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Old 08-27-2019, 01:11 PM
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Are 'business ethics' ethical?


I've seen a number of threads where people discuss how one should ethically handle business like situations, for example "should I try to pay off this loan or declare bankruptcy" or "if you take a crappy job but are applying for good jobs, should you tell the crappy job employer that you are doing so". People often criticize responses as being 'unethical' if they operate from a standpoint of protecting the individual instead of favoring the company, and it's not clear to me why that would be.

So the question is: why should I (or the individual in question) not consider my personal fortune as a business and me and/or my family as the stakeholders in that business, then apply standard business ethics to all of my business dealings? Companies apply business ethics from their side when dealing with me, so I don't see why there would be a problem with me behaving in an ethical fashion with regards to them. This makes the answers to a lot of the questions raised much simpler, and puts both sides on an even footing. People tend to act as though this isn't reasonable, but I've never heard a good explanation for why.
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Old 08-27-2019, 01:41 PM
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I absolutely expect employees to make career decisions with their own self-interest at the forefront of their deliberations and I don’t consider that unethical on their part. A lot of people have misplaced emotions when dealing with employers because most of us want to be honest.

I’ve had new hires call me the Friday before they start to tell me they’ve accepted another offer. I’ve had new hires quit during their first week because they got another offer. Was I mad? No. Although it is a pain in the ass for me and costly for the company. It’s just the cost of doing business.

I work for a good company but even we make decisions based on our business needs. We laid off a handful of people the other day because their positions were rendered obsolete because of a business deal we made. They didn’t do anything wrong but it doesn’t make sense to keep them on the payroll. Did we act ethically? I think so. So I can hardly blame an employee for prioritizing their own needs first.
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Old 08-27-2019, 03:04 PM
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People tend to act as though this isn't reasonable, but I've never heard a good explanation for why.
Guilt probably. I see it as just the way things are, expect it, and would advise everyone to act this way.
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Old 08-27-2019, 03:10 PM
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People tend to act as though this isn't reasonable, but I've never heard a good explanation for why.


Lots of people expect businesses to act in an impersonal manner towards their employees, but expect people to act towards their employers as if they were friends. That this benefits the business at the expense of the employee shouldn't come as a shock to anyone who has been paying attention to US employment trends these last several decades or so.

I'll also note that this isn't a "good" explanation, it's merely a true one.
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Old 08-27-2019, 04:18 PM
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Lots of people expect businesses to act in an impersonal manner towards their employees, but expect people to act towards their employers as if they were friends. That this benefits the business at the expense of the employee shouldn't come as a shock to anyone who has been paying attention to US employment trends these last several decades or so.
That's my impression too, but I'm wondering if anyone has an actual argument for it rather than just buying the one-way ethics that businesses often try to promote.
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Old 08-27-2019, 04:37 PM
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I work for a good company but even we make decisions based on our business needs. We laid off a handful of people the other day because their positions were rendered obsolete because of a business deal we made. They didn’t do anything wrong but it doesn’t make sense to keep them on the payroll. Did we act ethically? I think so.
I do not agree that you acted ethically.

This 'business deal' has obviously been in the works for a while. Were these ex-employees aware of that? Did they have any warning that they were about to be discarded like used toilet paper? Were they given any warning at all?

Or were they paid severance pay & benefits for a reasonable time after they were discarded? (At least as long a time as you require of them in 'giving notice'.) This is especially important as many employees have the health insurance for them and their family thru the employer.

Presumably this 'business deal' means increased sales or production in other parts of your company. Were these employees offered transfers to other positions? Or did the 'deal' include a provision that they were offered first shot at any added positions at the other business in the deal? (Presumably their increased production will need additional employees.) [That's quite possible. When my father & uncle retired & sold their business assets, the sales contract included a provision that all current employees would be retained, for at least 20% of their employment length.]

I think that acting ethically would require showing more concern for the former employees than you mentioned here.
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Old 08-27-2019, 04:43 PM
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I think there's a few things going on:

Some people simply don't want to feel that they are "lowering" themselves to a standard of ethics which doesn't comport with their comfort level. There seem to be a good number of people who think that if they buy a house and end up owing more than the house is worth, that as a matter of pride, they won't walk away from the mortgage -- whereas any business would surely consider doing that.

But aside from that, I think others realize that there's a power imbalance at play here. Just like how an MMA fighter can get away with running his mouth in ways that would get your 100-pound weakling assaulted, businesses can throw their weight around in ways that may not be feasible for an individual to do. So if a business fires a worker because he comes into work with a smirk on his face every day, the business can probably manage until they get a new employee in a few weeks or a couple months or whatever. If a worker doesn't like his manager's smirk, he can't exactly walk off the job and have no repercussions for paying rent, eating, etc.

And also, of course businesses will apply pressure to their workers or customers that they aren't "allowed" to do things that they are actually at liberty to do, because it serves the interest of the business. Just like how cops say to people to get them to confess, saying that things will be fine if they just admit wrongdoing -- only to have the person dig their own grave.
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Old 08-27-2019, 04:45 PM
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I'd be interested in hearing arguments against the proposition in the OP. I can't think of any myself. We employ all sorts of people, either contractors or companies we buy from. We fire them all the time for any or no reason. Businesses declare bankruptcy without much moral qualms, so we can also. Whether or not it is a good idea depends on the financials and future credit, say.

It used to be that some businesses put employees relatively higher in the stakeholder list than they do today, and employees were more loyal. Not any more.
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Old 08-27-2019, 05:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Tim@T-Bonham.net View Post
I do not agree that you acted ethically.

This 'business deal' has obviously been in the works for a while. Were these ex-employees aware of that? Did they have any warning that they were about to be discarded like used toilet paper? Were they given any warning at all?

Or were they paid severance pay & benefits for a reasonable time after they were discarded? (At least as long a time as you require of them in 'giving notice'.) This is especially important as many employees have the health insurance for them and their family thru the employer.
Isn't that kind of stuff in the contract or employee handbook? It would indeed be unethical to screw employees over, but in many parts of the US (unlike France, Japan, etc.) people often do accept jobs with the understanding they may be sacked at any time for no reason. I mean, obviously the concept is despicable, it would never get past the trade union, and you should never, ever sign such an agreement if you have a choice, but it seems to be normal business practice rather than a sneaky or illegal surprise.
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Old 08-27-2019, 06:28 PM
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What you state runs close to the morality of harming a company, specifically a corporation. Basically if investors formed a factitious entity, and that was done t shield them from the moral consequences of the actions (directed by them) of this factitious person, then there should be no moral wrong in harming this factitious person. Basically by shielding your rights you have also given up those rights. Legal or not there is no moral wrong in harming such a non person, when such a non person was created so a person can ot be harmed.

