Responsibilities in the Employer-Employee Relationship

by Josephson Institute on January 15, 2014

By Michael Josephson

The employer-employee relationship should not be looked at simply in economic terms. It is a significant human relationship of mutual dependency that has great impact on the people involved and both the employer and the employee have moral obligations arising from this relationship.

Duty of Employers

A person’s job, like a person’s business, is a highly valued possession that pervasively affects the lives of the employee and his or her family. With stakeholders everywhere, the relationship is laden with moral responsibilities.

In addition to the employer’s more obvious obligation to advance and protect the reputation and financial well-being of the company, the employer has a moral obligation to make business decisions in a manner that demonstrates concern for and seeks to advance the welfare of employees.

This includes but goes beyond a duty to treat employees respectfully, to pay them fairly and provide good working conditions. An ethical employer does not think of employees only as a means to an end. Employees must be treated as a major stakeholder group. Ethical employers consciously and consistently treat the promotion and protection of the well-being of employees as an important business obligation and objective.

Companies should be loyal to workers as well as shareholders. Layoffs, plant closings, and other dramatic events of this nature should be handled with caring and sensitivity and as acts of great moral significance. The use of euphemisms such as “down-sizing” or “right-sizing” may make managers feel better about the decision to terminate jobs, but it does not change anything from a moral perspective. There are, of course, situations where such actions are justified but they must be implemented in a way that demonstrates genuine concern for employees who will lose their jobs.

Employees should always be treated with respect and it is the company’s obligation to see that individual managers do not abuse their power or mistreat their subordinates. Kill-the-messenger behavior at any management level is improper, as is any active or passive encouragement of dishonest reporting. Employees should feel free to raise ethical or other issues without fear of retaliation.

Employees are entitled to count on the commitments of the employer especially about central matters such as pay, raises, and promotions. Employers who chisel employees, renege on promises, or treat them as if they were simply instrumentalities of the organization’s interests rather than ends in and of themselves fail to meet their moral responsibilities.

Duty of Employees

Employees also have moral obligations, and they go beyond giving a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. Loyalty goes both ways.

Employees have moral duties to the organization, co-workers, and customers. If an employer were secretly to look for a replacement for an employee by conducting interviews behind the employee’s back, most employees would consider that an act of betrayal. “Why didn’t you tell me my job was at risk?” “Why didn’t you tell me that you were unhappy with my work so I had a chance to improve?” Does the employee owe the employer less? When an employee, without any notice to an employer secretly looks for a new job, often covering up interviewing time with deceptions or lies, is the conduct any less untrustworthy?

When an employer decides to let an employee go, it is generally thought that the employer should give the employee ample notice or severance pay. But what of the ethics of the employee who walks into the boss’ office and says, “I have an opportunity I can’t turn down and they need me to start this Friday”? Because of the disparity in power, many employees adopt a double standard that gives them more leeway than they afford the employer. One aspect of this attitude draws on the doubtful assertions of necessity. Another is the implicit belief that if an offer is too good to refuse, there is no moral obligation to refuse. It doesn’t take much scrutiny to see that these are self-serving rationalizations. The moral obligations of an employee include loyalty, candor, caring and respect. The mismatch in economic strength between the employer and the employee does not change that.

People of character take into account their moral obligations to their employer before they interview for another job. If they know that their departure will jeopardize the organization, co-workers, or customers they should make it clear at the job interview that they are not available until they have provided a reasonable transition. If we are not certain how much hardship departure may cause, the principle of respect suggests that the parties most affected be given an opportunity to participate in a discussion to suggest the least harmful alternative. Because the employee-employer relationship operates in the context of business, there is a tendency to play by different rules dictated by who has the leverage, and principles of expediency — what you can get away with — rather than moral principle.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt V April 17, 2012 at 6:46 am

“The mismatch in economic strength between the employer and the employee does not change that.”

I disagree. With great power comes greater responsibility. Point of fact, the entire foundation of a corporation is to maximize profits. No where in there is a notion that a company should maximize their employees welfare, that just happens to be a particularly useful mechanism to maximize profits in highly creative and intellectual jobs.

