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An Ethical Dilemna Essay, Research Paper


Taken from: Business Ethics – Ethical Decision Making and Cases

A Real Life Situation pages 62-63

After three years with the company, Sandy was promoted to assistant plant manager. This was a big step for Unity Welding and Construction, as well as for the industry; Sandy was one of only a handful of women who had broken through the “glass ceiling” and made their way into management. She had proved to the men around her that she deserved the job, and she was now being toasted by assistant managers from other plants across the country John, her boss, had been her advocate with the company. He had personally lobbied upper management in her behalf.

Unity Welding and Construction is a national firm with twenty fabrication plants, primarily in the South. The company does contract work for other companies that require welding or fabrication of metals into items used in the construction of aircraft, ships, bridges, and component parts for consumer durables. Each plant caters to specific industries. Sandy’s plant produces parts primarily for the automotive industry and is located in Arizona. Arizona is perfect for Sandy because of her acute asthma problems. As a teenager, she once visited relatives in Atlanta and had to be hospitalized because of her reactions to the different plants and foliage. Sandy’s doctor told her at the time that she would have fewer problems with her asthma if she resided in one of the arid regions of the United States.

Six months had passed since Sandy’s promotion, and her first performance rating from John was excellent. John told her that if she continued this type of performance, she would probably be a plant manager in three to six years.

Sandy developed some innovative ways to increase productivity during her six months on the job. For example, she successfully implemented a “team concept,” which gave responsibility for certain projects to the workers on the plant floor. She offered incentives if they could decrease job times and increase profitability. John gave Sandy his full support, and the pro-

gram was working well. Worker salaries on these special projects jumped from an average of $15 per hour to $24 per hour, yet the company’s bottom line continued to improve. Workers in the plant began competing to get on special projects.

With the increasing competition, Sandy noticed that the workers were starting to cut corners. Minor worker injuries began to increase, and Sandy was concerned about how some of the workers were disposing of toxic wastes. She informed John about her concerns, and he said he would write the following memo:

Attention: Workers on Special Projects

It has come to management’s attention that minor injuries are on the rise. Please review the Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines to make sure you are in compliance. In addition, there are rumors of improper disposal of wastes. Please read again the statement from the Environmental Protection Agency. Finally, congrats to Special Project Team Wolf. Profitability on your job increased 8 percent with an increase of $4.50 an hour for each member of the group. Great job!!

Shortly after John sent out his memo, the recession started to hit the automobile industry hard. Some of Sandy’s workers were to be laid off. Sandy went through the records and found that her most productive workers had been selected for termination. She went to John with the problem, and he said he’d take care of it. By calling in some favors, John was able to save the workers’ jobs, and no pink slips were issued at the plant. Within a week the workers knew John and Sandy had saved them.

Two months later, in November, the special project teams were working especially hard. Sandy noticed that the teams with the highest hourly wages were also the ones that were cutting corners the most. Sandy ran a spot inspection and found major quality problems with the products, as well as pollution problems. Additionally, she learned that several teams had “procured” software from the competition to reduce their production times. Sandy realized that something needed to be done quickly, so she went to John.

“John, we’ve got some major problems,” she told him. “Quality has decreased below our contract’s specifications. I’ve got workers cutting so many corners that it’s just a matter of time before someone really gets hurt. And to top it all off, some of the special project teams have gotten a hold of our competitor’s software. What are we going to do?”

John looked at Sandy and said, “Nothing.”

“What do you mean, nothing!?” asked Sandy. “Let me explain something to you,” John answered calmly. “We’re in a recession. The only reason 20 percent of our workers still have jobs is that our costs are down and our production is way up. I know quality is down; I’ve doctored some of the quality report forms myself. I also know about the software. Sandy, the only reason we’re still working is because of the special projects concept you implemented. And I’ve got news for you — production orders are going down in December. If we lay off the productive workers, we cut out the lean and save only the lazy workers we can’t fire because of their seniority. Plus, have you ever fired someone around Christmas time? It’s not a pretty sight.

“So I’ll tell you what you’re going to do. Sandy, you’re going to forget about OSHA, the EPA, and the software, and you’re going to doctor up the quality-control reports — because if you don’t, we’re both out of jobs. Have you ever tried getting a job during a recession? With your health problems, even if you did get a job, insurance would never cover your asthma treatments. You owe me, Sandy. Don’t worry. When the recession goes away, we will straighten things out,” said John.

Sandy left John’s office and thought about her options.

“Moral philosophies refer to the set of principles or rules that people use to decide what is right or wrong.” (Ferrel & Fraedrich, 1997, p. 61) In this essay I will discuss the different moral philosophies and explain how one dilemma could have so many possible outcomes. By examining these various moral philosophies, we could see how Sandy weighs her options between what is ethically correct or what she believes is morally wrong and why.

The first philosophy I would like to discuss is Teleological; this philosophy stipulates that acts are morally right or acceptable if the outcome is beneficial for the good of one, or the good of many. Two such philosophies are Egoism and Utilitarianism.

Using the Teleology philosophy, I will first look at the Dilemma in the Utilitarianism perspective. If Sandy were a Utilitarian, she would do exactly what John said to do which is nothing. A person with a Utilitarianism perspective “is concerned with maximizing total utility, or providing the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people”(Ferrel & Fraedrich, 1997, p. 61). By doing nothing, Sandy will have to overlook the increase in injuries, and the improper disposal of toxic wastes. If you were to look at this dilemma in this viewpoint you will have to say that overlooking everything would benefit almost everyone involved. Sandy will have to doctor up the quality-control reports, but this is considered acceptable in the Utilitarianism viewpoint because she will save many peoples jobs.