In your case you can also depend on the government who has claimed sovereignty over you and as such has imposed laws that you can use to your benefit. Again there is no morality in this, as there is no moral right for such sovereignty, but you have the human right to use it to your advantage.
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Old 08-27-2019, 06:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Pantastic View Post
People often criticize responses as being 'unethical' if they operate from a standpoint of protecting the individual instead of favoring the company, and it's not clear to me why that would be.
Do you mean that they are said to be unethical because they operate from the standpoint of protecting the individual instead of favoring the company?

IMO individuals who genuinely act unethically in those sorts of situations do typically act to favor themselves instead of the company, but that's not what makes them unethical.
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Old 08-27-2019, 08:13 PM
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I’m not really sure what “standard business ethics” are. Obviously, it makes sense to act ethically because it promotes trust and enhances reputation. But because business is inherently competitive, some will go further than others to seek advantage, which is easier than ever due to asymmetrical advances in technology. At a minimum, one would hope they obey the law, which is often a clumsy and outdated tool. One would also hope they follow their own guidelines and procedures. Finally, one would hope business respects stakeholders at a human level, respecting the dignity and contribution of individual elements. This, of course, varies a great deal. But good businesses are law abiding, transparent and humane. And while it is true many innovative and even successful businesses have tried to rewrite these rules, they will find that customers have limited patience and trust is not fungible. It is easier to appear moral than to be ethical, just as some people can find the right words to express concern without much underlying concern or empathy.

As for individuals, in many environments a team approach is helpful. But humans are engineered to show reciprocity and often what they put into and get out of an endeavour are proportional. It is not wrong to put your needs first. But it is often wrong to expect other people to put your needs first. This is true even for altruistic people. It is true many businesses may expect more than they offer. It is also true businesses are made of people expert in finding justifications for their behaviour, if it is ethical or if it is unethical.

Probably business ethics, overall, are one of those pendulums that swing from reasonable corporate governance to getting away with anything that can be loosely justified. Corporate governance exists because business ethics become too loose and both internal and external constraints are needed to return the pendulum back to reasonable norms.
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Old 08-27-2019, 11:17 PM
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This 'business deal' has obviously been in the works for a while. Were these ex-employees aware of that? Did they have any warning that they were about to be discarded like used toilet paper? Were they given any warning at all?
Several of them were offered jobs with the other company we're now doing business with at the same salary, with similar benefits, and the option of staying in Arkansas or going to two other states.

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Or were they paid severance pay & benefits for a reasonable time after they were discarded? (At least as long a time as you require of them in 'giving notice'.) This is especially important as many employees have the health insurance for them and their family thru the employer.
Yes. Each one gets a severance package based on the number of years they've been with the company.

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Presumably this 'business deal' means increased sales or production in other parts of your company. Were these employees offered transfers to other positions? Or did the 'deal' include a provision that they were offered first shot at any added positions at the other business in the deal?
I'm not talking about division assistants who can easily transfer to another department. These were employees with a particular set of skills that weren't applicable to other areas of the company. They could certainly apply for open positions but they'd be competing with other employees for that position and odds are their pay would go down because the position wasn't within their wheelhouse.
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Old 08-28-2019, 12:02 AM
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This 'business deal' has obviously been in the works for a while. Were these ex-employees aware of that?
At one point do you think the company is ethically obligated to tell an employee their job may potentially be at risk? At one point do you think an employee is ethically obligated to tell their employer they're seeking work elsewhere?
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Old 08-28-2019, 02:14 AM
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I've seen a number of threads where people discuss how one should ethically handle business like situations, for example "should I try to pay off this loan or declare bankruptcy" or "if you take a crappy job but are applying for good jobs, should you tell the crappy job employer that you are doing so". People often criticize responses as being 'unethical' if they operate from a standpoint of protecting the individual instead of favoring the company, and it's not clear to me why that would be.
I challenge the premise. Neither of these examples are inherently unethical, in my opinion.

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So the question is: why should I (or the individual in question) not consider my personal fortune as a business and me and/or my family as the stakeholders in that business, then apply standard business ethics to all of my business dealings?
You should.

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Companies apply business ethics from their side when dealing with me, so I don't see why there would be a problem with me behaving in an ethical fashion with regards to them.
There isn't a problem with that.

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Originally Posted by Pantastic View Post
This makes the answers to a lot of the questions raised much simpler, and puts both sides on an even footing.
Adding an ethical dimension to the employee-employer relationship does not put both sides on an even footing, but it may and should help you decide how to navigate that relationship.

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People tend to act as though this isn't reasonable, but I've never heard a good explanation for why.
I think it is reasonable.

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Old 08-28-2019, 02:26 AM
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Some people simply don't want to feel that they are "lowering" themselves to a standard of ethics which doesn't comport with their comfort level. There seem to be a good number of people who think that if they buy a house and end up owing more than the house is worth, that as a matter of pride, they won't walk away from the mortgage -- whereas any business would surely consider doing that.
I would phrase this differently. Some people hold themselves to a more strict set of ethics than they expect of others, and some of these people's "personal ethics" compel them to keep their word, even if they lose out on some substantial opportunity cost.

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But aside from that, I think others realize that there's a power imbalance at play here. Just like how an MMA fighter can get away with running his mouth in ways that would get your 100-pound weakling assaulted, businesses can throw their weight around in ways that may not be feasible for an individual to do. So if a business fires a worker because he comes into work with a smirk on his face every day, the business can probably manage until they get a new employee in a few weeks or a couple months or whatever. If a worker doesn't like his manager's smirk, he can't exactly walk off the job and have no repercussions for paying rent, eating, etc.
Agreed.

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And also, of course businesses will apply pressure to their workers or customers that they aren't "allowed" to do things that they are actually at liberty to do, because it serves the interest of the business. Just like how cops say to people to get them to confess, saying that things will be fine if they just admit wrongdoing -- only to have the person dig their own grave.
In my opinion, such behavior no es bueno.