Likewise, what would be considered ample time to notify an employee? If you consider that it takes at best a month, but usually 3-6 months to find a good job equal to your previous one AND most recruiters prefer to recruit people already employed (especially in this economy); that would imply the moral obligation of a company is to give sufficient time to an employee so that they can find a new job. Otherwise, the company is pursuing its own interests (maximizing profit).

Do companies hire replacement workers and let current ones go? Sure, that’s called outsourcing.

Case in point. As an employee, I gave 3 weeks notice to my employer. As a result, I notified my new employer I wouldn’t be starting for 3 weeks. Then my old employeer went crazy and started making up lies and trying to make my life hell. I had to lose 2 weeks of my earned vacation as a result.

Instead of morality, I think perhaps policy is better. If an employee could signal to their company that they were going to be looking for a new job so the company should start looking for a replacement (without reprisal), I think more people would be inclined to give 3 months notice. If this was legally bound by a “Notice to Leave” contract, and they would get severance if they were let go earlier…then I would say sure.

However, you can’t ignore power asymmetries when talking about morality. Someone with more power has more responsibility. I don’t expect my dogs to take care of me when I am sick, even though I take care of them everyday.

That a company can make billions in profit and justify laying off employees for their own self-interest (or the profit margins of their shareholders), quite starkly contrasts your assertions. Indeed, if either side deludes themselves into thinking a moral imperative exists then they will only expose themselves to risk when that assumption is violated.

Morality works…because it works. That is, what we think as ethical has lead to success. However, if being ethical meant the annihilation of our specious, then ethics would be ignored I suspect. I don’t say “hypothetically” lead to, but actually lead to. Yes, we never know the future, but my point is if you view the set of choices that an individual (and then collectively the society has) as the space of possible solutions to life (maximizing longevity)…then it turns out that ethics is a very efficient, long-term solution to the problem. However, company’s are structured to think short-term.

However, as work increasingly moves towards knowledge-workers, the power asymmetry has shifted more. As a result, if employers want to maximize their profits, they are better off being moral. But extreme morality and “fairness” would be communism or socialism (why don’t have 6 weeks of vacation in USA?).

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Craig January 8, 2013 at 8:47 am

Family business-One sister owns the business, I am office manager, other sister also works, my son used to work here also, -but has been released with alot of bad!! bad!!!blood running thru the building between me and the owner. She has taken alot of my duties away from me, she does not utter a word to me, I ask questions thru email and she responds to someone else to handle it and cc’s me on it. I can not and have no space to really express my grief and stress that i feel. there is no respect for me. I am losing sleep and throw up before walking into work. I want to quit, want to be fired. Someone please give me feedback

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Aglago Sitso December 12, 2013 at 5:11 pm

It’s bad to experience these situations at workplaces but I think when you go for general meeting or board meetings these issues should be looked at and address there. Moreover, you should see or report the situation to the personnel manage ( the person in charge of grievances) to find means of solving the issue. Gook luck

