Definition of Workplace Ethics

by Roslyn Frenz; Updated September 26, 2017
Employees use ethics to make moral decisions

Companies use workplace ethics to govern employee behavior, regulate management’s moral decisions and keep companies out of legal trouble. Some businesses clarify ethics in an official company code of ethics. Employees of companies with no official code can rely on personal ethics derived from universal codes. Not just for corrupt employees, workplace ethics guide all businesspeople who search for moral and professional direction.


Ideally, workplace ethics keep employees and companies from doing the wrong thing and are used as a reference to determine if an employee has acted unethically. The right course of action is difficult to determine in many situations. Sometimes it’s not enough to simply ask, “Is this ethical?” A set of distinct moral values is required to determine morally correct actions. At the most basic level, workplace ethics keep employees from violating laws.

Expert Insight

According to Mark S. Schwartz, author a 2005 article on corporate codes of ethics in the “Journal of Business Ethics,” a workplace ethics code is a formal document that dictates moral standards that can guide both employee and corporate behavior. Workplace ethics codes not only address applicable laws, but they go beyond the law to discuss the foundations of the law and the spirit in which the law was written. These documents discuss what to do and why it should be done.


Schwartz listed six main moral values relevant to the business community. They are respect, caring, trustworthiness, responsibility, citizenship and fairness. Many businesses use these values as a foundation for workplace ethics programs. Ethical employees adopt these values even with no company-sanctioned code.


Some people believe that workplace ethics are tied to religion or theology. The goal of business ethics isn’t to change people’s spiritual ideals; instead it establishes a set of values that direct workplace and corporate activity. Other misconceptions include the thought that only “bad” employees benefit from workplace ethics programs. In reality, the corporate landscape embodies a maze of moral gray areas, so employees at every level benefit from ethical direction.


The prevalence of workplace codes continues to rise. By 2005, 78 percent of American organizations required employees to conform to a company-created official code of ethics. Many business academics consider workplace value programs basic and experimental, despite the widespread use of official workplace ethics codes. Workplace ethics needs continued exploration just like any branch of knowledge. Recent, well-publicized ethical slips have encouraged business ethics as a new type of management discipline. Business ethics managers may become as prevalent as accountants and public-relations managers.

About the Author

Roslyn Frenz started writing professionally in 2005, covering music, business ethics and philosophy. Her work has appeared in "Designing Wealth," "The Other Side," "Upstate Live" and many other publications. Frenz has a bachelor's degree in business marketing from the University of Phoenix. She is pursuing an M.F.A. in creative writing.

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