~Max
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Old 08-28-2019, 02:29 AM
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...in many parts of the US (unlike France, Japan, etc.) people often do accept jobs with the understanding they may be sacked at any time for no reason. I mean, obviously the concept is despicable, it would never get past the trade union, and you should never, ever sign such an agreement if you have a choice, but it seems to be normal business practice rather than a sneaky or illegal surprise.
At-will employment usually allows the employee to quit at any time for no reason, too.

~Max
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Old 08-28-2019, 04:55 AM
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Obligatory post on this by Existential Comics.

Is your business likely to treat you like you matter? Are they going to care if something goes wrong in your life? Would they fire you to improve their bottom line, even knowing the intense psychological harm this will do to you? If not, why treat them any better? CurrentAffairs writes about a similar phenomenon here:

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And we’ve been judging people for failing to pay their debts probably since debts existed. We have specific words for people who don’t pay: they’re “deadbeats” or they’re “loafers.” Even the word “debtor” feels judgmental. What’s more, debtors’ prisons have a long and storied history, including in the U.S. And despite debtors’ prisons having been abolished, you can still find people going to jail just because they can’t pay back debt (including student loans). In short, lots of people firmly believe that paying back one’s debts is a moral requirement, and many people who can’t pay back their debts feel like bad people because of it.

We need to cut this out. It’s certainly not a moral failing to be unable to pay back your debts, nor is it a moral failing to choose not to pay back your debts. The people and institutions most responsible for pushing the idea that one must pay back one’s debts are, unsurprisingly, the lenders. And while the lenders are out moralizing about how their customers must pay or else they’re irresponsible deadbeats, corporations, including the lenders themselves, frequently refuse to pay money they owe even when they can afford to do so. That is, they really only fulfill their promises (debts and other contractual promises) when the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs. If it will cost them more to fulfill a promise than they will get out of it, they just don’t. This is common enough for there to be a term for it: strategic default. (Default is a fancy term for failing to fulfill your end of a contract. It usually applies to loans but really can be any contract.)

This double standard is infuriating, but we can find real harm living behind this hypocrisy. Lots of people feel really bad when they can’t afford to pay back debts even though it is in no way their fault. And the shame and anguish associated with finding yourself trapped in debt doesn’t only prevent people from taking actions that are best for them as an individual, it also serves as a barrier to collective action against abusive creditors.
Capitalism is a ruthless, bloodless, amoral system, and without fail, the most powerful actors within capitalism are those who are willing to feed innocent people to a woodchipper if it meant an extra goddamn nickel on the balance sheet. Case in point: basically any post on any forum for landlords.

By all means, don't be a dick to small businesses, or to workers. But "business ethics"? Big businesses have no ethics, not in the sense that we would understand. Because capitalism not only doesn't require it, but actively punishes it. Don't be nicer to the faceless, soulless corporations than they legally have to be to you - because they sure as hell won't be, either.
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Old 08-28-2019, 10:02 AM
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Do you mean that they are said to be unethical because they operate from the standpoint of protecting the individual instead of favoring the company?
I'll just go ahead and quote from the thread that prompted this. OP asked "Someone looking for a new job who needs one right now applies to many, many positions... A less-than-ideal job starting tomorrow is offered. Is it unethical to accept the ick job (cashiering) without telling them that you might not be there for more than a week,and that you have interviewed in many other places?" and some of the responses were what I quoted below. The majority of responses disagreed with the those positions, but I posted this thread trying to see if anyone had justification for it. (Also note that the first one is interesting because of the 9 month time frame - if the event in 9 months is 'having a baby', it's illegal for the employer to use that information in a hiring decision in the US)

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To use a contrived example, if you need a job now to pay the bills, but you also know that in 9 months, you'll likely get another, better job (graduating from college, getting certification, etc...). If you take a job for the interim 9 months and portray yourself as permanent to your employer, in order to get the job, that's where it becomes unethical. "
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"If you know all this, and deliberately withhold the information that you *expect* to be leaving in some defined amount of time, then that's pretty unethical. And a self-centered asshole move to boot. It's the deceptive part that makes it unethical- just because it's a company on the other end doesn't make it somehow less unethical on your part. Would it somehow be different if you got into a relationship with someone for your own benefit, knowing outright that you are leaving in 9 months with no intention of retaining the relationship, and not being upfront about your plans to leave? It's just as dishonest and deceptive. "
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Old 08-28-2019, 10:13 AM
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I’m not really sure what “standard business ethics” are.
The core one that's relevant here is "Fiduciary duty", the idea that a person working for a business has a duty to work in the best interest of the stakeholders, which in practice means people working for a company have an ethical duty to act in the interest of shareholders. My assertion here is that an individual has the same ethical duty to run their personal business for the benefit of its stakeholders, namely themselves or their family. If that's not ethical, then the idea that directors should manage corporate assets in the best interest of shareholders is also unethical.

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But good businesses are law abiding, transparent and humane.
I don't think that lobbying for laws that favor you then using the fact that you follow them to show that you're ethical is actually legitimate. If an employee planning to leave a job without giving notice is behaving unethically, then a business planning to lay off an employee without giving notice is also behaving unethically, even if the business has lobbied for a legal framework that forbids them from giving reasonable notice of layoffs.
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Old 08-28-2019, 11:34 AM
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I'll just go ahead and quote from the thread that prompted this. OP asked "Someone looking for a new job who needs one right now applies to many, many positions... A less-than-ideal job starting tomorrow is offered. Is it unethical to accept the ick job (cashiering) without telling them that you might not be there for more than a week,and that you have interviewed in many other places?" and some of the responses were what I quoted below. The majority of responses disagreed with the those positions, but I posted this thread trying to see if anyone had justification for it. (Also note that the first one is interesting because of the 9 month time frame - if the event in 9 months is 'having a baby', it's illegal for the employer to use that information in a hiring decision in the US)
I for one think a business that goes around deceiving its business partners (or even its own employees) is probably acting unethically. There are many exceptions but that is my general rule. The same goes for individuals. If one goes around deceiving people or businesses, they are probably acting unethically. There are many exceptions, of course.