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Oksy K February 3, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Hi Michael,
The following is my response to your blog required as a part of Business Ethics course I am taking. Thank you for your thought-provoking article and the opportunity to post my response.
In your blog post you raised several issues regarding employee and employer relationship, especially concerning loyalty. You stated that “the moral obligations of an employee include loyalty, candor, caring and respect”. You also suggested that “Employees also have moral obligations, and they go beyond giving a full day’s work for a full day’s pay.”
After reading various publications written by several ethics theorists and also based on my personal work experience I have to disagree with you. I would argue by saying an employee’s loyalty beyond the call of duty can only be an optional response, a gift to an organisation, not an obligation, because loyalty grows out of a relationship based on trust, develops over time, and is greatly due to one’s identification with organisation’s mission, activity, or product.
Fielder supports this view by arguing that “the loyalty we can require is that employees provide a reasonable degree of cooperation as a contribution to the legitimate goals of the organization.” (Fielder, p.79) He further states that “an organization has the right to expect employees to promote and protect its legitimate interests in their work, but an employee similarly has a right to a private life where actions are not subject to company requirements. (Fielder, p.73)
Schrag also suggests that “loyalty can motivate the employee to act for the organization above and beyond the call of duty, but there cannot be a duty to act above and beyond the call of duty.” (Schrag, p.47)
De George remarks that “obedience can be required of employees, but loyalty cannot be demanded. It must be developed, encouraged, and, ultimately, earned.” (De George, p.353)
Interestingly enough, one of the theorists, Ronald Duska, argued that employee loyalty to an organisation is not even possible. He believed that “the kinds of relationships that loyalty require are just the kind that one does not find in business…An employer will release an employee and an employee will walk away from an employer when it is profitable for either one to do so.” (Schrag, p.50)
For most people thought the notion of loyalty to an organisation, willingness to make personal sacrifices above and beyond their job descriptions for the good of the organisation, is a very real and important concept.
Like you I think that loyalty is a two-way street, and most employees believe that it’s up to the organisation to earn and retain their loyalty. It would be morally unacceptable for employers to expect employee loyalty without reciprocating that loyalty. At a practical level, it means offering reasonable job security. Schrag believes that job security is a minimal condition for the development of employee loyalty. (Schrag, p.61) In the current global economic environment though, many organisations are finding it increasingly hard or even impossible to sustain the level of job security required. Recent downsizings, restructuring and poorly managed organisational change resulted in loss of trust and less employee loyalty. It would be reasonable to question then why so many organisations despite not being able to provide this minimal condition still expect employees to demonstrate their loyalty in countless ways beyond their contractual obligations.
Even when good reasons exist why unlimited job security may not be possible, that doesn’t change the fact that loyalty can be offered by the employee but cannot be demanded or claimed as a duty by organisation. (Schrag, p.46) Loyalty develops over time and requires continuity, which cannot be guaranteed.
Arguably, it should come as no surprise that so many employees today are not willing to go any further than what Schrag calls “a “minimalist sense of loyalty, which simply involves fidelity to duty.” (Schrag, p.44)
Most would agree that loyalty in a richer sense can be beneficial for employees. Loyalty to the organisation allows employees to live for something larger than themselves; provide them with sense of identity and give meaning to their work.
However, even though displaying loyalty beyond obligations that come with the job seems morally permissible, it is not morally obligatory. (Shaw, p.387)

In your post you also question ethical judgement of an employee wishing to terminate his or her employment at a very short notice. It seems to me that you view this as an act of disloyalty. Many employers have similar opinion, often holding their employees to be disloyal for a failure to identify with the organisation. I disagree. It depends on the context of course, but generally speaking, merely leaving, as such, does not constitute disloyalty. If an employee meets all his or her basic job responsibilities, but has no allegiance to the organisation, that alone does not make an employee disloyal. They simply lack loyalty, which is not the same thing. Your example also shows an employee who clearly isn’t willing to contribute their talents and time to the organisation. So, perhaps the organisation is actually better off without such an employee? I will show why.
Benefits of employee loyalty to the organisation are obvious – lower absenteeism, low turnover, higher productivity and quality, to name a few. However, Schrag suggests that “loyalty can be a two-edged sword for a firm. Its value will depend in part on the kind of loyalty under consideration.” (Schrag, p.57) He provides an example of loyalty which could become a liability for the organisation by pointing out that if one’s loyalty is merely to the status, prestige, and benefits of the executive’s position, then such person may only be motivated by personal benefit rather that well-being of the organisation. (Schrag, p.57)
I would argue that employees who lack loyalty without being disloyal also fall in the same category, because no matter how well they fulfil their job obligations, they have no reluctance to leave the organisation and would do so as soon as a better offer is presented.

References
(1) Schrag, B. (2001). The Moral Significance of Employee Loyalty. Business Ethics Quarterly, 11(1), 41-66.
(2) Fielder, J. (1992). Organizational Loyalty. Business & Professional Ethics Journal, 11(1), 71-90.
(3) De George, R. (1990). Business Ethics (3rd ed.). New York: McMillan.
(4) Shaw, W. (2011). Business Ethics: a Textbook with Cases. (7th ed.). Boston, USA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

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Jerico October 25, 2013 at 6:55 am

Hi Oksy K. I totally agree with you especially the part saying, “It would be morally unacceptable for employers to expect employee loyalty without reciprocating that loyalty.”

