This paper will provide a response to the case study entitled “An Ethical Dilemma.” It will review the situation given within the case study and it will determine two ethical philosophies that would assist in making a decision regarding the choice being faced. It will offer up a recommendation as to how to best address the situation and it will provide a justification for the recommendation, including a discussion of any limitations or potential unintended consequences that may occur as a result of the recommendation.
Human resource professionals regularly face ethical decisions, particularly when balancing the interests of the organization with the interests of individual employees. In the case study, Mary Alice, an HR generalist assigned to the Norwalk plant of FMC, Inc., is aware of changes that will occur within the company shortly, including the layoff of many people, but must keep that information confidential until the company’s publication of that information. Mary Alice’s friend and coworker, Ralph, comes up to talk to Mary Alice at their children’s school fundraiser, wishing to share his excitement about a new house he will be purchasing. Mary Alice has mixed feelings, as she knows that Ralph is likely to be one of the individuals who will be laid off. She wants to tell him about the situation to prevent him from getting into financial hardship, as the contract has not yet been signed, but she is bound by confidentiality not to say anything about the upcoming changes at the company. There are many different ethical philosophies that Mary Alice may use to determine what she should do in this situation.
If Mary Alice were to apply moral absolutism, she would tell Ralph of the situation at the company, because it would be morally wrong to go against the confidentiality agreements that she signed and failure to adhere to that could jeopardize the company, as word would spread, resulting in issues with stock prices, other problems arising with workers, and a host of potential concerns associated with the transfer to the smaller facility. Moral absolutism states that there are certain things that are right and certain things that are wrong, regardless of the context of the situation or the perspective being applied (Donagan, 1991). Thus, if she were to only think of Ralph, she would be causing far greater problems to all those who work at the company and all shareholders within the company in addition to going against her word.
If she were to apply deontological ethics, however, she would tell Ralph without question. Deontological ethics looks at the rightness or wrongness of the action, i.e. to say something will to prevent issues for Ralph, to not say something would cause financial ruin that she could prevent (Alexander & Moore, 2012). It is concerned with only the current situation, as opposed to the consequences of the action itself (Alexander & Moore, 2012). This means that Mary Alice would only think of Ralph, without worrying about everything else that is on the line.
These two widely different ethical perspectives each result in a different outcome. It is important to note that Mary Alice does not know that Ralph will be one of the individuals fired, though she assumes that he will be, which is what has created the ethical dilemma. This could be fear over her friend or it could be as a result of known issues with Ralph’s performance. No person is guaranteed a job in this economy, including Mary Alice. It is recommended that she stay with moral absolutism, keeping her job, reducing potential issues for the company that could arise as a result of an early leak of the information, and working to ensure that the transition goes as smoothly as possible while at the same time adhering to the legally binding arrangements that have resulted in her confidentiality. Failure to do so will not only have the potential to cost Mary Alice her job as well, but could likewise result in costly legal fees and other reprecussions for her as well as other employees and other stakeholders and shareholders.
While in the heat of the moment, talking to Ralph and realizing that he could potentially make a large mistake, the best thing that she could do would be to advise him that since it is such a large purchase and that the house he wants is on the far high end of his budget, he should maybe consider waiting for a little while to see if he still feels the value of the house is worth the investment. If Ralph believes that, no matter the cost, he still wants the property, he will work to find ways to keep his home regardless of his job situation, serving as motivation to find a new job all the quicker. Mary Alice will have appeased her conscious, and she will have stayed within the confines of her confidentiality agreements. As it is possible that Ralph may not be one of those fired, this way the situation is mitigated to the highest degree possible.
- Alexander, L., & Moore, M. (2012). Deontological Ethics. Stanford.library.usyd.edu.au. Retrieved 4 January 2016, from http://stanford.library.usyd.edu.au/archives/win2013/entries/ethics-deontological/
- Donagan, A. (1991). Moral Absolutism and the Double-Effect Exception: Reflections on Joseph Boyle’s Who is Entitled to Double-Effect? Journal of Medicine And Philosophy, 16(5), 495-509. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jmp/16.5.495