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Ethically Defensible Decision Making

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Thus far in class we have learned to increase our problem solving skills by using different critical thinking tools; however, we have not yet broached the subject of ethics. Here now, I will discuss how ethics and decisions blend together to blur the lines of fairness and profitability, in business, and in the workplace; only to make your everyday job all that more challenging. But before I launch into a discussion on “ethically defensible decisions”, first I will explain the term. I will define the elements of an ethically defensible decision, and give examples of ethically defensible decisions you might encounter in your workplace.

After this is understood, I will describe to you a situation that occurred where the lines were blurred in my workplace, and I chose to use critical thinking to overcome the potential disaster. After the situation is clear, I will spend some time discussing ground rules, which are a part of ethical decision making, whether written or implied. Finally, I will summarize with implications of decision making.

The word ethics means different things to different people. Depending on where you grew up, who you were raised by, what kind of family life you had, what race you were, etc. etc. There have been many scholars who can argue that ethics is an essential part of who we are. People are attracted to others who have similar ethics that they themselves hold dear to their heart. They in return pass these ethics down to their offspring. What is unethical to one person can be perfectly acceptable to another. For this reason, it is difficult to agree on a definition of ethics. For the purposes of this paper, we will use the definition from Oxford English Dictionary (OED); “Ethic” is defined as follows: “The moral principles by which a person is guided.” (OED) An example taken from the definition section of Oxford English Dictionary online, but originally quoted in 1837 is a quote by M. Donovan Dom. Econ. II. Stating, “It is not the province of man to pronounce judgment on the ethics of his fellow-creature, in the last extremities of starvation.” (OED)

In this statement you can see that M. Donovan is making an ethical statement from his own viewpoint. He is issuing a “should not” statement, telling all men they should not judge other men if they are starving, the behavior is justifiable. This would be an example of an ethically defensible decision. There are several elements that make up an ethically defensible decision.

First you have ground rules, whether written or implied, and then you have values that make up your character. Ground rules are rules that make up both sides of each person’s point of view. These can change based on the situation, and decisions that are made. Values vary widely from person to person, but for the purpose of this paper, I will use an example taken from The Josephson Institute (TJI), “These values, called the “Six Pillars of Character” are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and good citizenship (defined as responsible participation in society).”(TJI)

An example of an ethically defensible decision that you may come across in your workplace is reporting a colleague stealing money, when the colleague is your friend. You know that the person needs the money, and asks you not to say anything; they promise to pay the money back on their next payday. You are faced with a decision of betraying a friend’s trust, versus your legal and moral responsibility to the company. I was faced with an ethically challenging decision, which sealed my fate.

When I was 18 years old I chose to take a second job in order to support myself and two-year old, rather than moving to the streets. I ended up working as a server in an upscale restaurant making enough money to pay for rent, food, and daycare. I worked for a few months without incident, until I became one of the regulars. Once I became one of the regulars, I began to be harassed by one of the senior staff members. His flirting was excessive and inappropriate day after day, to the point where I felt uncomfortable at work. It got to the point where he would make physical advances at me. I finally got up the nerve to report the incident. The night manager said it would be confidential, it was not. Everyone heard about it, everyone stayed away from me. I was targeted, and then shortly after that, terminated for a customer complaint. The complaint was of a racial manner, this is how I knew it was a false complaint. The manager claimed a black couple stated I treated my white clients with more respect than I did this couple.

Now we know the incident that occurred, therefore, we are able to determine what ground rules we can extract from this situation. First, I would say, everyone that works in this restaurant is a close-knit team like a family. Second, nobody complains, probably because he or she does not think their complaints are worth the consequences that go along with reporting on a teammate. Third, nobody rocks the boat, and if you do rock the boat, you are history.

If we were to change the ground rules, for the better, what could they be? The rules could follow what is legally right, sexual harassment laws are followed, and people who are at fault are terminated. The staff at the restaurant would not be so close-knit of a team, that they feel it prevents them from launching a complaint against their supervisor that it prevents the company from getting work done.

What should they be? Any staff member should not feel uncomfortable going to a manager, and talking about a situation that is happening. It should not affect their employment status. The rules should protect the victim’s of harassment, not the abusers. Unfortunately, this is not the cases in most situations, they talk about laws being in place, but I found out at a young age that you cannot be naïve enough to think these laws are actually in place to protect you as a victim. These are general guidelines, and recommendations that they encourage employers to follow.

How this decision has affected the rules. I decided at a young age (18) not to put up with unethical behavior in the workplace, if it didn’t meet my standards, to get out quickly. I decided that I had to have faith in my beliefs, that making the right decision would bring me better more prosperous endeavors.

So far this has worked for me, but times keep arising, and decisions keep getting harder to make. The rules keep changing. With each new situation, comes a new set of ground rules that each person must critically think through for themselves. Thinking and acting out the consequences of your actions, role-playing in your head of what could happen may help you realize, is it worth it? Is there a better plan out there for you? My answer is, if you have to ask yourself too often, then the answer is probably yes, have faith.


Oxford English Dictionary Online, UOP Library, Retrieved February 3, 2004 from http://www.apollolibrary.com:2086/cgi/entry/00078469/00078469se2?single=1&query_type=word&queryword=ethics&edition=2e&first=1&max_to_show=10&hilite=00078469se2

The Josephson Institute, Retrieved February 4, 2004 from http://www.josephsoninstitute.org/MED/MED-intro+toc.htm

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