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Joel April 29, 2013 at 2:58 am

I have always followed the saying ‘a good leader is a good follower’. An employer needs to be transparent and fair to all employees to maintain good relationship and strengthen loyalty. For employee, loyalty and dedication to their work should be always implemented.

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LMW May 7, 2013 at 2:38 am

This response is part of a business ethics assignment.
In your blog titled “Responsibilities in the Employer-Employee Relationship”, you state that ‘Employees also have moral obligations, and they go beyond giving a full day’s work for a full day’s pay, loyalty goes both ways’ and ‘The moral obligations of an employee include loyalty, candour, caring and respect’; I would like to respond to these statements.
Firstly, I’d like to comment on your suggestion that employees have a moral obligation that go beyond giving a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. I disagree with this. While it would be nice for employees to have a sense of moral obligation to their employers and certainly both may benefit from such feelings, employees do not have a moral obligation to the company’s they work for but a contractual obligation. Dictionary.com defines the term ‘moral obligation’ as ‘an obligation arising out of considerations of right and wrong’ (“moral obligation,” n.d.). The terms of employment, which are set out in an employment contract, ascertain what is considered ‘right or wrong’ within a job, and these terms are what need consideration when an employee is making job related decisions. This contractual agreement is the only obligation that an employee has for an employer (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2013, p.16) and anything above and beyond this obligation is a bonus. You imply that the decision for an employee to leave a company with little notice is an immoral act, but while it may be wrong for the company they are leaving, it may be right for the employee and for that matter the employee’s new company. Who is to say that the previous company’s needs are more important than the employees or the new company’s needs? What if the employee was deeply unhappy in their current job and it was having a negative impact on all aspects of their life? Do you think they should still be expected to stay working in their current position in order to fulfil a moral obligation to the company at the expense of their own well-being? Utilitarianism ethicists would argue that the morally right thing to do would be whatever caused the greatest amount of good or least amount of harm when comparing the alternatives and in a situation where the employee was miserable I would argue that staying just to fulfil a moral obligation to the company would not be the best course of action or result in the greatest amount of good or least amount of harm. Even if the employee wasn’t miserable, I would argue that as long as the employee isn’t in breach of their contractual agreement they are free to leave their employer without guilt, and whenever it is right for them.
The next point I’d like to comment on is in regards to your comments about loyalty. You say, ‘loyalty goes both ways’ and ‘The moral obligations of an employee include loyalty, candour, caring and respect’. Ronald Duska (1990) believes that employees are not morally obliged to be loyal to the company they work for as loyalty is owed to not just anyone but to people with which you have a special relationship that is based on faithfulness and constancy and an employee/company relationship does not constitute this type of relationship. I agree with this as a company’s main objective is to maximise profits and they hire employees with the intention that they will help them to achieve their financial goals, not because they feel a sense of faithfulness to them. If the employees no longer contribute to the company’s goals of maximising profits then the company will not hesitate in firing the employee and so it is only fair that if the employee feels that the company can no longer help them achieve their own personal career goals and aspirations then they can leave the company with no feelings of guilt for being disloyal. Duska (1990) states that ‘Loyalty is incompatible with self- interest, because it is something that necessarily requires we go beyond self- interest’ (p.144) and as companies are driven by the self- interest of making profits the concept of loyalty would not be compatible with an employee/employer relationship.
I do think that the idea of an employee/employer relationship based on candour, respect, caring and loyalty is a nice one and would be beneficial to both parties and I do believe such relationships exist and work well, but these relationships develop because of the work ethic, personal moral beliefs and management styles of the individuals. They go beyond the call of duty but they are not a moral obligation. Employee’s may choose not to speak openly and frankly to their employers due to the fear of a negative reaction and instead may choose to go about their duties while quietly looking for a new job. As long as their job search is outside of work hours and does not interrupt or effect their current work output and efficiency then I do not see how this is a bad thing or acting immorally. It may take a long time for them to find new employment and they might not find another job and instead decide to stay and so until a new job is confirmed it could end up being more disruptive and destructive to the current employee/employer relationship if the employee was to be candour and tell the employer of their plans.

