behavior at work.
3. Describe at least four specific ways in which HR management can influence ethical behavior at work.
4. Employ fair disciplinary practices.
5. Explain what is meant by employee relations and what employers can do to improve it.
I. Basics of Ethics and Fair Treatment at Work
A. The Meaning of Ethics - What Is Ethics? Ethics refers to “the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group.” Ethical decisions also involve morals, which are society’s accepted standards of behavior. It would simplify things if it was always clear which decisions were ethical and which were not. Unfortunately, it is not.
B. Ethics and the Law - The law is not the best guide about what is ethical because something may be legal but not right, and something may be right but not legal. “Don’t lie, don’t cheat, and don’t steal.” We were all raised with essentially the same values. Ethics means making decisions that represent what you stand for not just what is legal.
C. Ethics, Public Policy, and Employee Rights - Few societies rely solely on managers’ ethics or sense of fairness to ensure that they do what’s right by their employees. An employee may have the right to sue the employer under a number of different circumstances.
D. Workplace Unfairness - One way a company’s ethics manifest themselves is in how fairly it treats its employees. Anyone who’s suffered unfair treatment at work knows it is demoralizing. Unfair treatment reduces morale, increases stress, and has negative effects on performance. Employees of abusive supervisors are more likely to quit, and to report lower job and life satisfaction and higher stress. The effects on employees of such abusiveness are particularly pronounced where the abusive supervisors seem to have support from higher-ups.
E. Why Treat Employees Fairly? - There are many reasons why managers should be fair. The golden rule is one obvious reason. What may not be so obvious is that supervisory unfairness can backfire on the company. For example, victims of unfairness exhibit more workplace deviance, such as theft and sabotage. Perceptions of fairness relate to enhanced employee commitment; enhanced satisfaction with the organization, jobs, and leaders; and enhanced organizational citizenship behaviors.
F. Bullying and Victimization - Some unfairness is blatant. Bullying - singling out someone to harass and mistreat - is an increasingly serious problem. The U.S. government (www.stopbullying.gov/#) points out that while definitions of bullying vary, most would agree that bullying involves three things:
1. Imbalance of power - People who bully use their power to control or harm, and the people being bullied may have a hard time defending themselves.
2. Intent to cause harm - Actions done by accident are not bullying; the person bullying has a goal to cause harm.
3. Repetition - Incidents of bullying happen to the same person over and over by the same person or group, and that bullying can take many forms:
a. Verbal: name-calling, teasing
b. Social: spreading rumors, leaving people out on purpose, breaking up friendships
c. Physical: hitting, punching, shoving
d. Cyberbullying: using the Internet, mobile phones, or other digital technologies to harm others
II. What Shapes Ethical Behavior at Work?
A. The Person: (What Makes Bad Apples?) - Because people bring to their jobs their own ideas of what is morally right and wrong, the individual must shoulder much of the credit (or blame) for the ethical choices he or she makes.
B. Which Ethical Situations Make for Bad (Ethically Dangerous) Situations? -“Less serious” situations it’s more likely someone will say, in effect, “It’s okay to do this, even though it’s wrong.”
C. What Are the “Bad Barrels” - The Outside Factors That Mold Ethical Choices? - Companies that promote an “everyone for him or herself” culture were more likely to suffer from unethical choices.
D. In Summary: Some Guidelines to Keep in Mind About Ethical Behavior at Work - Here in a nutshell is what research findings suggest for managers:
1. Ethical behavior starts with moral awareness. Does the person even recognize that a moral issue exists in the situation?
2. Managers should influence employee ethics by carefully cultivating the right norms, leadership, reward systems, and culture.
3. Ethics suffer when people undergo moral disengagement. For example, you’re more likely to harm others when you view the victims as “outsiders.”
4. The most powerful morality comes from within. In effect, when the moral person asks, “Why be moral?” the answer is, “because that is who I am.”
