People choose to abide by ethical models. There are no set standards for ethics, but there are general models that are proposed and sometimes followed by people and organizations. Some theorists have proposed ethical decision-making models, which are systematic methods of analysis that help people make clearer and more comprehensible judgments and justify these judgments.
What many people consider unethical is often a matter of opinion, though some ethical issues are strongly influenced by the legal system. Civil legal systems were inspired by Roman law. Laws are built around the concept that people must follow specific rules and that penalties for violating these rules are applied consistently. In the United States, one of the major ethical models for determining laws is the Constitution, which contains specific rights that people are promised and that governments cannot violate. That which people consider unethical at one time tends to become a law in the future.
People can have individual ethical rules that they follow that are specific to them, often a result of family influence or religion. Social ethics include legal rules, customs and mores. Professional ethics include both those actions that are considered best practices and also the specific values of the workplace, which are highly influenced by management and are also influenced by relationships in the workplace. All three of these ethical models feed into the overall organization's code of ethics.
The Laura Nash model uses 12 practical steps for resolving ethical dilemmas. She has people identify the problem, understand the problem from other people's perspectives, pinpoint how the situation arose, identify who they have loyalty to, clarify their intention, compare the intention to the results and consider who will be hurt by the decision. Then, Nash suggests that the decision-maker consider whether other people could provide input into the decision. The decision-maker should consider if she will hold the position for a long period. The decision-maker should wonder whether he could discuss the decision in front of his family, since the decision-maker would have to face his family after an unethical decision. They should consider the symbolic potential of the decision and consider whether different conditions would change the decision-maker's expectations.
The Rion model has people ask themselves five questions. Why is the situation bothersome, does the decision need input from anyone else, is this my problem to solve, am I being true to myself and what is the opinion of other people? The Rion model focuses more on what the decision-maker will be satisfied with personally, while also leaving room for the opinions of others.
The Langenderfer and Rockness model follows seven steps. Decision-makers should ask themselves what are: the facts, the ethical issues, the norms, alternate course of action, best course of action, possible consequences and the ultimate decision. This model seeks to ensure that the decision-maker considers all of the potential problems that could emerge from a particular decision.