Is Your Employer Ethical? 6 Questions for Moral Employees

Not a week goes by when I don’t have an encounter with some industry or representative who wants to make sure they get my money, but is a little less interested in providing me with a service.  Sometimes I can be philosophical and say, “Well, they’re just doing their job” But sometimes there’s more to it than that, a sense of “This is wrong.”  That goes hand in hand with my own irritation at whoever “helped” me with my issue-“How can they work for a company like this?”

I know times are hard, and those of us who have jobs are lucky to have them.  But some companies are making up for shortfalls through unethical business practices.  Here are a few questions to ask if you suspect yours is one of them.

1.       Have they paid for their licensing?

Software piracy is a huge issue, especially in companies with an international base.  Every system that is run on company computers should be bought, not borrowed or copied.  This might not be an easy thing for you to find out, but if you hear, “It’s all right, we didn’t pay for it, anyway,” you might want to enquire further.  Licenses should be readily available in the HR or IT departments.

2.      Are they willing to take a hit for the customer?

Employee training will take one of two philosophical stands: either, “Get the payment at all costs,” or “If the customer is that unhappy, do what you have to to make it right.” Some companies truly do care about their customers, and recognize that a happy customer is a return customer, but some don’t care about individual customers as much as their own profits.

3.       Is there an appeal system for both employees and customers?

If you’ve been disciplined unfairly, or if you feel a supervisor has an unreasonable animus against you, is there some other authority you can appeal to?  Or does one person have unqualified power over your career?  Is there a model in place for conflict resolution both for employees and customers?  If a customer is unhappy with an employee’s decision, what options does he or she have?  Most importantly, is there accountability built into the business, or do people just get shuffled from one voicemail menu to another?

4.       Have you ever been asked “not to mention” or not record a task you’ve done?

Ethical companies are transparent.  That doesn’t mean that they have to go broadcasting their internal business to the world, but it does mean that any action taken by employees should be documented and open to inspection.  If you’re being asked to cover something up, that’s never a good sign.  The same is true if the company offers to pay in cash for something-question that.

5.       Do things change when higher-ups are around?

This can go both ways.  Perhaps when regional managers are present, people suddenly work hard and stop cutting corners, so that their managers see them as industrious workers.  On the other hand, I know of one case where a restaurant owner wanted to charge customers for drink refills and dinner rolls, but when he wasn’t looking, employees would refill drinks for free. I’ll leave it to you to decide who was unethical in that situation!

6.       Are you processing invoices with vaguely worded charges?

Credit card companies have recently been nailed for this exact thing, but other culprits are cell phone companies, banks, online auction sites, internet service providers, and rental car companies.  Look for telling phrases such as service charge, processing fee, late fee, maintenance fee, duplicate fees or surcharges.

Obviously I can’t tell you what to do if your employer is unethical.  You have bills to pay, and I won’t judge you if you decide that a bad job is better than none at all.  But businesses with unethical practices contribute to both the nation’s economic troubles and misery in individual lives.  Every employee has to decide just how much they can live with.

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