Being that I hold the same standard to businesses, I see no contradiction in saying that deception is usually unethical.

~Max
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Old 08-28-2019, 11:54 AM
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I absolutely expect employees to make career decisions with their own self-interest at the forefront of their deliberations and I don’t consider that unethical on their part. A lot of people have misplaced emotions when dealing with employers because most of us want to be honest.
I have honestly never heard anyone seriously argue that business ethics should take precedent over an employee's career. LEGALITY can sure as hell take precedence; breaking a contract, acting in a conflict of interest, or stealing to advance oneself is wrong. But a normal code of business ethics will acknowledge that employees are in it for themselves.

I'm in an industry with high-ish turnover because the employees are all extremely valuable and get poached. If someone can make more cabbage or advance their career elsewhere, of course they should consider leaving. Why wouldn't they?

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Originally Posted by Budget Player Cadet
Big businesses have no ethics, not in the sense that we would understand. Because capitalism not only doesn't require it, but actively punishes it. Don't be nicer to the faceless, soulless corporations than they legally have to be to you - because they sure as hell won't be, either.
You are confusing ethics with morals.
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Old 08-28-2019, 12:11 PM
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You are confusing ethics with morals.
For clarification, what do you consider to be the difference?

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Old 08-28-2019, 12:27 PM
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At-will employment usually allows the employee to quit at any time for no reason, too.
So what?
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Old 08-28-2019, 12:36 PM
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So what?
I assume in that context the (possibly important?) employee may quit at any time on short notice, and that this is no more or less unethical than the other way around.

Not an ideal way to run a business ISTM, unless of course it depends on numbers of such cannon fodder. You'd be surprised how common it is -even universities have low-paid adjuncts working there.
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Old 08-28-2019, 12:55 PM
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I'd be interested in hearing arguments against the proposition in the OP. I can't think of any myself. We employ all sorts of people, either contractors or companies we buy from. We fire them all the time for any or no reason. Businesses declare bankruptcy without much moral qualms, so we can also. Whether or not it is a good idea depends on the financials and future credit, say.

It used to be that some businesses put employees relatively higher in the stakeholder list than they do today, and employees were more loyal. Not any more.
I'm not sure what any of this has to do with "ethics". Whether a company hires or fires employees or contractors is usually a matter of either business needs or performance issues. Declaring bankruptcy is a legal process and not without consequences.

I mean really, none of the examples posted here are really "ethical" quandaries. You are under no obligation to keep a job you don't like or don't feel is a good fit. Nor are you obligated to provide transparency into your personal or professional plans.


There are certainly business activities that are unethical, even illegal. Fraud for example. Or knowingly selling products that violate safety or environmental regulations.

But then there are lots of "gray areas". For example, doing business in countries because their labor laws are more lax. Or at what point does marketing and advertising go from being acceptable bullshit to misrepresentation or manipulation?

Or in my profession (consulting), firms routinely staff engagements with employees whose only qualification is "available" and hope they can figure shit out faster than the client.
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Old 08-28-2019, 01:08 PM
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So what?
Employers can terminate an employee at any time, but employees can terminate their employers at any time, too. So the terms of at-will employment are not hypocritical in that regard. Neither is it inherently unethical for either party to terminate employment at any time, for any reason.

~Max
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Old 08-28-2019, 01:45 PM
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I'm not sure what any of this has to do with "ethics". Whether a company hires or fires employees or contractors is usually a matter of either business needs or performance issues. Declaring bankruptcy is a legal process and not without consequences.

I mean really, none of the examples posted here are really "ethical" quandaries. You are under no obligation to keep a job you don't like or don't feel is a good fit. Nor are you obligated to provide transparency into your personal or professional plans.
The question was about whether the family could be treated as a business and be under the same rules. Both the business and the family can fire workers, so my point was that we do work under the same ethics.
As for bankruptcy, maybe you are too young to remember this, but when I was a kid I read lots stories of upright business leaders who had worked long and hard in paying off debts their fathers accrued even though they were not responsible for them. These people were treated in these stories as highly ethical, not as chumps. The consequences of bankruptcy in terms of credit etc. have nothing to do with the morality of bankruptcy.
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There are certainly business activities that are unethical, even illegal. Fraud for example. Or knowingly selling products that violate safety or environmental regulations.

But then there are lots of "gray areas". For example, doing business in countries because their labor laws are more lax. Or at what point does marketing and advertising go from being acceptable bullshit to misrepresentation or manipulation?
I've worked for ethical companies and unethical companies, though the unethical part had nothing to do with my job. (More ripping off the government in contracts.) They both made you take ethics classes. In the classes there were examples of unethical corporate behavior. The ethical company used examples of where they screwed up. The unethical company used examples of where a competitor screwed up.
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Old 08-28-2019, 02:15 PM
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For clarification, what do you consider to be the difference?

~Max
Not asked of me, but re: the difference between ethics and morals, I would say that ethics are more akin to a professional code set in place by an organization or group the member has chosen to be a part of or associate with. So, for instance, CPAs, PEs, MDs, PMPs, members of a bar association or a local business group, etc. may have ethical standards, but whether or not there is some sort of general assumed ethical code that all "professionals" implicitly abide by... yeah, no, not in my book.

What exactly morals are, particularly whether they are strictly internal or not and the extent to which they are situational, will depend in part on your own definition. I would say, though, that fundamentally it comes down to a question of "right" and "wrong," however you decide which is which. As in, it’s not a question of violating some external code such as a nation's laws or a professional organization's ethical codes, but rather of what an individual or group of individuals may consider to be right or wrong, regardless of what is or is not written (though there will often be overlap, to the point of blurring the lines in some people’s minds, and some moral codes may explicitly posit a moral imperative to abide by all laws and ethical codes to which one is subject, regardless of what one might think about their use or application in a given situation).

So I think this thread is based on a premise which may not hold in many or even most employee/employer relationships: that there is some established code of ethics to which the employee is a party to, that relates to how they should go about job termination. I mean, I could see there maybe being a professional organization out there that insists its members treat honestly and fairly with their employers, and notify them of any potential conflicts of interest (ie seeking outside employment with a competitor) or give a certain amount of notice, but unless you’re a member of such an organization then I just don’t see it as a question of ethics.

As to whether it’s moral or immoral... that depends on who you ask and how they derive their moral code.