5. Highly challenging goals pursued blindly and job pressures can contribute to unethical behavior. For example, “A sales goal of $147 an hour can lead auto mechanics to ‘repair’ things that weren’t broken.”
6. Don’t reward bad behavior. Don’t promote someone who got a big sale through devious means.
7. Punish unethical behavior. Employees expect you to discipline the perpetrators.
8. The degree to which employees openly talk about ethics is a good predictor of ethical conduct.
9. Be aware that people tend to alter their moral compasses when they join organizations.
III. Using HRM Tools to Promote Ethics and Fair Treatment
A. Selection Tools - Screening out undesirables can actually start before the applicant even applies, if the HR department creates recruitment materials containing explicit references to the company’s emphasis on integrity and ethics. The selection process also sends signals about the company’s values and culture in terms of ethical and fair treatment.
B. Training Tools - Ethics training typically plays a big role in helping employers nurture a culture of ethics and fair play. Such training usually includes showing employees how to recognize ethical dilemmas, how to use ethical frameworks to resolve problems, and how to use HR functions in ethical ways.
C. Improving Performance through HRIS - Larger firms need a cost-effective way of offering the necessary training. Ethics training is therefore often Internet-based.
D. Performance Appraisal Tools - The firm’s performance appraisal processes provide another opportunity to emphasize a commitment to ethics and fairness. The appraisal can actually measure employees’ adherence to high ethical standards.
E. Employee Privacy Policies - The four main types of employee privacy violations upheld by courts are intrusion, publication of private matters, disclosure of medical records, and appropriation of an employee’s name or likeness for commercial purposes. Background checks, monitoring off-duty conduct and lifestyle, drug testing, workplace searches, and monitoring of workplace activities trigger most privacy violations.
F. Reward and Disciplinary Systems
IV. Managing Employee Discipline - The purpose of discipline is to encourage employees to behave sensibly at work. In an organization, rules and regulations serve about the same purpose that laws do in society; discipline is called for when one of these rules or regulations is violated. A fair and just discipline process is based on three pillars: clear rules and regulations, a system of progressive penalties, and an appeals process.
V. Managing Employee Relations
A. What Is Employee Relations? - The activity of establishing and maintaining the positive employee–employer relationships that contribute to satisfactory productivity, motivation, morale, and discipline, as well as maintaining a positive, productive, and cohesive work environment.
B. Improving and Assessing Employee Relations through Better Communications - Employers use various communications tools to bolster their employee relations efforts. Using an open-door policy to encourage communication between employees and managers, an employee handbook covering basic employment information, and “the opportunity to keep abreast of University events and other information of interest through the website, e-mail, and hard copy memoranda.
C. Developing Employee Recognition/Relations Programs - Opportunities for two-way communications improve employee relations, but there are also other types of employee relations programs. Most notable here are the sorts of employee recognition and award programs we touched on in Chapter 12, particularly formal companywide programs such as employee-of-the-month awards.
D. Creating Employee Involvement Strategies - Getting employees involved in discussing and solving organizational issues provides several benefits. Employees often know more about how to improve their work processes than anyone; therefore asking them is often the simplest way to boost performance. Getting them involved in addressing some issue will hopefully boost their sense of ownership of the process.
Improving Performances Questions:
14-1: How would you explain the fact that workers in such diverse cultures as America and China seem to covet fair treatment?
14-2: Create a 50-word ethics code for a small business.
14-3: How would you feel if your employer told you to wear an armband monitor? Why? How would you react?
14-4: Do you think it would suffice to just say “Do unto others as you would have others do to you,” instead of carrying around this guidelines list? Why?
14-5: Based on this, write a one-page outline describing an employee suggestion system for a small department store.
14-6: Explain how you would ensure fairness in disciplining, discussing particularly the prerequisites to disciplining, disciplining guidelines, and the discipline without punishment approach.
