Problematic situations in the workplace can involve ethical violations by employers against employees, by employees against employers, or by both in collaboration against clients or other companies. Questions of ethics can involve minor questions of interpersonal dynamics or serious legal infractions including fraud, abuse and assault. Most companies have written regulations that are intended to regulate interactions between employers and employees and prevent abuse.
Working conditions for employees are a major point of contention in many workplaces, and are usually a central factor in labor negotiations and strikes. Unethical employers fail to provide safe working conditions either through negligence or intentionally. This can lead to higher rates of illness and injury for workers. Rates of pay are also a frequent source of disagreement. While it is understandable that workers want higher pay and employers want to pay less, some employers exploit workers to the point that it becomes unethical. If rates of pay go below minimum wage laws, this practice becomes not only unethical but illegal.
Employee theft costs American companies over $40 billion a year, according to Thompson Security Systems. There are many reasons for employee theft, including the simple urge to get something without paying for it, bitterness at low pay, vengeance for mistreatment by a company, addictive behavior and stealing to resell for cash. Business responses to this behavior range from improving employee morale to termination to legal action. Stealing from an employer is both unethical and illegal, and in the eyes of the law is no different than shoplifting or stealing from a stranger.
Certain personalities succumb to the urge to abuse power when it is given to them. Abuses of power by managers, employers and business owners can involve minor annoyances such as working for an arrogant boss, or can be as serious as blackmail and sexual assault. The economic inequalities between employers and employees can lead to unhealthy relationships if those in power decide to abuse their privileged positions. When employers view themselves as providing a service to both clients and employees, relationships will remain healthier and more egalitarian.
Companies that are involved in research and development and the release of new products have structures in place to prevent the acquisition of company secrets by competitors. Employees who have access to this privileged information may be tempted to reveal it to others, either for monetary reward or personal reasons. When employees are subject to confidentiality clauses as part of their employment, this activity is illegal and can lead to criminal prosecution. Working against the interests of an employer can be seen as unethical even in the absence of legal restrictions.