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  #30  
Old 08-28-2019, 04:57 PM
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I do not agree that you acted ethically.

This 'business deal' has obviously been in the works for a while. Were these ex-employees aware of that? Did they have any warning that they were about to be discarded like used toilet paper? Were they given any warning at all?

Or were they paid severance pay & benefits for a reasonable time after they were discarded? (At least as long a time as you require of them in 'giving notice'.) This is especially important as many employees have the health insurance for them and their family thru the employer.

Presumably this 'business deal' means increased sales or production in other parts of your company. Were these employees offered transfers to other positions? Or did the 'deal' include a provision that they were offered first shot at any added positions at the other business in the deal? (Presumably their increased production will need additional employees.) [That's quite possible. When my father & uncle retired & sold their business assets, the sales contract included a provision that all current employees would be retained, for at least 20% of their employment length.]

I think that acting ethically would require showing more concern for the former employees than you mentioned here.
It's reasonable to debate what's ethical from company's POV. I agree with some of the things you've mentioned (I believe there's some ethical obligation for severance especially as function of tenure for example, I don't believe it's very practical to say company's have to plan or negotiate restructuring/shutdown or sale/purchase of business units publicly to warn everyone). But not to get sidetracked on those specifics, or some of the vague things you said we might or might not agree on if fleshed out in detail, it's fair to criticize particular specifics as a matter of opinion.

So by same token it's a matter of the details IMO when it comes to an employee's behavior. Toward the company. One can't be subject to criticism but the other not. And contrary to OP's implication, the society I live in (the US) is very far from never claiming company's act unethically. Which they sometimes do IMO, though I might not agree which given case they do or don't.

And in the extreme the idea (not yours AFAICT but it is some people's) that you only have to be ethical to people who are ethical to you, or moreover to people you don't judge in advance *wouldn't* be ethical to you...is not ethics. Better to honestly say in that case, 'I don't have ethics' (who says you absolutely must? though again that could be another different thread). The statement 'I don't have to be ethical to the company because the company wouldn't be ethical to me', is itself non-ethical (lets call it, as opposed to the more pejorative 'unethical).

Looking back to some discussions might have spawned this one, as examples, I think taking a job while intending to keep your options open to take another better one right away, can be ethical or not. Depends on what representations you made, including implicit ones, though the mere fact you take a job is not a promise to keep it for a minimum time necessarily. Again though 'they would screw me if they had the chance' is not the reason it's ethical. Rather, that's admitting you view leaving the company so soon as screwing them unethically and you're looking for an excuse to justify yourself. The stronger arguments would be explaining why the judgement call in a particular case to take the better job a week after staring in less good job *is* ethical. Which it might be. But subject to details, like what's really the *ethical* requirement of the company when/if it shuts down that division in the shareholders' interest.

Also US politics is now infused with pseudo-ethical arguments about things that aren't really ethical questions. For example you could have a debate saying there should be a law companies have to give x months notice of a restructuring. Maybe that would be for the social good (or maybe proponents don't consider the unintended consequences of such restrictions carefully enough). But anyway proponents are naturally attracted to the argument 'this is the right thing to do!' even when it's really more of a practical judgement call where people all of whom have overall social good in mind can sharply disagree.
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Old 08-28-2019, 05:24 PM
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Employers can terminate an employee at any time, but employees can terminate their employers at any time, too. So the terms of at-will employment are not hypocritical in that regard. Neither is it inherently unethical for either party to terminate employment at any time, for any reason.

~Max
I'm reminded of the old Anatole France quote - "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." Yeah, my boss can fire me for no apparent reason in an instant. And I can quit at any given moment with no warning*. These are not equivalent actions and cannot be treated as such. Unless the company won't function without you and your boss knows it, there is a clear and important power imbalance here that is obvious at first glance.

(In case you really need this explained to you, I recommend section 2.5 of the Non-Libertarian FAQ.)

Also, that big ol' asterisk about me quitting at any point with no warning? Boy, it'd be a shame if I did that and then somehow needed a letter of recommendation or some references from my boss. Funny how that works.

This is one of my personal bugbears, but let's be really clear here - a law that makes it legal for employer or employee to terminate the relationship at any time for any reason is a boon to the employer and a substantial attack against the working class.

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For clarification, what do you consider to be the difference?

~Max
Yeah I'm also kinda lost here, as I was under the impression that I lacked both ethics and morals and would very much like to clear up what I need to do to keep that streak going.
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Old 08-28-2019, 05:31 PM
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It's reasonable to debate what's ethical from company's POV. I agree with some of the things you've mentioned (I believe there's some ethical obligation for severance especially as function of tenure for example, I don't believe it's very practical to say company's have to plan or negotiate restructuring/shutdown or sale/purchase of business units publicly to warn everyone). But not to get sidetracked on those specifics, or some of the vague things you said we might or might not agree on if fleshed out in detail, it's fair to criticize particular specifics as a matter of opinion.
I'm not a lawyer, but I suspect that giving too much advance notice might violate all sorts of SEC rules. Information on big changes is very secret until made public, and telling employees in general is basically making it public.
I've been through lots of layoffs (never getting hit) and usually anyone wishing to open their eyes can guess. Not you in particular, but that one is going to happen. Even layoffs after mergers don't happen immediately.
I agree that layoffs can be done ethically or unethically, but that is how people are treated, not the fact of the layoff.
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Old 08-28-2019, 06:12 PM
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I'd be interested in hearing arguments against the proposition in the OP. I can't think of any myself.
The problem with the OP is that the examples for individuals and companies are not symmetrical, and it's not appropriate to treat them as if the only distinction is individual vs company.

It's completely ethical for an employee to quit if they find a better job, and I don't think anyone would disagree with this. But that's not the situation in the OP. The situation there is a guy taking a job while actively looking for an opportunity to quit that job and get a better one. The analogous case for a corporation is of a company hiring someone with the specific intention of continuing to search for a better hire, and with the intention of sacking the first hire as soon as they get someone better. I would think that's unethical - less ethical than the individual doing this - but I don't think this is commonly done or accepted.