There are many things that can be helpful: Make sure the evidence supports the charge of employee wrongdoing. • Ensure that the employee’s due process rights are protected. • Warn the employee of the disciplinary consequences. • The rule that was allegedly violated should be “reasonably related” to the efficient and safe operation of the particular work environment. • Fairly and adequately investigate the matter before administering discipline. • The investigation should produce substantial evidence of misconduct. • Rules, orders, or penalties should be applied evenhandedly. • The penalty should be reasonably related to the misconduct and to the employee’s past work history. • Maintain the employee’s right to counsel. • Don’t rob a subordinate of his or her dignity. • Remember that the burden of proof is on you. • Get the facts. Don’t base a decision on hearsay or on your general impression. • Don’t act while angry. • Create a formalized appeals process. • Make sure all rules and policies are communicated and clearly explained in advance.
14-7: Why is it important in our litigious society to manage electronic monitoring properly?
If you do not follow the law and your own policies and procedures, then you are likely to have the courts rule against you. This can be very costly and damaging to employee morale and your reputation.
14-8: Provide two examples of behaviors that would probably be unethical but legal, and three that would probably be illegal but ethical.
While most students think of ethical behavior, they think of rules for distinguishing between right and wrong, such as the Golden Rule ("do unto others as you would have them do unto you"), a code of professional conduct like the Hippocratic Oath ("first of all, do no harm"). But the difference between ethical/unethical and legal/illegal behavior can become blurred and often debated. Here are several examples to help make the distinction more clear.
Unethical but legal
o Submitting the same paper for two different course assignments
o Listing information on your resume that is incorrect in order to obtain a job which you might not otherwise be qualified
o Performing non-work-related activities when you are being paid by your employer
Illegal but ethical
o Operating a motor vehicle while over your state’s legal limit for alcohol intoxication
o Stopping at a red light but then proceeding through the intersection before you receive the green light
o Driving over the legal speed limit
14-9: List 10 things your college or university does to encourage ethical behavior by students and/or faculty.
Answers will vary by college, but the use of multiple test forms, policies, ethics courses, and software to identify plagiarism are examples common to most colleges.
14-10: You need to select a nanny for yourself or a relative’s child, and want someone ethical. What would you do to help ensure you ended up hiring someone ethical?
Asking questions about values, and paying attention to both the answers and the nonverbals that accompany them, finding out how the nanny acted in past situations, and clarifying expectations as fully as possible, will all go a long way toward ensuring that the nanny is ethical.
14-11: You believe your coworker is being bullied. How would you verify this and what would you do about it if it is true?
It is important to conduct a full investigation of suspicions. Asking trusted employees for feedback on performance in the unit on a regular basis often will assist in clarifying where problems exist. Once the allegations are clear, meeting with the employee to discuss the situation, and their reasons for it is crucial. Depending on the situation, the reasons, and the severity of the offense, progressive discipline would be the next step.
14-12: Define employee relations and discuss at least four methods for managing it.
Employee relations is the activity that involves establishing and maintaining the positive employee–employer relationships that contribute to satisfactory productivity, motivation, morale, and discipline, and to maintaining a positive, productive, and cohesive work environment.
Individual and Group Activities:
14-13: Working individually or in groups, interview managers or administrators at your employer or college in order to determine the extent to which the employer or college endeavors to build two-way communication, and the specific types of programs used. Do the managers think they are effective? What do the employees (or faculty members) think of the programs in use at the employer or college?
Encourage students to be precise and inquisitive in their pursuit of this information.
14-14: Working individually or in groups, obtain copies of the student handbook for your college and determine to what extent there is a formal process through which students can air grievances. Based on your contacts with other students, has it been an effective grievance process? Why or why not?
Ask what effect this has on the sense of organizational justice.
14-15: Working individually or in groups, determine the nature of the academic discipline process in your college. Do you think it is effective? Based on what you read in this chapter, would you recommend any modifications?
Encourage students to be inquisitive and insightful as they examine this critical and real issue.
