Ethical Issues in Human Resources Management

Ethics and Responsibility


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Saskia Constantinou
Journalist, Cyprus

Ethical Issues in Human Resources Management

Following a recent discussion with the Head of HR in my organisation, I was rather shocked to see that ethics did not play too much of a role. HR management plays a key role as the “keeper” and “voice” of organisational ethics. Subsequent research has revealed that around 28% of respondents felt that there was a conflict between HR Management and what the organisation expected of them.
3 major areas where there can be ethical misconduct in HR activities are:
1. Compensation
2. Employee Relations
3. Staffing and Equal Employment

Ethical issues pose fundamental questions about fairness, justice and truthfulness. Simply complying with laws does not guarantee ethical behaviour and laws and regulations don't cover every situation managers and employees face. People need to be guided by values and personal behaviour codes.

HR Managers need to be held accountable for their behaviour. While it is understandable that they also “tow the line” to be in line with the Board and the source of their salary, it is reprehensible when they do not set the right example.

HR plays a key role in ensuring ethical behaviour in an organisation. By having a written code of ethics and standards of conduct, the regulations and procedures are clearly outlined. Training on ethical behaviour should be compulsory for both management and employees. Having systems in place for confidential reporting of ethical misconduct or questionable behaviour further ensures an improved environment.

What does one do about unethical HR Management?
  1. Try to find a compromise without compromising your standards.
  2. Say "No" in a nice way – such as I’m not comfortable with this as it is really unethical.
  3. Find another job – this is the least attractive option but the only way if your values are completely in the opposite direction of the organisation.
  4. File a complaint to the relevant authorities.
Ethical dilemmas are bound to occur and everyone working in HR should expect them. However, there is a big difference between facing an ethical dilemma and facing a boss who does not behave ethically.
Source: Mathis, Robert; Jackson, John; "Human Resource Management" 12th edition

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