The paper aims to analyze the case study of the smoking ban used in Weyco Inc. from a deontological (non-consequentialist) perspective. Deontological ethics are based on the assumption that an individual’s actions are defined not by the consequences of a deed but their moral obligations or duty. Moreover, deontology relies on the concept of the categorical imperative.
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Deontology is an ethical position that places particular emphasis on consistency and rationality, as well as the moral obligations of a person (or an organization). The deontological outlook was formulated by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who pointed out that morality means to do one’s duty despite or with no regard to the consequences. At the same time, duty is not defined by the consequences of the action but by consistency and rationality (Grace et al. 16).
Consistency can be explained with the following example: if a person argues that they do not support violence toward animals, but occasionally takes part in hunting seasons, the consistency of their actions is breached. While the person might indeed care for their pets and volunteer at a local animal shelter, their participation in an activity that allows violence toward wild animals (as opposed to domestic animals) is not moral.
To evaluate whether the action is morally right or not, Kant suggested using the maxim called “categorical imperative” (Grace et al. 17). The person should ask themselves whether the approach they take to an action or a situation would be universally applicable and what happened if it would be applied. It is important to evaluate whether such actions would be desirable. The example above shows that if everyone behaved as this person, morality would be breached as it would be neither rational nor consistent. Thus, from a deontological point of view, the example above is morally wrong.
Treating people as individuals who deserve respect rather than resources is another important aspect of deontology. It does not mean that individuals or organizations cannot profit from other people or use them for their aims; instead, people should be first seen as individuals and not objects for goal achievement (Grace et al. 17). Grace et al. (17) stress that in business, the deontological perspective means that managers and executives should not see employees as human resources. It seems essential to add that not only employees but other stakeholders as well (customers, shareholders, etc.) should be treated in the same way. Otherwise, the business risks using unethical behavior and adversely influencing its image, functions, and stakeholders’ loyalty (Vadastreanu et al. 1069).
Deontology does not emphasize the importance of duty per se as a set of commands or prescribed actions that we must follow. It points out that we should act as rational and autonomous agents, and the moral law is equally applicable to everyone (Grace et al. 17). Thus, unlike military duty, deontology supports self-reflection and a critical approach toward the actions of others and one’s own.
From the deontological point of view, businesses can rely on a generalized set of rules such as “do no evil, prevent evil, remove evil, and do good” (Grace et al. 18). It is not that simple, however, since business, in its pursuit of specific goals and objectives, must remain ethical toward persons and ensure that practical benefits do not outweigh respect for human dignity in general and employees’ rights in particular. Thus, in order to be successful, the business needs to consider moral duty as well.
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Weyco’s Case from Deontological Perspective
Weyco’s case demonstrates the unethical behavior of the company’s founder, Howard Weyers. The problem of the presented case is not only in the intrusion of the company into the private lives of employees but the general view of them as resources or objects that can be used for adjusting the company’s healthcare costs. While the company had the right to ban smoking in the workplace for all employees, it could not add regulations to their personal life by forcing them to participate in tests.
The justification of such intrusion was that the company did not want to pay for unhealthy lifestyles (Grace et al. 80). Although it is evident that smoking adversely impacts workplace efficiency and health of employees, the company’s aim to reduce healthcare costs at the expense of employees’ lifestyles is morally wrong from a deontological perspective because their preferences are used as means to reduce the company’s expenses. Furthermore, the personal life of employees is being controlled by the company, and their future (whether they will be fired or not) is also determined by the company’s actions.
The company’s confession that it is unknown whether smoking employees cost it anything or not is another problem for deontology; if all companies decided to implement such programs based on their assumptions of employees’ influence on healthcare costs, it would result not only in employees’ dissatisfaction but also a distrust between employees and employers. Thus, such intervention is not desirable on a universal level. Additional concerns relate to the company’s executives; it is not stated whether the smoking test was used for employees at lower levels only or if it targeted those at the highest positions as well. If not, the company’s actions lack consistency (Thomas 3).
The next problem of the company’s decision is that it does not apply to all adverse lifestyles that can potentially affect the working process. As mentioned in the case study, obesity is covered by legal protections (Grace et al. 80). However, the company did not aim to address the consumption of junk food or a sedentary lifestyle to reduce healthcare costs, although these behaviors can lead to the development of various disorders.
Thus, the company’s actions targeted a particular stratum of employees with preferences that were believed (but not confirmed) to have an adverse impact on the company. The ban’s relation to employees’ spouses also indicated a violation of the privacy of third parties who are not related to the company. Weyco’s smoking policy disregarded its employees as individuals with rights, choices, and habits, and viewed them as tools for the achievement of its particular goals.
Grace, Damian, et al. Business Ethics: Canadian Edition. Oxford University Press, 2014.
Thomas, A. Jean. “Deontology, Consequentialism and Moral Realism.” Minerva: An Internet Journal of Philosophy, vol.19, no. 1, 2015, pp. 1-24.
Vadastreanu, Adela Mariana, et al. “Is the Success Possible in Compliance with Ethics and Deontology in Business?” Procedia Economics and Finance, vol. 26, no. 1, 2015, pp. 1068-1073.