Ethical Dilemmas Related to Harassment in a Workplace

A workplace code of ethics help to define acceptable behavior.
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Harassment in the workplace could happen to you. You question whether your coworker's obscene comments and unwanted touching are really harassment, or if you are just sensitive. Are you supposed to report the incident? Maybe you should deal with the harasser on your own. Or, maybe it's best to talk to coworkers about it. The confusion around how to handle the harassment presents you with an ethical dilemma because you don't know the right or wrong way to handle it.

Understanding Gray Areas

    Just because your workplace has a code of ethics doesn't necessarily mean that employees understand which behaviors are considered harassment. Whether someone makes you feel uncomfortable because of belittling remarks, flirtation, obscene language or unwanted touching, you shouldn't fall into the ethical dilemma of questioning whether you are being harassed or if you should report it. For you to feel safe at work, training on workplace ethics guidelines can clear up the gray areas regarding harassment and how to handle the situation.

Getting Involved

    As an example of harassment, think of being the only woman working on a project and being picked on and patronized by one team member. The rest of your team members see it, but face their own ethical dilemma of how to handle the situation. They know that, ethically, they should stand up for you, but worry about the risk of being ostracized or even losing their jobs. If the workplace doesn't make clear that sexual harassment will not be tolerated, people may wonder whether standing up for another person works in their favor ... and that is an ethical dilemma.

Rating Your Decision

    If you fall into an ethical dilemma related to harassment, "Paralegals Ethics," by Angela Schneeman, suggests rating your situation based on a set of guidelines to help you determine if you are making the right ethical choice. Rate from one to five, with one being the lowest. Rate the level of information on which you are basing your decision; input from others who should be involved in your decision; the plan for the consequences of your decision; ethical principles behind your decision; fairness; your decision as a universal law; and how you would feel if your friends knew about your decision. The higher your score, the more ethical your decision. If you get to 22 or higher, Schneeman says, you can be quite confident in your decision.

Changing the Environment

    Where there is ambition, ego, varying work styles, and workplace romance, ethical dilemmas relating to harassment can occur. As a victim in the situation, you are faced with two negatives -- defying your conscience or the intimidating option of standing up to the offender. The dilemma can stress you out and make you feel sick. If your workplace ignores harassment issues, employees will avoid coming to work or get into arguments with each other and have a hard time completing projects. A workplace that recognizes the negative effects of harassment should provide ethical guidance on harassment and open discussions and create a healthy work environment that you look forward to going to every day.

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