FRAMEWORK FOR ANALYZING ETHICAL DILEMMAS: Determining whether an action is ethical can be difficult. Learning to analyze a dilemma from both legal and ethical perspectives will help you find a solution that conforms to your own personal values. Figure 1.5 shows the four conclusions you might reach when considering the advisability of a particular behavior.
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Dimension 2: Behavior that is illegal yet ethical Occasionally, a businessperson will decide that even though a specific action is illegal, there is a justifiable reason to break the law. A case in point is a law passed in Vermont that makes it illegal for a pharmaceutical company to give any gift valued at more than $25 to doctors or their personnel.6 Those supporting the law charge that the giving of freebies drives up medical costs by encouraging doctors to prescribe new, more expensive brand-name drugs. The law’s opponents contend that the gifts do not influence doctors and are merely educational tools for new products. Although a pharmaceutical firm and its employees might see nothing wrong with providing gifts worth in excess of $25, they would be well advised to consider the penalty of $10,000 per violation before acting on their personal ethics. A better course of action would be to act within the law, possibly while lobbying for a change in the law.
Dimension 3: Behavior that is legal yet unethical If you determine that a behavior is legal and complies with relevant contractual agreements and company policy, your next step is to consult your company’s or profession’s code of ethics. This written document summarizes the company’s or profession’s standards of ethical conduct. Some companies refer to this document as a credo. If the behavior does not violate the code of ethics, then put it to the test of your own personal integrity. You may at times reject a legal action because it does not “feel right.” Most Americans were appalled to learn that the marketing of sub-prime loans packaged as reputable securities has been blamed for causing the “Great Recession.” Although they might have acted legally, their profiting at the expense of company employees, stockholders, and the public hardly seemed ethical. You might be faced with situations in which you reject a behavior that is legal because you would not be proud to have your family and community know that you engaged in it.
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