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Ethics

Ethics

In August of 2004, Stephen H.  Dunphy resigned from his position as business columnist for the Seattle Times because of charges of plagiarism, as described in the following article from the Times: Times business columnist resigns over plagiarism

Plagiarism is just one of many areas of business communication in which questions of ethics are extremely important.  The use of someone else’s words or ideas without properly acknowledging their source, also known as plagiarism,  can be seen in a business context as a form of intellectual theft.  Some cases of plagiarism fall into a gray area, such as when a supervisor routinely takes credit for the work of an underling, but other examples can be more serious.  Other ethically questionable business communication practices include the misrepresentation of another’s statements through selective misquoting, the misrepresentation of numbers, and the distortion of visuals such as pictures or graphs to give a false impression of the facts.

It is useful to understand the distinction between an ethical dilemma and an ethical lapse.  The first describes a choice between two ethically questionable alternatives.  For example, a manager who knows that there will soon be layoffs in her division has an ethical duty to inform her employees so that they can begin looking for other jobs.  However, she also has an ethical duty to her employer to continue running her division without the disruption that such an announcement would inevitably cause.  Business people are frequently faced with such ethical dilemmas and must learn to use their best judgment to decide between them.

An ethical lapse, on the other hand, involves a failure to recognize or follow the clearly preferable ethical choice.  When a salesperson misreports his expenses on a business trip in order to defraud his company out of hundreds of dollars, he is guilty of an ethical lapse.

 

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