How to Deal With Unethical Behavior in the Workplace

Eraser changing the word Unethical for Ethical

Workplaces are complicated. There isn’t a lot of black and white most of the time, so it’s normal for employees to deal with issues of ethics at some point.

Whether they’re asked to do something they don’t think is quite right, against the general morals of the workplace or society at large, or hide something, the guilty feeling in the pit of their stomach is there.

The easy and obvious reaction would be to tell the employees to refuse such requests. After all, it’s wrong, so the answer should be no, correct?

Gray in the Office

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy. Employees fear the consequences of refusing complicated and possibly unethical requests from their bosses. They’re afraid of getting scolded, passed on for promotions and exciting projects, or getting left out of meetings. Most of all, they’re afraid of getting fired.

Dealing with unethical behavior is tricky. So what’s a working professional to do when faced with a situation like this? You might have to confront some heavy issues or deal with difficult people.

How Employees and Managers Should Deal with Unethical Behavior

Get All the Facts Before You Act

Is there a chance that the behavior is not actually unethical, but that you just don’t have all the facts? Is there a possibility that you are just uninformed?

Check and make sure you have all the information before labeling the behavior or request as unethical. Read up about industry practices and company policy and inform yourself. Then gather as much documentation as you can about the unethical request that you have received. Don’t go tattling to HR unless you’re 100% sure of your claims.

Follow Company Protocol as Closely as Possible

Got your evidence ready? Confirmed that the behavior is indeed against company policies? Good.

What now? Read up on company policy about what to do in situations like this and take it to your company’s human resources department for assistance. Rest assured that they are trained in these matters and will be discreet and confidential.

Dealing with Illegal Matters

Being unethical and illegal are two different matters. In these cases, you need to protect yourself as well. Take the issue to HR, but you may also want to research lawyers who specialize in workplace issues and workplace fraud who can give you the help you need. You will need legal help, so don’t hesitate to look for it.

In many cases, employees and managers caught doing something illegal are forced to resign to avoid spreading word about what happened. In some cases, they’re given outplacement services so they can find work elsewhere. But that depends on how serious the accusation is.

Right and Wrong, and Moving On

Knowing what to do is tough. If possible, you may need to go over your manager’s head and tell the big boss. But what if the CEO knows about this?

What if the behavior, however wrong, is accepted in that organization and you’re just expected to look away? What if the company might not be willing to do anything about unethical behavior?

It’s possible that you and the company may not be a good fit. Remember that you can only change so much, and that at some point, if you can’t make a change and can’t bring yourself to act unethically, it may be time to start looking for a new job.