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There comes a time in nearly every worker's career when he considers leaving his current job for various reasons. Sometimes these motivations include ethical reasons that would not necessarily be typical reasons to consider leaving a job. A 2007 study by LRN revealed that 94 percent of Americans think it important to work for an ethical company. Some workers even demonstrated a willingness to leave their employer for a lower salary if it meant working for a company with strong ethics, rather than without.
LRN cites legal reasons as one of the most common ethical reasons that people leave their jobs. In some cases, employees disagree with the ethics of the employer or a fellow employee. The employer, supervisor or fellow employee might push the person to engage in illegal activity as part of the job, making it impossible for the person to maintain his position without being involved in the illegal activity. It can also make it difficult for the worker to do his job correctly. In these cases, the ethical decision is usually quite clear.
Another possible ethical reason for leaving a job is when the employee is facing harassment. The employee might feel threatened by the employer because of sexual harassment or some other form of harassing behavior. Of course, an employee who is being harassed can go through other options or channels before signing a resignation letter, but when all else fails, finding a way to remove oneself from the situation entirely might be the best course or action.
Personal betterment is yet another reason that might be considered an ethical reason for leaving a job. In this situation, the worker isn't leaving because of ethical issues but, rather, has decided to leave for a reason that will create a better situation for herself and her family. For instance, it is not unethical to leave one job for another that pays significantly more when you have a family to support and important bills to pay. Better benefit plans are another example of this. In today's world where health care insurance is important, families need all of the coverage they can get. An employer that offers a more comprehensive plan might attract employees away from competitors, because the employees recognize their own ethical obligation to their family and self before others.
When leaving a job for ethical reasons, employees should be careful to leave on good terms if possible and also be careful about explaining the departure to future employers. A 2006 article in The Washington Post by Kenneth Bredemeier indicates that, when leaving a job for ethical reasons, employees should be careful how they word their reason for leaving. "Ethical considerations" is a term that can open up a proverbial can of worms that a new employer might not be willing to touch. Instead, using more subtle language such as "professional conflict" or "philosophical differences" softens the criticism and doesn't paint a picture of the employee as someone who stirs up trouble or is a whistleblower.
Jared Lewis is a professor of history, philosophy and the humanities. He has taught various courses in these fields since 2001. A former licensed financial adviser, he now works as a writer and has published numerous articles on education and business. He holds a bachelor's degree in history, a master's degree in theology and has completed doctoral work in American history.