An ethical breach occurs when someone within a system or community makes an ethical choice that sets a standard by which others can make a similar decision. The danger of ethical breaches is that they are a fundamental change in the ethics of your organization. When an ethical breach occurs, you must move quickly to repair the damage to your organization and then analyze the nature of the breach; determine whether the breach was unethical and whether it should incite a change in your rules or lead to a severe punishment for the person who initiated the breach.
Define the nature of the ethical breach and include all of the specific elements of the breach. Remain objective and look at the situation in its entirety. List all the elements that you discover. For instance, if one of your employees acted inappropriately with a female employee in his department, you should list the difference in their work status, the way he approached her, her response and the conditions where the event occurred.
Evaluate the nature of the infraction, including each element that you listed. Determine which specific ethical standard your offender failed to uphold during the event. As an example, your employee violated your ethical standards against sexual harassment and interoffice dating. List these specific infractions.
Ask yourself if the infraction should become a universally allowed action under the circumstances that the individual committed the action. Remind yourself that an ethical breach in an organization allows for future, similar ethical breaches if you take no action to correct the behavior. Ask yourself if you would want to work in an environment where co-workers were permitted to repeat your employee’s actions.
List the potential downfalls of allowing the breach to become an ethical standard, such as future damages from repeated breaches. Determine whether those downfalls are worth allowing that activity to continue. For example, you realize that the potential ramifications of repeated inappropriate activity could lead to lawsuits, lost employees and a future inability to draw quality employees to your company.
Act on your decision to either reinforce your ethical standard or allow the action as a new ethical standard. If a punishment already exists for the infraction, carry out the punishment and repair the breach or devise a new punishment if one does not already exist. If you decide that the new action should be permitted, establish your new rule as a universal ethical standard for your organization. For instance, deciding to terminate the offending employee, demonstrating that similar breaches in your ethical standard will not be acceptable.
Kristyn Hammond has been teaching freshman college composition at the university level since 2010. She has experience teaching developmental writing, freshman composition, and freshman composition and research. She currently resides in Central Texas where she works for a small university in the Texas A&M system of schools.