Ethics and the Law
In the last segment, we addressed how the organizational culture
and practices shape individual ethical behavior.
Now we move on to how
rules of law affect individual behavior within a business organization.
In its broadest sense, a law is any rule that must be obeyed.
of us think of law as a body of rules enacted or enforced by some
government authority, such as the legislature, the police, or the courts.
There are fine courses at this institution on “business law,” addressing the
laws that apply to business organizations.
Today, we tackle a subset of that body of law, focusing on laws that shape the ethical
decisions of individuals within a business organization.
We cannot, in the time allowed
in this segment, even touch on all of the various laws that shape business ethics.
we begin with a discussion of the overlap between ethics and the law, progress to
corporate rules as law, and then consider three specific laws in the commonly understood
sense of the word:
discrimination law, whistleblower laws, and the federal organizational
By touching on these subjects, we can gain an appreciation for the
scope of such rules.
So let’s begin.
The Relationship Between Ethics and the Law.
The text accurately describes
business law as “reflecting society’s minimum norms and standards of business
Many believe that respect for the law is itself an ethical value.
Consider the following two true/ false statements that, really, you have to resolve
True or false:
Anything I do within the law as an
employee is by definition ethical.
Statement 2, True or false:
Anything I do that
violates the law is by definition unethical.
According to the text, “the domain of
ethics includes the law but extends beyond it to include the ethical standards and
issues that the law does not address.”
Do you as a businessman have the right to
violate a law that you consider unethical?
The classic historical example, and the
one the book uses, is a law that required racial discrimination.
But why do we
have to go back in time?
What if you considered the law that prohibits the
hiring of undocumented immigrants to be unethical?
If you are in charge of
hiring at your company, may you violate the law on ethical grounds?
point is not to answer a question that only you can answer for yourself, but to
illustrate how ethics and the law may cooperate or collide.
Dr. Ryan will address
the issue when she discusses Kohlberg’s levels of moral development.
Corporate Rules as “Law”
Every organization of any size has rules that it
expects and insists that individuals within it to follow and that are not the creation
of any government body.
Where individuals break those rules, there are varying
levels of punishment.
If you belong to a club at school, you know what I mean.
That is no less true in business.