Business Ethics for the 21st Century: Chapter 4 (pp. 166 - 176): "Working Conditions and Employee Rights"

Working conditions that could affect one's job satisfaction might include:

Employers wish to control the conditions of employment in order to increase productivity and profits.

Employees wish to limit that control in order to secure their rights.

Employees are regarded as "assets" or "human resources" or "means." Employers' control of hiring and work conditions reduces insurance liability, health costs, absenteeism, and the like.

Drug, genetic, and other forms of employee testing may interfere with employees' right to privacy.

Privacy in the Workplace

The Kmart incident: Were the checker's rights violated? Discuss.

Example of anti-fraternization rules in the military and in the workplace: What do you think of rules against "office romances"?

The problem of "snooping" on employees by intercepting phone, email, and fax communications. This has been expanded to include --

What are the benefits of such "monitoring"? What are some "costs" for employees? What is the work environment like when such things are practiced?

The Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (which has been superseded by the Patriot Act) forbids listening in on phone conversations or wiretapping phone lines. It does not forbid monitoring of email communication. example: McDonald's supervisor intercepted a voicemail message to an employee from a woman with whom he had been having an affair.

Information Gathering and the Value of Privacy

Personal information may be obtained through job interviews and job applications. Where does one draw the line? Laws prohibit certain kinds of questions (i.e., religious beliefs, age, race). Should employers be allowed to ask about --

Is it legitimate to administer --

Drug Testing

What are some reasons for administering drug tests to employees?

What are some reasons for giving mandatory drug tests to prospective employees?

Do you think these reasons are legitimate? Why or why not? Should drug-testing be limited in any way? Discuss.

Courts have generally upheld drug-testing in situations where employee performance is important for the public interest and safety.

Health and Safety

Discuss some of the potential health hazards that can be found in the workplace. Are they confined to blue-collar jobs? Explain. List as many of these as you can.

See the author's list of questions in this regard (p. 172). Discuss these.


Occupational Health and Safety Act (passed by Congress in 1970). Prior to this, workers had to suspend some of their rights to submit to arbitration to receive worker's compensation. But they were not protected from exposure to hazards in the workplace. OSHA was meant to protect workers' rights to know about hazards in the workplace and to refuse to work under conditions that are dangerous or even potentially deadly.

Economics and the Value of Health

Employers often use cost/benefit analysis to determine the level of acceptable risk for employees.

But human life has intrinsic and not merely instrumental value (ends and means).

What category of values does health fit into? Is it an intrinsic or instrumental value? Can there be a trade-off of health for other values?

SEE Frontline: A Dangerous Business:

Employee Obligations

Other than to come to work and do their job, employees have an obligation to:

But to whom is this loyalty owed? Is it to the CEO, the shareholders, or whom?

Managers are to be selfless and loyal to the shareholders or owners, even though the shareholders and owners are primarily self-interested (seeking profit). This loyalty is ensured by means of either legal sanctions or generous compensation. It is in the self-interest of management to behave in a way which is not self-interested.

What are the limits of loyalty? Are employees expected to be loyal to the point of illegality?

Whistleblowing and Loyalty

When and under what conditions is whistleblowing ("blowing the whistle") on one's wmployer for illegal or unjust conduct permissable?

Whistleblowing may be --

Should a whistleblower approach his/her supervisors first before going outside of the company?
How much evidence is needed to justify whistleblowing?
How serious must the wrongdoing be?

What is the extent of loyalty owed to the employer? See Ronald Duska, "Whistleblowing and Employee Loyalty." (Business Ethics, pp. 205 - 210)

According to Duska, there are four criteria that must be met in whistleblowing (Business Ethics, p. 209):

  1. "There must be a clear harm to society that can be avoided by whistleblowing. We don't blow the whistle over everything."
  2. "It is the 'proximity' to the whistleblower that puts him in the position to report his company in the first place.
  3. "'Capability' means that he needs to have some chance of success. No one has an obligation to jeopardize himself to perform futile gestures. The whistleblower needs to have access to the press, be believable, etc."
  4. "'Last resort' means just that. If there are others more capable of reporting and more proximate, and if they will report, then one does not have the responsibility."

See also "Whistleblowing," (Chapter Four in Business Ethics) by Lizabeth England (Online Sources Page).

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