In the case of bankruptcy, I would think either an individual or corporation declaring bankruptcy and reneging on debts simply because they think they can make some bucks by doing so is unethical. (In the case of a corporation it's additionally unethical because it has the effect of stripping the shareholders of their assets, for what they're worth.) But if there's simply no way to pay back the debts, then it's ethical, whether it's an individual or corporation. IOW, the idea of bankruptcy is that someone who isn't going to be able to pay back anyway should be able to move forward in life - I don't think the idea is that you use it to your advantage any time the numbers look better for doing so. But again, no distinction between individual or corporation.
  #34  
Old 08-28-2019, 06:33 PM
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I'm reminded of the old Anatole France quote - "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." Yeah, my boss can fire me for no apparent reason in an instant. And I can quit at any given moment with no warning*. These are not equivalent actions and cannot be treated as such. Unless the company won't function without you and your boss knows it, there is a clear and important power imbalance here that is obvious at first glance.
Admittedly, the relationship between employer and employee is usually lopsided.

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Also, that big ol' asterisk about me quitting at any point with no warning? Boy, it'd be a shame if I did that and then somehow needed a letter of recommendation or some references from my boss. Funny how that works.
I don't see a problem with that either. If your company fires you for no reason, you probably won't recommend that company to your fellow job-seekers. Or perhaps you will say it's a great place to work, with the added caveat that they fire people for no reason at all. Just as your employer might say you are a great worker, but you don't give two weeks of notice.

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This is one of my personal bugbears, but let's be really clear here - a law that makes it legal for employer or employee to terminate the relationship at any time for any reason is a boon to the employer and a substantial attack against the working class.
The advantage does go towards the employer and the disadvantage goes to the worker. That is OK in my book. The working class as a whole, however, should be at least on equal footing with any individual employer, if not more. That's an inequality collective bargaining attempts to fix. Preferably the collective of workers should be on at least equal footing with the collective of employers.

~Max

Last edited by Max S.; 08-28-2019 at 06:34 PM.
  #35  
Old 08-28-2019, 06:40 PM
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I'm not a lawyer, but I suspect that giving too much advance notice might violate all sorts of SEC rules. Information on big changes is very secret until made public, and telling employees in general is basically making it public.
I've been through lots of layoffs (never getting hit) and usually anyone wishing to open their eyes can guess. Not you in particular, but that one is going to happen. Even layoffs after mergers don't happen immediately.
I agree that layoffs can be done ethically or unethically, but that is how people are treated, not the fact of the layoff.
It isn't usually immediate, is it? If corporate says your department is getting shut down, usually you finish out the quarter, right? You won't be sending everybody home with surprise pink slips the very same week, because if things were that bad, people would know.

I suppose a factory or something might suddenly shut down due to a safety hazard, and all the workers get laid off that very day. In my opinion that falls under the category of good excuses, provided they are given unemployment benefits.

~Max
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Old 08-29-2019, 12:49 AM
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The problem with the OP is that the examples for individuals and companies are not symmetrical, and it's not appropriate to treat them as if the only distinction is individual vs company.

It's completely ethical for an employee to quit if they find a better job, and I don't think anyone would disagree with this. But that's not the situation in the OP. The situation there is a guy taking a job while actively looking for an opportunity to quit that job and get a better one. The analogous case for a corporation is of a company hiring someone with the specific intention of continuing to search for a better hire, and with the intention of sacking the first hire as soon as they get someone better. I would think that's unethical - less ethical than the individual doing this - but I don't think this is commonly done or accepted.
Most of the employee cases arise when the employee has possible offers pending. If an employer presses the person to accept the job (which is common) and a new and better job comes along, then I think it is ethical for the employee to take the new job. If it is a case of money maybe he could negotiate, but it could be just a better job.
I don't know of cases where an employer has dumped someone, since the employer can keep someone hanging. I know a headhunter who complains that her clients take months to make up their minds, waiting for the perfect candidate to fall from heaven. That's almost worse, since the employee has no income. I know of lots of cases where written offers are made and then withdrawn at the last minute. Even when the employee has moved to the new place of work.
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Old 08-29-2019, 12:54 AM
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It isn't usually immediate, is it? If corporate says your department is getting shut down, usually you finish out the quarter, right? You won't be sending everybody home with surprise pink slips the very same week, because if things were that bad, people would know.

I suppose a factory or something might suddenly shut down due to a safety hazard, and all the workers get laid off that very day. In my opinion that falls under the category of good excuses, provided they are given unemployment benefits.

~Max
It's immediate in the sense that nothing is certain until the day they call people in to hand out pink slips. But if you know your company is losing money, or has merged with a company with a lot of commonality, the writing is on the wall.
Before I retired I told my boss that if there was a layoff I volunteered to go first, but unfortunately the layoff I knew was coming took another year or so. (Unfortunately for me, though it seems everyone who left got another and probably better job.) When your project is a year behind schedule and over budget, the notion that is could be canceled should run through your mind. Lots of people are overly optimistic helped by managers with orders to make success seem inevitable.
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Old 08-29-2019, 12:57 AM
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Also, that big ol' asterisk about me quitting at any point with no warning? Boy, it'd be a shame if I did that and then somehow needed a letter of recommendation or some references from my boss. Funny how that works.
Lots of places won't give you one anyway. I quit one toxic environment with notice - if you think I'd ever ask my boss there for a reference you're nuts.
Another good reason for networking - you can get references outside your company.
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Old 08-29-2019, 11:05 AM
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As for bankruptcy, maybe you are too young to remember this, but when I was a kid I read lots stories of upright business leaders who had worked long and hard in paying off debts their fathers accrued even though they were not responsible for them. These people were treated in these stories as highly ethical, not as chumps. The consequences of bankruptcy in terms of credit etc. have nothing to do with the morality of bankruptcy.
I would certainly say that anyone working hard to pay off debts that they don't even owe is a chump, and that they are actually acting unethically with regards to their personal finances because they are failing at their ethical duty towards their own finances. Whether it's moral or not is a question for another thread, but I really don't see how 'not giving money to banks that you don't actually owe' is a moral failing.