References
Duska, R. F. (1990). Whistleblowing and employee loyalty. In J. R. Desjardins & J. J. McCall (Eds.), Contemporary issues in business ethics (2nd ed., pp. 142-147). Belmont CA: Wadsworth.
Moral obligation. (n.d.). WordNet® 3.0. Retrieved April 30, 2013, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/moral obligation)
Oksy K. (February 3, 2013 at 12:37 pm). Responsibilities in the Employer-Employee Relationship. Message posted to http://josephsoninstitute.org/business/blog/2010/12/responsibilities-in-the-employer-employee-relationship/
The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2013). Module 2: Ethics and employment relations. In 71203 Business Ethics. Lower Hutt, New Zealand: Author.

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Hasan November 13, 2013 at 10:57 am

hey there,,
I am working in a private company and I talked to one employee who is working under me about his absence from work in the last few month , and he told me that he is working in another company to have more money for his wife’s surgery .

what should be my action as a leader ? and who I should inform ??

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Michael Josephson November 18, 2013 at 6:55 am

As his supervisor you must inform the employee that he must fulfill all his obligations to your company. Unless you have a rule against moonlighting (taking another job) there is no need to report the employee but you do need to be sure he meets his obligations. As a fellow human being you should be sympathetic and as helpful as you can be within the framework of the company’s rules.

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Crawford January 29, 2014 at 6:33 pm

Michael,
This following response is part of my Business Ethics course assignment where we submit a critical response to your post.
In your introduction and body of your blog you state that “the employer-employee relationship should not be looked at simply in economic terms. “, that “employees have moral duties to the organisation co-workers and customers” and that “People of character take into account their moral obligations to their employer before they interview for another job”
I’d like to reply in this forum to these statements.
To the first point in regard to not looking at the employee-employer relationship as a purely economic one. This depends on what context it is viewed in. Given we operate in New Zealand in a capitalist free market based economic model we let the market decide the supply of goods depending on the demand for them. Employees (labour) in the modern age of deregulated globalization are part of the supply side of the economic equation. As markets evolve so do the types of employment available. As New Zealand restructured and deregulated during the 1980’s through Rogernomics and continued to this day to try and compete in a world market, this has been reflected in the amount of factories and related industries that have closed down. The majority of these employees would have been blissfully unaware that they were to be made redundant until the announcement was made public, loyalty from the employer? The employers decision was purely an economic one.
Even if this is taken down to a family business size (Small and Medium sized Enterprises) of which is the majority of businesses in New Zealand, labour (employee’s) has to be looked at purely on the supply side of the economic picture for people to invest back in the growth of their businesses’ to go forward economically.
I don’t share your view that employees have a moral duty to the organisation co-workers and customers. There is a distinct gap between personal loyalty and a perceived or expected loyalty to a colleague company or customer base.
“Loyalty is ordinarily construed as a state of being constant and faithful in a relation implying trust or confidence, as a wife to a husband, friend to friend, parent to child, lord to vassal, etc” (Ronald Duska, 1990,p.144).
Loyalty by definition is:
loy•al•ty (loi′əl-tē)
n. pl.loy•al•ties
1. The state or quality of being loyal. See Synonyms at fidelity.
2. A feeling or attitude of devoted attachment and affection. Often used in the plural: My loyalties lie with my family.
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/loyalty
Devoted attachment and affection….these are associated with a personal relationship, an emotional attachment, one of which is equal and osmotic. An employer will make decisions based on fact and logic which won’t or can’t revolve around emotional attachment in a capitalist environment. To express loyalty is that both parties are equal in the transfer of trust and emotional attachment with each other. The employee has no more moral duty to his colleagues, company or clients than the company has when it is answerable to its balance sheet and or shareholders. Blood is thicker than water applies to a personal relationship but certainly not to a company, colleagues or client base.
In your post you question that people of character would take into account their moral obligations to their employer before they interview for another job is a rather altruistic and idealist view. This is similar to my view around loyalty to a company/organisation colleague or customer, in a competitive environment an employee needs to look after number one, themselves. In an environment of downsizing, restructuring, optimizing and maximizing returns to stakeholders the obligations to an employer are over taken by a “snooze you lose” philosophy. Only a virtue ethicist would support the view as you have stated as it is virtuous and avoids the vices of selfishness and narcissism. A utilitarian would trade off maximizing happiness over minimizing any potential suffering to come to an outcome which would favour not revealing to colleagues, clients or employers that they were seeking another job. The Kantian theorist would look to the principles behind his or her actions rather than what they are actually doing by not confiding in their colleagues, clients or employers. This is an example which certainly separates personal ethics from business ethics on moral grounds. Similarly to comparing personal integrity to professional integrity. Personal moral obligations would work with an emotional affectionate attachment such as an in home situation or close relationship around sharing of information telling people in advance etc. A professional obligation to your employer on moral grounds is questionable given the onus on loyalty to them is a moot point.
Ultimately the view that employee-employer relationships shouldn’t be viewed simply as an economic transaction doesn’t fit into a modern capitalistic economy particularly one such as we have in New Zealand. In this environment the employers main objective it to maximise profit and/or maximise returns to their stakeholders. The primary objective of every employer in this capitalistic environment is personal happiness and/or wealth at the expense of the employees. There isn’t any moral obligation to inform colleagues, clients or employers or anything that involves an employee’s personal business; this includes job interviews, looking for other work or seeking self-improvement. In reality the employee-employer relationship is based on supply and demand economics. The employee supplies labour as the employer meets demand, with a minimal if at all emotional attachment.

