In any workplace, there are many codes of conduct involved. Employees are bound to these rules and regulations in order for any organizations to work smoothly (Schermerhorn, 2010). However, there are times where the lines are blurred due to various reasons. Sometimes, relationships, beliefs and principles come into play when the time comes for one to make certain decisions. This scenario is called an ethical dilemma whereby individuals are forced to weigh the right and wrong of their actions (Westerholm, Nilstun, & Øvretveit, 2004). Therefore, this paper is going to examine the ethical dilemma that can happen in a workplace and try to find the appropriate resolution to this conflict based on ethical theories. To answer this question, this essay will, firstly, describe a work situation at my previous employment that has posed an ethical dilemma for me. Later, this essay will look at the resolution, if any, that has taken place to solve the dilemma. Finally, by using the Utilitarianism theory, this paper is going to analyze and assess whether the resolution is ethical.
Description of a work situation with an ethical dilemma
At my previous employment, I have worked as a technical communicator for a major health organization. My task is to develop a new software system acting as a database that will gather all the necessary records from hospitals, clinics, health maintenance organizations, laboratories and physicians around my area. These records that contained personal information about the patients are highly confidential and private in nature. Revealing some of this classified information can cause a lot of damage to these individuals. One likely situation that could happen is limiting their employability. Some employers may not want to hire or tend to discriminate against these patients who can be seen as handicapped. Employers may already form a pre-conceived idea that these individuals will not be able to perform up to par and contribute effectively to the growth of their organizations. Besides a ruined reputation, if this information fell into the wrong hands for example HMO’s or insurance companies, these individuals may also be hindered from receiving access to health insurance at an affordable price. Therefore, keeping and maintaining confidentiality is a crucial part and parcel of my job.
A few months into my software development, I have learnt about a surprising piece of information that will put me in an ethical dilemma. As I am going through my daily routine of gathering information, I suddenly come across a familiar name flashing on my computer screen. The name happens to be my sister’s fiancé. He has been tested and diagnosed positive for HIV. The information has also shown that he is currently receiving treatment as well as counseling for HIV and AIDS at a local clinic. The relationship between my sister and I are very close as we have lost our mother to cancer at a very young age. Growing up without a female figure, we have always count on each other for support. I am certain that my sister is unaware of the situation whereby her fiancé has been tested positive with HIV. She would have told me and my father if she knows. The worst part of my revelation is the fact that my sister’s wedding ceremony will be held in another few weeks’ time.
As soon as I found out about this information, I am flabbergasted as well as torn between my relationship with my family and my obligation towards my job. On one hand, if I choose not to tell my sister regarding her fiancé, I will be able to keep my integrity in order to maintain my job. This is important as this job is a source of income for me and my family. However, by doing so, I would be putting my sister’s safety as well as her marriage in jeopardy. On the other hand, if I choose to reveal what I know to my sister, I will be able to save her from making a stupid mistake. She can make an informed decision whether to continue with the wedding ceremony. Nonetheless, by leaking classified information to my family member, I would be facing a high risk of being terminated from a job which I loved.
Resolution for the dilemma
After finding out about my sister’s fiancé current predicament, I do not know what to do. I have decided to sit on it for some time in order to think through my options. I am put in a situation whereby I could not share or discuss what I know to another person. In my mind, whichever route I take, it would be an unethical decision. Finally, I could only come up with three different resolutions.
The first resolution involves that I do not say anything at all. I will keep it a secret from my sister and pretend as if nothing has ever happened. By doing so, I would be the only one who has to suffer through this ordeal. As for the relationship between me and my sister, I will be able to maintain a healthy bond as I do not have to be the bearer of bad news. After their marriage, they can work things out together and take the necessary precautions in curbing the illness. It is, after all, their private matter. Apart from that, I am also able to continue working for a prestigious company and keep on earning a steady salary for my family’s livelihood.
The second resolution which I can think of is to reveal the truth to my sister. I can tell her the bad news in a number of ways. Firstly, I can request for a meeting with or without her fiancé and talk to her about my findings face to face. This may be difficult as I face the risk of humiliating her and there is also a chance she will think that I am lying to her as well as not being supportive at a crucial time of her life. Her fiancé can also choose to deny this revelation in order to save himself. As a result, this can ruin the relationship between both of us. Secondly, I can also decide to write an anonymous letter to my sister telling her about the truth. By doing so, I will be able to conceal my identity and protect myself. However, leaking confidential information to my sister will put my job in jeopardy. There is a chance her fiancé or my sister will come to my company in order to clarify this piece of information. This will lead to further investigation and eventually, I have to admit my mistake.