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I for one think a business that goes around deceiving its business partners (or even its own employees) is probably acting unethically.
So any business that follows the law and SEC rules by not revealing plans for upcoming restructuring or layoffs in advance is acting unethically? That appears to be saying that basically all large businesses are fundamentally unethical.
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Old 08-29-2019, 11:06 AM
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And in the extreme the idea (not yours AFAICT but it is some people's) that you only have to be ethical to people who are ethical to you, or moreover to people you don't judge in advance *wouldn't* be ethical to you...is not ethics. Better to honestly say in that case, 'I don't have ethics' (who says you absolutely must? though again that could be another different thread). The statement 'I don't have to be ethical to the company because the company wouldn't be ethical to me', is itself non-ethical (lets call it, as opposed to the more pejorative 'unethical).
That's not the case in this thread. In this case, what I'm saying is "I am using this set of ethics to guide my actions towards you' with the justification of 'this is the set of ethics that you use to guide your actions towards me' if there's an objection.

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Looking back to some discussions might have spawned this one, as examples, I think taking a job while intending to keep your options open to take another better one right away, can be ethical or not. Depends on what representations you made, including implicit ones, though the mere fact you take a job is not a promise to keep it for a minimum time necessarily.
I disagree. You have an ethical duty to maximize stakeholder return, and therefore keeping your options open for a better job is actually an ethical obligation, and accepting an implicit one-sided agreement would actually be unethical as it would not maximize stakeholder return. "Implicit representations" are not an ethical issue at all, as they are entirely in the other person's head - if they want to read a representation into the situation that restricts your choices to their benefit, you don't have an obligation to make the thing they invented come true.
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Old 08-29-2019, 12:54 PM
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I would certainly say that anyone working hard to pay off debts that they don't even owe is a chump, and that they are actually acting unethically with regards to their personal finances because they are failing at their ethical duty towards their own finances. Whether it's moral or not is a question for another thread, but I really don't see how 'not giving money to banks that you don't actually owe' is a moral failing.
That's an interesting take on it. I'd say they were being stupid, not unethical, and that society had decided to limit the consequences of their stupidity after seeing that debtor's prisons don't work out very well.
Now a business strategy which seems to involve walking out on debts as some orange real estate developers have used could be called unethical. Same goes for deliberately maxing out debt and then going bankrupt. But that's not what drives most bankruptcies in the US.
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Old 08-29-2019, 02:06 PM
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That's an interesting take on it. I'd say they were being stupid, not unethical, and that society had decided to limit the consequences of their stupidity after seeing that debtor's prisons don't work out very well.
It's unethical because they were failing in their duty to maximise stakeholder returns. If a corporation starts just handing money to some other business that they have no obligation to, you can bet the next board meeting will call the execs to task, and very well might sue or press charges against them.

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Same goes for deliberately maxing out debt and then going bankrupt. But that's not what drives most bankruptcies in the US.
Again, I don't see how that's unethical in the least. The credit card companies have had highly paid lawyers, analysts, and lobbiests working to create their contracts, policies, and influence the laws they work under. If the deal that they offered is a bad one, then someone in their employ failed at their duty to guard stakeholder value, and is the one with an ethical breach. The person accepting the deal that they offered and willingly paying the costs involved is not the one with a failure of ethics, it's the highly paid lawyers and analysts who are taking money for their expertise but failing to execute their duty to stakeholders.
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Old 08-29-2019, 02:13 PM
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It's completely ethical for an employee to quit if they find a better job, and I don't think anyone would disagree with this. But that's not the situation in the OP. The situation there is a guy taking a job while actively looking for an opportunity to quit that job and get a better one. The analogous case for a corporation is of a company hiring someone with the specific intention of continuing to search for a better hire, and with the intention of sacking the first hire as soon as they get someone better. I would think that's unethical - less ethical than the individual doing this - but I don't think this is commonly done or accepted.
Companies that have crappy low-level jobs (especially retail) actually do tend to continuously hire people and then ditch those who preform less well. They often ditch people by cutting their hours or giving them bad schedules instead of directly firing them, but it's certainly a general pattern. They also will do do things like hire a lot of people during a rush time (like Christmas), then only retain the people that they want after the rush. So yes, it is commonly done and accepted on the employer side, and I've never seen a case made that it somehow violates business ethics.

So no, I don't agree at all that an employee who looks for a better job is acting unethically. As I've said before, if anything he actually has an ethical obligation to look for a better job in an attempt to maximize stakeholder returns.
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Old 08-29-2019, 02:51 PM
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It's unethical because they were failing in their duty to maximise stakeholder returns. If a corporation starts just handing money to some other business that they have no obligation to, you can bet the next board meeting will call the execs to task, and very well might sue or press charges against them.



Again, I don't see how that's unethical in the least. The credit card companies have had highly paid lawyers, analysts, and lobbiests working to create their contracts, policies, and influence the laws they work under. If the deal that they offered is a bad one, then someone in their employ failed at their duty to guard stakeholder value, and is the one with an ethical breach. The person accepting the deal that they offered and willingly paying the costs involved is not the one with a failure of ethics, it's the highly paid lawyers and analysts who are taking money for their expertise but failing to execute their duty to stakeholders.
I thought you were referring to personal bankruptcies, not corporate ones. For that it depends on the context. If you go bankrupt due to changing business decisions or a bet that didn't work out, that surely isn't unethical. If you go bankrupt because you funnel money into the pockets of the execs, or because you get loans under false pretenses, then it is.
Many stakeholders accept risks, and get increased return from it if it works out. A risky proposition, like a startup, which fails is not an ethical breach assuming full disclosure of the risks.
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Old 08-29-2019, 02:57 PM
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Companies that have crappy low-level jobs (especially retail) actually do tend to continuously hire people and then ditch those who preform less well. They often ditch people by cutting their hours or giving them bad schedules instead of directly firing them, but it's certainly a general pattern. They also will do do things like hire a lot of people during a rush time (like Christmas), then only retain the people that they want after the rush. So yes, it is commonly done and accepted on the employer side, and I've never seen a case made that it somehow violates business ethics.
Christmas and summer jobs are known in advance to be short term, so I don't think they are good examples.
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So no, I don't agree at all that an employee who looks for a better job is acting unethically. As I've said before, if anything he actually has an ethical obligation to look for a better job in an attempt to maximize stakeholder returns.
I agree. And companies can control this to some extent by their pay policies. If they screw over employees, they should expect that the employees they screw over are looking for other jobs. If they lowball starting salaries they should expect that some hirees will leave right away. If they lie about working conditions, same thing. I've heard cases where someone who said they can't travel much gets hired, and then is told they have to spend four days a week on the road. Nothing unethical about quitting in that situation.
  #46  
Old 08-29-2019, 11:18 PM
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Are 'business ethics' ethical?


