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Ethical Theories in a Work Environment


Barns Group Limited is an organization like many others that encounters different forms of unethical acts. For instance, looking at the IT department, there is a scenario that has been mentioned earlier concerning asking for an employee’s login details from a manager. It is hard to judge whether the act is unethical or not without using data from theories that determine whether something is ethical or not. This paper examines a particular scenario using the theory of act utilitarianism, deontological ethics, virtue ethics, and social contract.

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Ethical Analysis

Act Utilitarianism

According to this theory, an act is deemed suitable if and only if it results in the best likely outcome in a particular situation. The manager in the scenario is certain that the intentions of asking for the login details are harmless (Brenkert, 2019, p. 919). This theory supports that the manager’s actions will be regarded as right if and only if the best result comes from it (Rosenqvist, 2020). For instance, the particular employee engages in unlawful activities such as sending sensitive company documents to an outside party. This will be discovered and can be stopped at the end of the process, which is positive and can justify the manager’s act.

Many companies, especially those in the same industry, use various ways to annihilate the competition. One of the methods they use is finding inside people they use as agents to help them acquire information that will give them a competitive edge over others. Some of the information could consist of marketing strategies as well as plans in the industry. The other company accessing this can plan to overtake the other by implementing the same plans but earlier. For instance, it is believed that Microsoft stole several ideas from Apple before they implemented them. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the organization to ensure that no sensitive data is leaked to the rivals.

However, there is other personal information that may be available in the employee’s email account. For instance, information concerning his family of him having communicated through mail service. This goes against privacy which is a human right (Koehn, 2021). In case the employee finds out that their account was accessed without permission, it will be difficult for them to trust the manager and IT administrator again. This is especially if they do not find anything, such as sharing important company information with outsiders (Sroka and Szántó, 2018, p. 115). The action of the manager in this scenario thus has two possible results. The first one is good while the second one is not, which shows it does not result in the best possible outcome. Thus, according to act utilitarianism, the manager acts unethically to ask for an employee’s login details.

Deontological Ethics

This theory emphasizes that there is a relationship between the duty and morality of people’s actions. Here, an act is regarded as morally right due to some of its characteristics and not because of the outcome (Österberg, 2019, p. 77). For instance, an act such as killing someone is an act that can be regarded as morally good according to this theory based on some of the information (Wang and Gupta, 2020, p. 2046). Everyone in society sees the act of killing or murdering as a very wrong thing to do because they all are taught since childhood that killing anyone, even an animal is wrong. For example, killers discovered in society are hated and considered outcasts in some places because they killed someone.

This judgment fails to consider that there may have been a reason behind the act. For instance, the killer might have resorted to the action out of self-defense. In this case, they protected themselves from an attack by the dead (Purwanto et al., 2019, p.152). In the case of the manager, he chose to ask for the login details of an employee to protect the company from harm (Tseng and Wang, 2021, p.8565). The employee may use the company email account allocated to them to steal and share sensitive information about the company, which might result in losses. By looking at the details of the situation at hand, the manager’s actions are deemed morally correct because he did this to protect the company from possible loss.

Virtue Ethics

The theory of virtue ethics primarily deals with the honesty as well as the morality of an individual. It dictates that doing well or practicing habits such as generosity and honesty makes someone moral and virtuous (Setiawan et al., 2020). It guides an individual without particular rules for resolving ethical complexity. Experts claim that it is individual-based instead of action-based (De Bakker, Rasche, and Ponte, 2019, p. 346). This means that it looks at the moral character of someone doing something instead of the consequences of specific actions. In a work environment, someone who is good holds a set of morals personally and uses them always in and out of work.

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In the case of the manager, the outcome or the consequence could be beneficial to the company. However, it is not virtuous to lie about accessing an employee’s email account (Slote, 2020, p. 5). It would have been better if the manager and the IT administrator consulted the particular employee about the issue and ask for consent (McMahon, 2021, p. 5). Here, virtue ethics informs that despite the consequences of the action being that the manager saves the company from loss, his moral character is in question, and thus, he is wrong.

Social Contract

A social contract constitutes an implicit or explicit agreement that governs the behavior of people as well as organizations within a particular context, for example, the workplace. The motivation behind the social contract is serving the common or greater good to guarantee a system’s sustainability plus protect the people within it (Moehler, 2019, p. 3287). Generally, it guides moral behavior, as suggested by (Ferrell et al., 2019, p. 495). For example, according to an implicit agreement, it is not right to do things that negatively affect others, for instance, stealing, assaulting, or lying. The typical assumption of this theory is the idea that society and culture develop based on an implicit agreement among people concerning the type of surroundings they wish to reside.

