“Morality [or ethics] is not a subject; it is a life put to the test in dozens of moments.” – Paul Tillich
Ethics is the cornerstone of a healthy employment relationship: conducting yourself in a virtuous manner, is the legal and moral code guiding your conduct in the workplace.
Ethical behaviour respects the dignity, diversity and rights of individuals and groups of people. Being professional requires more than wearing a nice suit. It requires ethical behaviour that drives interactions with other employees, customers and management.
In this article we have a discussion around the legal ramifications of Professionalism and Work-related Ethics.
Defining ethics in the workplace?
Ethics, in the context of the workplace, is defined as the moral code that guides the behaviour of employees, with respect to what is right and wrong in regard to their conduct and decision making.
Why is ethical behaviour in the workplace of importance?
A leader who characterises ethical behaviour will be fair in all situations. The employees will trust that their leadership team is working toward the greater good of the entire company.
Conducting yourself in a transparent fashion can have wide reaching positive influence in the organization; when you hold the success of the business with high-regard, the business can succeed and bring its supporters along with it. Understanding that ethical behaviour in the workplace can stimulate organisational growth, as much as unethical behaviour in the workplace can evoke damage to the reputation of the organization.
There is, therefore a mutual expectation, quid pro quo, that stakeholders, and business organisations act in an ethical manner and in each other’s best interests.
Examples of Ethical Behaviours in the Workplace
Examples of ethical behaviours in the workplace include: obeying the company’s rules and regulations; effective communication; accepting responsibility and taking ownership; accountability; professionalism; trust and mutual respect for your colleagues at work.
It is therefore a mutual expectation that Employees and business organisations act in an ethical manner and in each other’s best interest.
A Few Ethical Principles to Being Professional in the Workplace
In the Labour Appeal Court (LAC) matter of Schwartz v Sasol and Others (JA 46/2014)  ZALAC 94 (5 October 2015) it was found that:
Schwartz was employed by Sasol for 20 years, was charged at a disciplinary hearing with corruption in obtaining “personal advantage in the form of monetary sponsorships/gifts/money in connection with business activities with multiple service providers” thereby undermining his “objectivity in making business decisions in Sasol’s best interests as a result of the conflict of interest with service providers”. In the alternative, he was charged with a breach of Sasol’s Code of Ethics in failing to disclose monetary sponsorships, gifts or money received by him from service providers.
Sasol’s Code of Ethics adopted a “zero tolerance of unethical conduct irrespective of whether the consequences for Sasol resulting from the unethical conduct are big or small”.
The LAC confirmed that Schwartz was guilty of breaching employer’s Code of Ethics by receiving benefits from employer’s service providers, and held that the Employee’s misconduct constitutes serious dishonesty which leads to a breakdown in the trust relationship and ruled that the sanction of dismissal to be appropriate.
When applying discipline, an employer acts to protect its own interests. An employer has to establish a causal nexus between the employee’s conduct and a negative effect on the interests of the business. A ‘negative effect’ has to be demonstrably detrimental or disruptive to employee relations, the company’s reputation or its business.
Ethics, professionalism and holding an organizational reputation high, earns you respect in an organization. In today’s corporate world of close networking and fragile reputations, reputation is what ultimately matters.
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