If Sandy does modify the quality-control reports, she will be supporting John who has helped and supported her career when no one else believed in her. This decision would also benefit the good of the company because they would not have to layoff their most productive workers around the Christmas holidays. If they did lay off their most productive workers, the company would be left with the least productive and lazy workers because they have the most seniority. Sandy acted out this way because it benefited nearly everyone involved.

Using the Teleology philosophy, I will now look at this dilemma from the Egoism perspective. An Egoist “believes that they should make decisions that maximize their own self-interest”; egoists are naturally unethical. (Ferrel & Fraedrich, 1997, p. 54)

Sandy would again, overlook the increase in injuries, and the improper disposal of toxic wastes. She would also have no problem with changing the figures on quality-control reports, or with the fact there were teams using “procured” software from a competitor to reduce their production time. She would overlook all of these things, but for a different reasons; As an Egoist, Sandy is out for herself and is really not worried about John or the production workers jobs. She is worried that if she loses her job, she will not be able to find another one because of how hard it is to find work during a recession. Plus, with Sandy’s acute asthma problems, she does not want to leave Arizona to find work. Even if she were able to find a job in Arizona, it is possible she would not find medical insurance that would cover her asthma treatments. Even though Sandy has come to the same decision as the previous perspective, Sandy is acting out this way only because it is in her best interest.

Looking at this dilemma in an Enlightened Egoists perspective, Sandy would have to overlook the increase in injuries, and the improper disposal of toxic wastes. An Enlightened Egoist “takes a long-range perspective and allows for the well being of others, although their own self-interest remains paramount.” (Ferrel & Fraedrich, 1997, p. 54) As an Enlightened Egoist she does not want anyone to lose his or her job but more importantly she wants to keep hers. Plus, Sandy does not want to look bad. Up until now she has had an excellent performance record, and you heard John, he said ”if she continued this type of performance, she would probably be a plant manager in three to six years.” (Ferrel & Fraedrich, 1997, p. 62) If she does not modify the figures on the quality-control reports she will look bad as a supervisor, and the last thing Sandy would want to do is ruin those chances for a promotion. So an Enlightened Egoist, Sandy will do what is good for everyone, but more importantly, she will do what will benefit her career.

Looking at this dilemma in a Deontological philosophy, which focuses “on the rights of individuals and on the intentions associated with a particular behavior rather than on its consequences” (Ferrel & Fraedrich, 1997, p. 61); things would turn out much differently then in the previous three perspectives. Sandy being a Deontologist has very high moral standards, and cannot overlook the workers cutting corners, or the special project teams stealing the competitions software. She can’t overlook the fact that workers are disposing of toxic waste improperly, nor does she like the fact that the employees are producing an inferior product because they are cutting so many corners. Even if this means that she will be one of many, loosing their jobs. As a Deontologist, she has to do what is morally right, even if it means that the outcome will hurt almost everyone involved including herself. Sandy will have to go against Johns wishes. She cannot forget about Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She will report her findings to the proper authorities. She will tell John that she cannot lie on company documents because it is unethical. Sandy will do what is morally right, even if it means she will loose her job and her health insurance.

Looking at this dilemma in the Ethical Relativist perspective, Sandy would modify figures on the quality-control reports because this is considered common practice at her firm. “According to the Relativist perspective, definitions of ethical behavior are derived subjectively from the experiences of individuals and groups. Relativists use themselves or the people around them as their basis for defining ethical standards.” (Ferrel & Fraedrich, 1997, p. 59) In order for John to have saved the production workers jobs in the first place, someone had to change the figures on the sales reports to show that sales have not gone down. It is also common practice for company’s to take competitors software and use parts of it as their own. If this wasn’t true, do you think you would have ever heard of a company called Microsoft?

As an Ethical Relativist, Sandy followed what she considered to be ethically acceptable behavior, since modifying figures is common practice at her firm, she did not find it to be immoral.

The last theory I would like to discuss is Rule Utilitarianism. “Rule Utilitarianism determines behavior on the basis of principles, or rules, designed to promote the greatest utility, rather than on an examination of each particular situation.” (Ferrel & Fraedrich, 1997, p. 56) As a Rule Utilitarian, Sandy must follow the rules, which means she could not change the figures on the quality-control reports. Even though it may be considered common practice at Sandy’s firm, it is still considered unethical behavior. Sandy cannot modify the quality control statistics even if it means she will loose her job, and she cannot overlook the workers disposing of toxic waste improperly. Even if this means that she will be one of many, loosing their jobs. As a Rule Utilitarian Sandy cannot forget about OSHA or the EPA. She will tell John that she cannot change the information on company documents because it is unethical. Sandy will do what is morally right, even if it means she will lose her job and her health insurance along with many other employees.

Looking at these various outcomes from just one dilemma shows how differently a situation can turn out because of someone’s ethical and moral philosophies. We all must make ethical decisions, and some decisions are much harder to decide then others because of what is at stake. By looking at these different philosophies, I was not trying to judge or decide what is morally right or morally wrong, instead I was just trying to bring to light how a decision can have an effect on everyone around them.

Farrell, O. C., & Fraedrich, J. (1997). Business Ethics Ethical Decision Making and Cases. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company

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