Seven ethical questions

I have recently found myself pondering business ethics. In case you're wondering, ethics are defined as "standards or codes of behavior expected by the group to which the individual belongs". Thus, business ethics are concerned with how organizations behave with respect to the culture in which they exist.

The ethics of counter-hacking

So, you, dear reader, are a cog in the machinery of your organization and how you think about ethical issues and what you do about them has a huge impact on how your organization behaves. With that in mind, here are seven questions to probe your ethics:

Question 1: You open an e-mail to find a huge file of your company's HR data that was sent to you in error. You can see how much everyone makes, their performance reports … everything that is pertinent to their employment. So, do you a) take a quick skim through before notifying the sender; or b) close it immediately and notify the sender? Is it wrong to look even if you keep the information to yourself?

Question 2: You find that you can examine people's expenses claims and you see that your boss is cheating for a hundred or so dollars per month: Would you a) report him if you wouldn't face any consequences; or b) report him, consequences be damned, or c) forget about it?

Question 3: Now assume the false claims amount to thousands, not hundreds of dollars: What do you do now? If your answer is different to your answer from question 2, explain.

Question 4: In these tough economic times many people are desperate to get a job. Is it unethical to intentionally and significantly underpay a highly qualified candidate?

Question 5: You "know" you are underpaid. You can pad your expenses and get away with it and in the grand scheme of things, your overbilling would be virtually negligible. Is this wrong? If it isn't, why not? If it is wrong, why?

Question 6: You discover that a service provider has violated their terms of service and should have refunded some small portion, say a few dollars, of what they charge your organization, but they don't make a correction on their bill. If you say anything, it's going to be a huge fuss and could make your life difficult. Do you a) keep quiet or b) make a fuss. If you keep quiet because it's only a few dollars then how much would it have to be before you took action?

Question 7: You are part of the team looking for a new CIO. You are down to three candidates and, given the importance of the job, you have the candidates' backgrounds investigated by a private investigator to see whether there is any "dirt" on them. Is it ethical to probe their backgrounds like this? If you were the candidate, would that change your answer?

Non-ethics related bonus question: You have had the candidates investigated and find that: The first candidate used opium in college, drinks excessive amounts of whisky every day, usually sleeps until noon, and is known to have had two mistresses.

The second candidate has been linked to crooked politicians, chain smokes, drinks 10 Martinis a day, has also had two mistresses, and regularly consults with astrologers.

The final candidate is a vegetarian, doesn't smoke, rarely drinks alcohol, is a decorated war hero, and hasn't hadn't any mistresses.

Which candidate would you choose and why?

Gibbs ponders in Ventura, Calif. Send your answers to or comment online. 

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This story, "Seven ethical questions" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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