The third resolution is for me to confront my sister’s fiancé. There are two ways which I can face him. Firstly, I can call him up and arrange for a meeting. Although it can be a little daunting, talking face to face with my sister’s fiancé will allow me to explain to him that I am aware about his sickness. Besides that, I can also try to persuade him with the appropriate reasons so that, he will finally agree to tell my sister the truth. Secondly, I can choose to threaten my sister’s fiancé. If he is not going to do it, I will reveal the truth to my sister, putting him in a difficult situation. However, if the end result of this confrontation is negative for example, my sister calls off the wedding and break up with her fiancé; I will be in big trouble. He can report what I have done to my superiors out of spite or revenge. Consequently, this will ruin my reputation as a trustworthy employee and cost me my job. Nevertheless, since the news is brought into light by my sister’s fiancé, I am able to keep the integrity of my job but still do the correct thing. There is a 50 percent chance of getting it right.
In the end, I have decided to go with the third resolution. I call my sister’s fiancé and arrange for a meeting over coffee. Slowly, I break the news to him that I know he has been tested positive with HIV. Initially, he is upset as I have put him in a situation where he has to finally face the truth. By using my reasoning skills, I make him aware that if he really loves and respect my sister, he will not want to put her in a precarious situation. Furthermore, a marriage should not be started with a lie as trust is the basis for every relationship. Finally, I manage to calm him down and persuade my sister’s fiancé to do the right thing.
Assessing and analyzing whether the resolution is ethical based on Utilitarianism
Based on Utilitarianism, the theory stresses that a decision is considered to be ethical if it brings goodness or pleasure to a greater number of people (Sharma & Bhal, 2004). Utilitarian simplifies the moral law into a quantitative calculation (Paludi, 2012). It is called the cost-benefit analysis and can be used to decide whether the choices are ethical (Bredeson & Goree, 2011). One has to take into account the total pleasure of their decision minus the total pain from the cause of their action. The end result will give the total utility of the taken resolution. The formula is Total Pleasure – Total Pain = Total Utility (Harman, 2006). Therefore, the highest total utility is considered to be the right action regardless whose happiness is involved (Cornelius, 2002). Consequently, Utilitarian justifies pleasure is above what is just or right.
By using Utilitarianism’s cost-benefit analysis formula, I am going to assess whether the resolution I have taken to solve my workplace dilemma is ethical. As it is mentioned earlier, I have decided to confront my sister’s fiancé and somehow, force him to reveal the truth regarding his condition to my sister. Based on the formula, I will have to analyze the total pleasure from my action first. By facing my sister’s fiancé and making him to tell the truth, I can keep my job because I will not be breaking any rules or obligations. Besides that, I can also save my sister from contracting HIV or even potentially, AIDS, an incurable disease. Secondly, I have to analyze the total pain from my action. The only drawback is that my sister’s fiancé will feel upset as he needs to have a serious discussion with my sister after the confrontation. Therefore, if I minus the total pain from the total pleasure, not just will I be able to keep my job, I am also able to help my sister from marrying the wrong man and thus, saving her life. I can continue earning to support my family. The total happiness from my action far outweighs the pain that is experienced by my sister’s fiancé. As a result, the total utility is high. Deriving from Utilitarianism’s theory, my resolution is considered to be ethical and the right thing to do.
Using the same formula from cost-benefit analysis, one will come up with low level of utility from the first two resolutions. The possibility of my sister’s death due to HIV or AIDS as well as a ruined reputation that will cause me to be unemployable in future will cause more pain to more individuals in the long run. Therefore, the first and second resolutions are considered to be unethical based on Utilitarianism’s moral law.
In the case of my ethical dilemma, Utilitarianism has proven that the best resolution is for me to confront my sister’s fiancé and make him reveal the truth. However, there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to deciding whether an action is ethical. Many different aspects have to be taken into consideration. For example, Kantians may disagree that the action I have chosen to solve my dilemma is morally right. In both cases, both theories stress that personal relationship should not be taken into account while figuring the resolution for any conflict. Nevertheless, this is often not practical in a real world scenario. These moral theories can only be used as a form of guideline. Ultimately, it is still up to an individual to decide what they need to do when face with an ethical dilemma in the workplace.
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Cornelius, N. (2002). Building Workplace Equality: Ethics, Diversity and Inclusion. Hampshire: Cengage Learning EMEA.
Harman, L. B. (2006). Ethical Challenges in the Management of Health Information. Burlington: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Paludi, M. A. (2012). Managing Diversity in Today’s Workplace: Strategies for Employees and Employers. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.
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