The human resources department of an organization generally is held to high standards because it's the the strategic business partner for the executive leadership team and in control of the company's most valuable resources -- employees' talents, qualifications and contributions. In a 2005 article in "Graziadio Business Review," business communication professor Robert Chandler defines unethical misconduct as "non-routine unethical events or a series of unethical events that create significant operational disruptions and threaten or are perceived to threaten an organization’s continuity of operations."

Government Contracts

Employers with federal government contracts are bound by regulations set forth in Executive Order 11246 concerning affirmative action programming and record-keeping. One of the basic requirements of the order is for employers to store applicants' information related to race, gender, disability and veteran status for review upon request by the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. When HR refuses to gather the required information or falsifies applicant data to submit to the federal government, it's considered egregious and unethical HR misconduct.


The purpose of an organization's recruitment and selection process is to attract a diverse pool of qualified applicants whose skills and qualifications are best suited for the organization's business goals. HR misconduct in this area can involve a number of unethical activities, such as intentionally understating or overstating job duties, giving preference to certain applicants by not requiring them to complete the interview process or hiring relatives, significant others and close acquaintances for critical business areas that are subject to checks and balances.


The Fair Labor Standards Act codifies employer obligations related to overtime pay and classifications for non-exempt and exempt employees. Ethical misconduct in human resources activities involves intentional misclassification of non-exempt workers as exempt employees to avoid having to pay overtime wages. Non-exempt workers are compensated based on the number of hours they work, and they're entitled to overtime wages at 1.5 times the hourly rate when they work more than 40 hours in a week. Exempt employees, on the other hand, are paid on a salary basis and are not entitled to overtime wages, regardless of the number of hours they work each week. The FLSA requires strict adherence to classification rules; the U.S. Department of Labor levies stiff penalties and fines for employers who violate the act.

Labor-Management Relations

The National Labor Relations Act guarantees the collective activity rights of employees and labor unions. The HR department typically is responsible for engaging in contract negotiations to arrive at a mutually agreed upon collective bargaining agreement. HR leaders who refuse to bargain, or negotiate union contracts, or who engage in unethical misconduct by intentionally misrepresenting the company's position on wages and benefits are in violation of the act and risk being sanctioned for the company's actions.