The 2001 Enron scandal--its financial collapse, criminal trials and bankruptcy, rocked corporate America. As a result, safeguards have been put in place to detect signs of unethical business behavior and accounting practices. While not all unethical business behavior results in falsified accounting documents and securities fraud, there remain many undesirable and unethical behaviors that should be monitored and averted. Watching out for signs indicating bad business behavior, such as workplace bullying, can help both the business and employees when reported.
Unethical behavior covers a wide array of deeds, however, the more common include: sexual harassment, falsifying documents, using company resources for personal use, taking or misusing company property--stealing. Workplace violence is on the rise and can lead to other unethical behavior like bullying or discrimination. More complicated and often illegal behavior could include altering business documents, such as sales receipts, or tampering with accounting methods and reports.
Sexual harassment is degrading and humiliating. If an employee, male or female, regularly makes sexual or otherwise inappropriate innuendos to the other, this can be considered sexual harassment. On the other hand, if the parties seem mutually engaged in the activity it could be viewed as an office romance, and often this behavior, too, is viewed as unethical. Further signs of sexual harassment can be suggestive artwork, such as nude or partial nude art present in the workplace.
It may seem that signs of stealing would be something obvious, like taking money from the till. While that would be true, there are more obscure actions that are considered stealing. For example, logging in an exaggerated time worked for a shift, taking company pens and pocketing them or using the fax machine for personal use, is taking something that is not an employee entitlement. It is unethical behavior and should be reported.
Signs of workplace violence can be anything from verbal abuse to bodily harm. If an employee is sending threatening communication to another, indicating he will be harmed in some way, it is workplace violence. Whether it is a threat to ostracize the individual for any reason, or the use of derogatory language to intimidate, the action is inappropriate. Slamming fists on a desk or throwing things is considered violent action, and is another sign of unethical business behavior. Bullying and discrimination by embarrassing or demeaning a team member can be a result of workplace violence.
When signs of unethical business behavior are detected by an employee they often go unchecked, because the actions are not expressed. Fear of negative reactions from management or peers can silence a person, causing her to “look the other way.” Most companies offer a neutral outlet where unethical behavior can be reported and the abuse stopped. Check with the company’s human resources department for this information.
Debra Bacon is an award-winning journalist and editor who has managed and assisted with managing several interesting businesses, including The Country Press Group in Malakoff, Texas, which published four newspapers in East Texas. Bacon is a former member of the Texas Press Association and the Texas Community Newspaper Association.