14-16: Appendix A, PHR and SPHR Knowledge Base, at the end of this book lists the knowledge someone studying for the HRCI certification exam needs to have in each area of human resource management (such as in Strategic Management, Workforce Planning, and Human Resource Development). In groups of four to five students, do four things: (1) review Appendix A; (2) identify the material in this chapter that relates to the required knowledge Appendix A lists; (3) write four multiple choice exam questions on this material that you believe would be suitable for inclusion in the HRCI exam; and (4) if time permits, have someone from your team post your team’s questions in front of the class, so that students in all teams can answer the exam questions created by the other teams.
Material from this chapter that applies to the HRCI exam would include: the meaning of ethics, ethics and the law, ethics fair treatment and justice, what shapes ethics behavior at work, ethics policies and codes, the organization’s culture, HR ethics activities, building two-way communications, formal disciplinary appeals processes, discipline without punishment, employee privacy, grounds for dismissal, avoiding wrongful discharge suits, personal supervisory liability, the termination interview, layoffs and the plant closing law, and adjusting to downsizings and mergers.
14-17: In a research study at Ohio State University, a professor found that even honest people, left to their own devices, would steal from their employers. In this study, the researchers gave financial services workers the opportunity to steal a small amount of money after participating in an after-work project for which the pay was inadequate. Would the employees steal to make up for the underpayment? In most cases, yes. Employees who scored low on an honesty test stole whether or not their office had an ethics program that said stealing from the company was illegal. Employees who scored high on the honesty test also stole, but only if their office did not have such an employee ethics program—the “honest” people didn’t steal if there was an ethics policy.
Individually or in groups, answer these questions: Do you think findings like these are generalizable? In other words, would they apply across the board to employees in other types of companies and situations? If your answer is yes, what do you think this implies about the need for and wisdom of having an ethics program.
You should receive a wide variety of responses to this question. It is a real question of whether the employees who score high on honesty tests will, in fact, respond differently based on the existence of an ethics policy.
Experiential Exercise: Discipline or Not?
Purpose: The purpose of this exercise is to provide you with some experience in analyzing and handling an actual disciplinary action.
Required Understanding: Students should be thoroughly familiar with the facts of the following incident, titled “Botched Batch.” Do not read the “award” or “discussion” sections until after the groups have completed their deliberations.
How to Set up the Exercise/Instructions: Divide the class into groups of four or five students. Each group should take the arbitrator’s point of view and assume that they are to analyze the case and make the arbitrator’s decision. Review the case again at this point, but please do not read the award and discussion sections. Each group should answer the following questions:
14-18: Based on what you read in this chapter, including all relevant guidelines, what would your decision be if you were the arbitrator? Why?
14-19: Do you think that after their experience in this arbitration the parties involved will be more or less inclined to settle grievances by themselves without resorting to arbitration?
Facts: A computer department employee made an entry error that botched an entire run of computer reports. Efforts to rectify the situation produced a second set of improperly run reports.
Because of the series of errors, the employer incurred extra costs of $2,400, plus a weekend of overtime work by other computer department staffers. Management suspended the employee for
3 days for negligence, and revoked a promotion for which the employee had previously been approved. Protesting the discipline, the employee stressed that she had attempted to correct her error in the early stages of the run by notifying the manager of computer operations of her mistake. Maintaining that the resulting string of errors could have been avoided if the manager had followed up on her report and stopped the initial run, the employee argued that she had been treated unfairly because the manager had not been disciplined even though he compounded the problem, whereas she was severely punished. Moreover, citing her “impeccable” work record and management’s acknowledgment that she had always been a “model employee,” the employee insisted that the denial of her previously approved promotion was “unconscionable.”
(Please do not read beyond this point until after you have answered the two questions.)
Award: The arbitrator upholds the 3-day suspension, but decides that the promotion should be restored.
