Communication is an important tool for a small business owner. Communications with employees, customers and vendors may involve product promotions, job offers, contract negotiations and discussions regarding the competition. Using such an important business tool requires a sense of responsibility on the part of the communicator to adhere to ethical guidelines.

While the concept of ethics generally relates to a person's responsibility to communicate fairly, without bias and with respect to those affected by the communication, violations of ethics in communications can become legal violations. Breaching confidentiality or purposely communicating lies about a person or an organization, for example, can be considered a legal issue as well as an ethical issue. Legal violations of communications, such as slander, can result in sanctions by governing bodies or criminal ramifications.


Sometimes, an untruthful piece of communication is just an oversight. However, not checking facts is a violation of ethics, particularly when communicating information about a product, competitor, customer or employee, into the piece of communication. A lack of fact-checking shows a lack of responsibility to verify information that is being communicated. If the information might prove detrimental to the subject, the communicator has an obligation to make certain the information is accurate. For example, stating that a competitor uses a substandard material in his product without verifying the information violates ethics and may result in legal consequences.


Relaying information that was provided in confidence or that was overheard in someone else's conversations is a violation of communication ethics. The act of spreading rumors is degrading to a small business owner who needs to earn the trust and respect of his employees and customers to be successful. In addition, some breaches of confidentiality can also carry legal consequences. Many contracts are written with confidentiality clauses. Business owners working in the medical industry may be subject to HIPAA regulations that forbid them from disclosing any information about medical providers or clients.

Offensive Messages

Communication that is offensive to the receiver or to anyone affected by the information contained in the message violates ethical communication guidelines. The communication may offend others because of references to race, gender, income level, background or education level. Stories and jokes are prime examples of communication that have the potential to offend the recipients. Any topic to which others may be sensitive should be avoided in business communication, including religion and political issues, to avoid offending others and possibly committing a violation of communications ethics.