6 Examples of Ethical Dilemmas and Their Solutions

Ethical quandaries are a part of human existence, and they are something everyone must contend with from time to time. They are particularly a problem in business settings because a lot is riding on these decisions. They can make or break careers, business partnerships and even entire companies, so they are not to be underestimated. But how can we know the most common ones, if we don’t further study some examples of ethical dilemmas?

These examples of ethical dilemmas and their solutions will serve as a good guide for how to navigate these situations when they appear.

angel businessman and evil businessman

6 Examples of Ethical Dilemmas: How to Solve Them

1. Discrimination

You notice that a manager seems to always hire or promote one class of people at the expense of another. He or she may not be blatantly discriminatory, or even have any idea their practices are, in fact, discriminatory.

Discrimination is one of the thorniest examples of ethical dilemmas. This is because while in some cases it is illegal, in many others it is not. Discrimination is not always obvious. For example, women can find that they are often not considered for promotion simply because male managers spend more time with and get to know male employees better.

The solution: People of different backgrounds and schools of thought drive innovation and positive change at your company. The solution to seeing any kind of discrimination is simple. Put a stop to it as soon as possible.

2. Firing Employees

Firing employees is almost always hard, unless they are just completely unpleasant people who have committed a major transgression. You might have an employee you like personally who hasn’t done anything wrong but isn’t really making the cut either. Or the choice might be between firing employees or maintaining profits and growth.

The solution: The ideal solution would be to find another way that doesn’t involve firing anyone. Perhaps the employee would be a better fit in a different department or a different role and should be reassigned. Perhaps a second chance really is in order. Any firings that do need to happen need to be as fair as you can make them.

3. Helping Unethical Clients

Every company gets bad clients every now and again. But what do you do when your clients are the ones displaying unethical behavior, or worse, illegal behavior? You might be supplying a company that is known for polluting the environment and making people in nearby areas sick, one of the very good examples of ethical dilemmas.

The solution: You could outright refuse to work with clients like these. What might be more constructive, however, is to encourage the client to change for the benefit of both of you. If you have an established business relationship with them and they want to continue working with your company, you might be able to convince them to take steps to begin cleaning up their act. If they refuse, however, it is probably best for you to distance your company from them so any negative PR does not affect you as well.

As for illegal behavior, your company has the obligation to go to the authorities. Your company could potentially get drawn into a criminal case against your client, and there will likely be big trouble if it’s found out your people knew about the client’s activities.

4. A Product Is Flawed and You Must Decide Whether to Recall It

This is a common conundrum for companies. It is because announcing a recall can turn into a public relations nightmare. The whole ordeal will cost a significant amount of money and can make customers lose faith in your brand. A variant of this is when you are developing a product and something isn’t going right, so you must choose whether to delay or release an imperfect product.

The solution: In nearly all cases, it is better to come clean than be caught later. However, it does partially depend on the severity of the flaw. Any flaw that has the potential to be harmful should be addressed immediately. Your company should own up to the problem and do whatever it takes to make it right. However, if it’s a relatively minor flaw that won’t be noticed and can be quietly fixed on the next run, you might decide to do that.

5. Working on the Side

Many companies have a non-compete clause in their employment contracts or employee handbooks. But if your company does not, it can join the ranks of examples of ethical dilemmas when your company is not able to fulfill demand. Also, you have the opportunity to work for clients on the side for some extra money.

The solution: This is really only ethical if you disclose to your employer that you are doing it. Most companies’ non-compete clauses give leeway to managers to decide whether or not certain side work is acceptable. On the other hand, if your side work has nothing to do with your day job it should be none of your employer’s business what you do on your own time.

businesswomen waiting for interview

6. Extending an Employment Offer and Then Finding a Better Candidate

You went through the recruitment process and found an acceptable candidate. You have given them an employment offer. Then another candidate comes in at the last minute or is recommended to you personally. The second candidate is exactly what you are looking for. What do you do?

The solution: You should try and avoid this situation at all costs in the first place. However, sometimes it cannot be avoided. Because you have the right to rescind an employment offer at any time in most cases, doing what’s right for your company and hiring the better candidate might be the better choice. If legal ramifications are a concern, then you must honor the original agreement.

To the Facts

If it seems shady, unfair, unbalanced or, worse, illegal, it is likely not the right course of action for any business. If any of these examples of ethical dilemmas are ever presented to you in business, be sure to weigh the situation carefully.

But it is usually in your best interest to make the most ethical choice. This means choosing the solution that is more honest, fair and moral. Failure to do so can result in the loss of trust from your co-workers, managers and customers.

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