Discussion: “There is no question,” the arbitrator notes, that the employee’s negligent act “set in motion the train of events that resulted in running two complete sets of reports reflecting improper information.” Stressing that the employer incurred substantial cost because of the error, the arbitrator cites “unchallenged” testimony that management had commonly issued 3-day suspensions for similar infractions in the past. Thus, the arbitrator decides, the employer acted with just cause in meting out an “evenhanded” punishment for the negligence. Turning to the denial of the already approved promotion, the arbitrator says that this action should be viewed “in the same light as a demotion for disciplinary reasons.” In such cases, the arbitrator notes, management’s decision normally is based on a pattern of unsatisfactory behavior, an employee’s inability to perform, or similar grounds. Observing that management had never before reversed a promotion as part of a disciplinary action, the arbitrator says that by tacking on the denial of the promotion in this case, the employer substantially varied its disciplinary policy from its past practice. Because this action on management’s part was not “evenhanded,” the arbitrator rules, the promotion should be restored.
Video Case Appendix:
Video Title: Whistleblower on the NSA (Ethics and Social Responsibility of Business)
Whistleblowing is an ethical issue that has been the subject of much debate, especially recently. Whistleblower laws exist in many forms to protect employees from retaliation when they blow the whistle. Both legal and ethical scholars have more or less agreed that it’s more ethical to protect the public from harm than to be loyal to an employer. This video is about Mark Klein, a retired AT&T phone and Internet technician, who blew the whistle on the federal government. Klein discovered that the National Security Agency (NSA), which is in charge of intercepting electronic communications around the world and tracking the foreign enemies of the United States, had a secret room in an AT&T building and was recording all of the domestic and foreign Internet traffic of 16 other major phone and Internet companies. According to Klein, the NSA was blindly vacuuming up huge amounts of data across those links. Believing Americans had the right to know what the NSA was doing, Klein went public with what he knew.
14-20: Of course, this is not the only instance of someone “going public”; the former NSA employee Edward Snowden allegedly did something much more serious recently. Do you agree that it is more ethical to protect the public than one’s employer? Why?
14-21: Based on what you read in this chapter, what steps should AT&T take to make sure that one of its employees doesn’t find it necessary to blow the whistle on them again?
14-22: What rights (if any) do you think employers violate when they try to silence whistleblowers?
14-23: If Mr. Klein were still an AT&T employee, what discipline (if any) do you think would be appropriate for his whistleblowing, and why?
Application Case: Enron, Ethics, and Organizational Culture
14-24: Based on what you read in this chapter, summarize in one page or less how you would explain Enron’s ethical meltdown.
Lax oversight by the six-person audit committee was a major contributor to the collapse of the firm. Executives carried out a series of complex financial transactions designed to remove debt from the balance sheet and artificially inflate the revenue.
14-25: It is said that when one securities analyst tried to confront Enron’s CEO about the firm’s unusual accounting statements, the CEO publicly used vulgar language to describe the analyst, and that Enron employees subsequently thought doing so was humorous. If true, what does that say about Enron’s ethical culture?
Enron promoted a culture of reckless financial deals, avarice, and deceit. A sense of social responsibility, ethical behavior, and respect appeared completely absent.
14-26: This case and chapter had something to say about how organizational culture influences ethical behavior. What role do you think culture played at Enron? Give five specific examples of things Enron’s CEO could have done to create a healthy ethical culture.
Create an independent external board of directors to oversee the goals and corporate strategies, create and implement effective auditing practices, select a CEO who is responsible for the ethical behavior of the organization, remove the CEO if not effective, and encourage employees to report unethical behavior and take appropriate corrective counseling.
Continuing Case: Carter Cleaning Company - Guaranteeing Fair Treatment
14-27: What would you do if you were Jennifer, and why?
The difficulty is that even though they have always “felt strongly about not allowing employees to smoke, eat, or drink in their stores,” they had apparently never established any policies about this. Given this, it seems appropriate to give them a strong verbal warning, including the explanation that future violations will result in more severe disciplinary action.