From the assumption, people are obligated to act according to the rules that govern the societies and cultures they sojourn. A social contract is an essential part of democracy, as suggested by (Sabin et al., 2019, p.23). In a democracy, the government is assumed to serve the people’s will, and the latter is obligated to adhere to the rules of the country. Therefore, as long as the government fulfills its roles, the citizens will follow the laws of the nation. The manager of Barns Group Limited and the employee are in a social contract that dictates that each has their roles to play. If the employee does not have their position in the organization, the manager will not invade their privacy. This shows that the manager is right to request login details of the employee if he suspects their loyalty.


The paper covers the issue of ethics and how different theories can explain the same scenario differently. In ethics, there are theories including act utilitarianism, deontological ethics, virtue ethics, and social contract. All of them explain whether an action is right or wrong in a different manner. For instance, according to act utilitarianism, an act is viewed right if and only if it leads to the best likely outcome in a particular situation. The scenario that has been scrutinized in this paper is that of a manager of the Barns organization asking for the login details of an employee from the IT administrator without their consent.

The paper has shown that the manager’s action is unethical based on act utilitarianism theory since it can produce two different results, one being negative. The second theory, which is deontological ethics, dictates that someone’s action can be regarded as morally right due to some of its characteristics and not because of the outcome. This means that the manager’s actions are seen as right because he had a reason to do that. For instance, the safety of company data depended on his actions, and, thus, justified asking for the login details from the IT administrator without seeking the owner’s permission.

The third theory, which is virtue ethics, looks at the moral character of the individual acting. This means that the action is wrong because the manager lied about the form by not consulting the owner for permission. Lastly, the other theory discussed in the paper is the social contract which explains that both the manager and employee have obligations to the other. If one of them fails, then they do not deserve what the other has to offer. This means that the employee’s privacy could be invaded as long as they are not loyal to the company.

References List

Brenkert, G.G., 2019. Mind the gap! The challenges and limits of (Global) business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 155(4), pp.917-930. Web.

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De Bakker, F.G., Rasche, A. and Ponte, S., 2019. Multi-stakeholder initiatives on sustainability: A cross-disciplinary review and research agenda for business ethics. Business Ethics Quarterly, 29(3), pp.343-383. Web.

Ferrell, O.C., Harrison, D.E., Ferrell, L. and Hair, J.F., 2019. Business ethics, corporate social responsibility, and brand attitudes: An exploratory sWeb.tudy. Journal of Business Research, 95, pp.491-501. Web.

Koehn, D., 2021. Local insights, global ethics for business. Brill. Web.

McMahon, B.T., 2021. Ethics in business practices. In Work Worth Doing (pp. 3-27). Routledge. Web.

Moehler, M., 2019. Diversity, stability, and social contract theory. Philosophical Studies, 176(12), pp.3285-3301. Web.

Österberg, J., 2019. Deontological Ethics: Assessment. In Towards Reunion in Ethics (pp. 61-92). Springer, Cham. Web.

Purwanto, R.M., Mukharrom, T., Zhilyakov, D.I., Pamuji, E. and Shankar, K., 2019. Study the importance of business ethics and ethical marketing in digital era. Journal of Critical Reviews, 6(5), pp.150-154. Web.

Rosenqvist, S., 2020. Hedonistic Act Utilitarianism: Action Guidance and Moral intuitions (Doctoral dissertation, Department of Philosophy, Uppsala University). Web.

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Sabin, J.E., Cocoros, N.M., Garcia, C.J., Goldsack, J.C., Haynes, K., Lin, N.D., McCall, D., Nair, V., Pokorney, S.D., McMahill‐Walraven, C.N. and Granger, C.B., 2019. Bystander ethics and good samaritanism: A paradox for learning health organizations. Hastings Center Report, 49(4), pp.18-26. Web.

Setiawan, R., Cavaliere, L.P.L., Mohideen, M.A., Jalil, N.A., Koti, K., Haleem, A. and Christabel, G., 2020. Business Ethics Code of Ethics and Business Conduct (Doctoral dissertation, Petra Christian University). Web.

Slote, M., 2020. Agent-based virtue ethics. Handbuch Tugend und Tugendethik, pp.1-10. Web.

Sroka, W. and Szántó, R., 2018. Corporate social responsibility and business ethics in controversial sectors: Analysis of research results. Journal of Entrepreneurship, Management and Innovation, 14(3), pp.111-126. Web.

Tseng, P.E. and Wang, Y.H., 2021. Deontological or utilitarian? An eternal ethical dilemma in Outbreak. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(16), p.8565. Web.

Wang, S. and Gupta, M., 2020. Deontological ethics by monotonicity shape constraints. In International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics (pp. 2043-2054). PMLR. Web.

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