I have been remiss in not adding the terrific blog Evil HR Lady to the Ethics Alarms links, and will finally do so as soon as I post this entry. No profession deal s with ethical nuances and dilemmas more frequently than human resources professionals, and they can be very difficult, even gut-wrenching. In a recent post, EHRL searched through the archives of questions she has answered over the past years, and compiled an eye-opening list, especially for non-lawyers, of the conduct employers could engage in legally, which is to say, get away with and not be successfully sued, to employees, together with some questionable kinds of conduct that are legal for employees to do to each other.
She listed 62 of them, many of which are reasonable ( it’s okay to fire an employee for “being a jerk”) and some are obvious, or should be; it is legal to quote the Bible in the office, for example. What is legal is not always good, fair, or right, however, and I perused the list with an eye out for legal workplace conduct that was legal but still unethical. About a third of the types of conduct on the Evil HR Lady’s list made mine. What follows is the sub-list of the 62 things it is legal to do at work, the 22 things it may be legal to do at work, but which are still unethical. The reasons for my unethical verdict follow Evil HR Lady’s items.
Here’s the list of the unethical 22 workplace practices:
- It’s legal—but still unethical— for your manager to share your resignation letter with your coworkers.
A Golden Rule breach. This is gratuitously unkind.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— for your coworker to refuse to speak to you.
Rudeness and unreasonable conduct are usually legal, and still deplorable; also unprofessional.
- It’s legal —but still unethical— for your manager to tell your coworker that she plans to write you up.
Unprofessional. The mark of an incompetent manager.
- It’s legal —but still unethical— to fill a job without advertising it and giving other people a chance to apply for it.
Unfair and disrespectful.
- It’s legal —but still unethical— for your employer to reveal your salary to your coworkers.
As above: an incompetent management practice, and also irresponsible.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— for your company owner to hold his or her spouse, who works there, to different standards than everyone else is held to.
Favoritism is legal, just unfair, damaging to morale,irresponsible and stupid—another watermark of poor managers and leaders.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— for your boss to ask you to pick up his lunch, even though it’s not in your job description.
This is an abuse of power, unless there is a valid work-related reason other than the fact that the boss is a lazy slug.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— for your manager to yell.
Being a jerk is unethical. More on this topic below.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— to make you stay at the office and work if you decline to go on the company cruise.
This is vindictive, unnecessary—and just mean.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— to share your performance stats with your coworkers.
A guaranteed way to stir up trouble for supervisors and to harm staff morale. Unless the stats sound alarms for discrimination, this is unprofessional and irresponsible.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— for your employer to have a random coworker deliver the message that you’re fired.
Yechh! Cowardly and disrespectful.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— for your boss to let your coworker have three-day weekends, even though she doesn’t have seniority.
Yes, favoritism is legal. It’s also toxic management practice, and obviously unfair.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— for your boss to require you to read a self-help book and test you on it.
A breach of respect and autonomy. A self-help book? I’d quit on general principles.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— to ban sugary foods from the office.
Food, exercise and health Nazis in the workplace are indeed legal, and despicable. They take advantage of their power to force employees to adopt life-styles they approve of.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— for your employer to give your cell phone number to other employees.
Without your permission? A straight Golden Rule violation.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— to fire you for complaining about something that is not illegal.
Obviously incessant and unreasonable nagging can be a firing offense. Telling the boss that his choice of Muzak makes you want to retch, however, should be accepted and considered. Good and ethical managers can handle criticism and dissent
- It’s legal—but still unethical— to not hire someone because you dislike their relatives.
This is legal only because there’s no easy way to make it illegal. This practice is guilt by association, and obviously unfair.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— to hire your cousin over a more qualified unrelated candidate.
Nepotism is unethical even in workplaces that permit it.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— for HR to forward your confidential emails to other people.
Unless there is a very good reason, this is another Golden Rule violation. Yes, you have no “expectation of privacy” when you use a company server, but an employer sharing your confidential e-mails with third parties is still a rotten thing to do.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— to fire someone via email.
Again, disrespectful and cowardly.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— to be a jerk.
Jerks make life, including the workplace, harder and less enjoyable for everybody….and usually they could stop being jerks if they respected the rest of us.
- It’s legal—but still unethical— for your boss to require you to put little bags of wedding favors together.
This is a classic abuse of power.
“But it’s legal!” is one of the most heard of all rationalizations. Any employer or employee who uses that bottom of the sea floor standard for workplace conduct is a scandal or some other kind of disaster waiting to happen. Someone who only cares about the law is Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “Bad Man” (or bad woman) and is inherently untrustworthy…as a boss, as an employee, as a leader, even as a friend.
Pointer: Corporate Counsel
Source: Evil HR Lady
Graphic: Urantian Sojourn
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