14-28: Should a disciplinary system be established at Carter Cleaning Centers?
Definitely, a corrective coaching program should be implemented immediately. This type of program will help employees understand why their behavior/performance is not meeting standards. It will also help protect the organization from future litigation claims. In this situation, the staff may not have realized the severity of their actions.
14-29: If so, what should it cover? How would you suggest it deal with a situation such as the one with the errant counter people?
It should cover all behavior and performance that is expected of employees. It would identify the steps of the process, including verbal warnings, written warnings, and dismissal.
14-30: How would you deal with the store manager?
The real question is whether the store manager knew about their beliefs about eating in the store. If he or she did, then a written warning is appropriate – if not, then a strong verbal warning is the best action.
Hotel Paris: Improving Performance at the Hotel Paris -The Hotel Paris’s New Ethics, Justice, and Fair Treatment Process
14-31: What do you think of the adequacy and effectiveness of the steps Lisa has taken so far?
Student answers will vary however, it was very smart of Lisa to do her research and present a fully thought-out plan to the board. Student answers will be more robust.
14-32: List three more specific steps Hotel Paris should take with respect to each individual human research function (selection, training, and so on) to improve the level of ethics in the company.
Answers will vary. However, some possible steps would be to incorporate honesty testing in selection, to train employees using ethics cases, and to discipline immediately and severely for ethics breaches on the part of any employee.
14-33: Based on what you learned in this chapter, write a short (less than one page) explanation Lisa can use to sell to top management the need to further improve the hotel chain’s fairness and justice processes.
Senior leadership should be educated that claims of unfair treatment can be both expensive and expansive. Litigation to defend a claim can be costly and result in an unpopular reflection of the organization in the media. Also, recent cases have included personal liability on the part of senior management. Senior management can have the most significant impact on creating and maintaining a culture of fair treatment.
Ethics - The principles of conduct governing an individual or a group; specifically, the standards you use to decide what your conduct should be.
Procedural Justice - The fairness of the process.
Distributive Justice - The fairness and justice of a decision’s results.
Social Responsibility - The extent to which companies should and do channel resources toward improving one or more segments of society other than the firm’s owners or stockholders.
Organizational Culture - The characteristic values, traditions, and behaviors a company’s employees share.
Discipline - A means to encourage employees to adhere to rules and regulations.
Non-Punitive Discipline - Discipline without punishment.
ECPA - The Electronics Communications Privacy Act is intended in part to restrict interception and monitoring of oral and wire communications.
Dismissal - Involuntary termination of an employee’s employment with the firm.
Termination at Will - In the absence of a contract, either the employer or the employee can terminate at will the employment relationship.
Wrongful Discharge - An employee dismissal that does not comply with the law or does not comply with contractual arrangements either stated or implied.
Insubordination - Willful disregard or disobedience of the boss’s authority or legitimate orders.
Termination Interview - The interview in which an employee is informed of the fact that he or she has been dismissed.
Outplacement Counseling - A formal process by which a terminated person is trained and counseled in the techniques of self-appraisal and securing a new position.
Employee Relations - The activity of establishing and maintaining the positive employee– employer relationships that contribute to satisfactory productivity, motivation, morale, and discipline, as well as maintaining a positive, productive, and cohesive work environment.
Exit Interviews - Interviews with employees who are leaving the firm, conducted for obtaining information about the job or related matters.
Downsizing - The process of reducing, usally dramatically, the number of people employed by a firm.
Suggesstion Teams - Temporary teams whose members work on specific analytical assignments, such as how to cut costs or raise productivity.
Problem-Solving Teams - Semi-permanent teams that identify and research work processes and develop solutions to work-related problems.
Quality Circle - A special type of formal problem-solving team of specially trained employees who meet once a week to solve problems affecting their work area.
Self-Managed/Self-Directed Work Teams - A highly trained group of around eight employees who are fully responsible for turning out a welldefined segment of finished work.