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Companies that have crappy low-level jobs (especially retail) actually do tend to continuously hire people and then ditch those who preform less well. They often ditch people by cutting their hours or giving them bad schedules instead of directly firing them, but it's certainly a general pattern. They also will do do things like hire a lot of people during a rush time (like Christmas), then only retain the people that they want after the rush. So yes, it is commonly done and accepted on the employer side, and I've never seen a case made that it somehow violates business ethics.



So no, I don't agree at all that an employee who looks for a better job is acting unethically. As I've said before, if anything he actually has an ethical obligation to look for a better job in an attempt to maximize stakeholder returns.


The problem here is that you could be conflating multiple people's viewpoints into one and then calling them inconsistent, when it really is more multiple people having different viewpoints that are in conflict.

The point that Fotheringay-Phipps made is that some people DO consider some of what you consider "normal business ethics" to be unethical - eg. Hiring someone with full intention of continuing to look for a better candidate. They may be a significant minority of respondents, but if they hold this POV then it is consistent with considering it unethical to accept a job while planning to leave for another job. There ARE people who consider doing everything possible to maximizing shareholder returns as being an unethical principle even if it is generally accepted by the majority of people.


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Old 08-30-2019, 09:58 AM
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The problem here is that you could be conflating multiple people's viewpoints into one and then calling them inconsistent, when it really is more multiple people having different viewpoints that are in conflict.

The point that Fotheringay-Phipps made is that some people DO consider some of what you consider "normal business ethics" to be unethical - eg. Hiring someone with full intention of continuing to look for a better candidate. They may be a significant minority of respondents, but if they hold this POV then it is consistent with considering it unethical to accept a job while planning to leave for another job.
Pantastic is being somewhat vague in describing his examples, but I believe in the employer situation analogous to the one he presented in the OP on the employee side, that the vast majority of the population would consider the employer to be acting unethically.

In the situation described in the OP, "you take a crappy job but are applying for good jobs", and you're obviously going to quit "the "crappy job" if you find a good job. The analogous situation on the employer side is the one I raised, of "a company hiring someone with the specific intention of continuing to search for a better hire, and with the intention of sacking the first hire as soon as they get someone better", and I believe most people would consider that too unethical.

Situations where employers hire lots of workers with the intention of weeding out the poor performers are not the same thing, as long as the employers don't know in advance that "so-and-so is a poor performer and we intend to sack him as soon as we can get someone better". If they just know in a general sense that some percentage of new hires won't work out and will need to be sacked, then that's analogous to someone taking a job with the knowledge that there's a chance that it won't work out and they'll quit, which no one would have a problem with.

The basic idea is that as long as both sides understand the true state of affairs then it's fine, even though the true state of affairs is that "this may not work out and if so I/we may terminate the employment". But if either side is relying on the common understanding that the other side too thinks it looks like a promising long-term arrangement while in reality the other side is looking at it as a stopgap measure and already expects to terminate the employment at first opportunity, then I think most people would regard it as unethical, whether it's the employer or the employee.
  #48  
Old 08-30-2019, 10:20 AM
Corry El is offline
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1.That's not the case in this thread. In this case, what I'm saying is "I am using this set of ethics to guide my actions towards you' with the justification of 'this is the set of ethics that you use to guide your actions towards me' if there's an objection.

2. I disagree. You have an ethical duty to maximize stakeholder return, and therefore keeping your options open for a better job is actually an ethical obligation, and accepting an implicit one-sided agreement would actually be unethical as it would not maximize stakeholder return. "Implicit representations" are not an ethical issue at all, as they are entirely in the other person's head - if they want to read a representation into the situation that restricts your choices to their benefit, you don't have an obligation to make the thing they invented come true.
1. IOW you are doing exactly what I said in denying doing so. 'What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander' may be an attractive concept to you but it's not ethics.

2. And as continued in this silly sarcasm, which further illustrates that what you're saying is the employee is freed from any obligation to act ethically toward the company as long as the employee claims the company in question won't act ethically to them (it's not even tit for tat for something the company actually did to them, which isn't ethical either). And the same concept is easily generalized to 'most people are shits, they'll screw me if they have the chance, so I'll screw them first (unless maybe they first prove they will treat me well, then I'll treat them well)'. That's the way a lot of people operate, but it's not a system of ethics.

Your theme is basically why ethics are BS, not just 'business ethics', because other people might not be ethical to you, and where would that leave you?

Though again back to the discussions spawning this one, it could be ethical or not to accept a job then leave almost immediately. It could be ethical or not how/if people are laid off. Depends on the details, but one unethical act doesn't make ethical another unethical act. Two wrongs don't make a right, simply.
  #49  
Old 08-30-2019, 10:45 AM
Max S. is offline
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Originally Posted by Voyager View Post
It's immediate in the sense that nothing is certain until the day they call people in to hand out pink slips.
The manager gives you a pink slip during this round of layoffs. You are not fired for cause. How long do you have to pack up? Don't you keep your salary for a couple weeks at least? Plus unemployment benefits from the state.

~Max
  #50  
Old 08-30-2019, 11:13 AM
Fotheringay-Phipps is offline
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Originally Posted by Corry El View Post
1. IOW you are doing exactly what I said in denying doing so. 'What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander' may be an attractive concept to you but it's not ethics.
I would think it's a bit more complex than that. Because if something is notionally unethical but is so widely practiced and accepted that it becomes the expectation, then it can become ethical. (I emphasize "can" because it applies to things which are expectation-dependent, like terms of employment and the like which we're discussing here, and does not apply to things like outright robbery.) And that's where the goose-gander issue becomes relevant. Because if there's a clear expectation on one side of the equation and the other side is more ambiguous, then you can use the one side to determine the other.

Sorry if the above is a bit convoluted. But bottom line is that I think that if there's widespread acceptance that a given employer offering a job might be planning to sack the guy at first notice, then I think that can be used to inform what expectations should be from the employee side as well. Not that I agree in the specific instance that the OP is discussing, as I've posted earlier, but I think the underlying logic of the argument can be supported along these lines.
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