The phrase "ethics in the workplace" refers to a general standard of appropriate conduct that must be followed while in the workplace. Appropriate standards of conduct can vary between different industries and individual businesses. Even if there are no specific ethical guidelines, workers are typically expected to conduct themselves in a manner that is reasonable and fair for other workers and clients.
However, many employers will write down the values, practices, and procedures expected of their employees in a company operating manual. Some employers will take this a step further and require seminars and/or exams on company ethics and professional liability.
This is especially true of professionals such as medical workers, accountants, lawyers, and other similar jobs. Failure to abide by company ethics guidelines can have serious consequences, including pay penalties, demotion, discharge, or possibly even legal liability.
Ethical standards vary across different industries, but some typical examples of ethical violations include:
- Discrimination or harassment based on ethnicity, gender, age, disability, color, or national origin;
- Disclosing confidential information;
- Using fraud or misrepresentation when dealing with a client or co-worker;
- Violating terms of an employee or client contract;
- Breach of fiduciary duties;
- Violating industry-specific standards (such as stock trades, insider trading, etc.);
- Commingling client assets (mixing client assets with your own);
- Disclosing trade secrets; and/or
- Using company resources to take a financial opportunity for personal gain.
Depending on the type of issue involved, ethical violations can lead to consequences such as:
- Termination or probation by employer;
- Loss or suspension of professional credentials;
- Civil liability for damages (especially if the violation caused another party financial losses); and/or
- State or federal criminal charges.
You cannot get fired for reporting an ethical violation. But knowingly filing a false claim is a violation and can result in the same punishments, as filing a false claim is considered to be an ethical violation.
Workplace violations or even hostile work environments can sometimes involve very serious issues. You may wish to hire an employment lawyer if you need help filing a claim, or if you need help understanding the ethical standards in your industry. A skilled employment attorney can help review your claim, depose witnesses, gather physical evidence, and represent you in negotiations and court proceedings.