References
Duska, R.F. (1990). Whistleblowing and employee loyalty. In J.R Desjardins & J.J McCall (Eds.), Contemporary issues in business ethics (2nd ed., pp.142-147). Belmont CA: Wadsworth
Copyright ©Wadsworth, Inc.
The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2013). Module 2: Ethics and employment relations. 71203 Business Ethics. Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Copyright ©The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/loyalty
Wakin, M. M. (1996). Professional integrity. Air Power Journal, 10(2), 23-29. Retrieved July 28, 2004, from ww.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/sum96.html
Copyright © US Government
http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/ethics-for-dummies-cheat-sheet.html
Jamie Gudsell Std No. 2333318 (2014) Constructive Feedback

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Darlene February 5, 2014 at 10:51 pm

I am replying to your blog as part of a business ethics assignment. I don’t usually read blogs but have found this an interesting assignment and enjoyed the opportunity to comment on your blog. Thank you for your views on this topic. I will share with you my views as an employee.
Your opening statement “The employer-employee relationship should not be looked at simply in economic terms. It is a significant human relationship of mutual dependency that has great impact on the people involved and both the employer and the employee have moral obligations arising from this relationship.” I agree a person’s job is important and has a major impact on not only their lives but of those around them. Our course material states; a company or an employee is not the sort of entity who can or should have an emotional relationship with you. One can have obligations of loyalty to and expect loyalty from, real people with whom one has personal relationships such as friends and family. (Open Polytechnic). The relationship between employer and employee should be one of mutual respect and a clear objective and goal to obtain.
You also stated: “An ethical employer does not think of employees only as a means to an end.”
An employer will release an employee and an employee will walk away from an employer when it is profitable to do so. (Duska). The making of a product is not done for its own sake, but from a business perspective is a means to an end, the making of a profit. (Duska). “To treat a company as a person is analogous to treating a machine as a person or treating a system as a person.” (Duska). In today’s economic times, companies aren’t content just making a profit, the expectations are always greater profits. Unfortunately this is sometimes at the expense of the employee when a company “down-sizes” or “restructures”. The television news often reports of companies down-sizing or outsourcing jobs because it is more viable for the company. Bottom line is, a company is to make a profit or they wouldn’t stay in business. Most businesses are financially driven. Employees about to be laid off are not given the consideration of being informed of a possible job loss. The broad definition of company loyalty measures an employee’s willingness to sacrifice leisure time, personal relationships, family responsibilities and general life aspirations in the name of the company. People are disillusioned with the idea of loyalty to companies. Gone are the days where companies are family orientated, employees are often just a number. A number that can be manipulated to adjust profits. There is no loyalty. (James Brusseau).
Your view on the duty of employees I feel is misguided. Your scenario of an employer secretly conducting interviews for your replacement could give rise to other legal obligations. An employer has contracts and procedures such as warnings it can take if they want to terminate an employee. An employee has rights, but this is a different issue. It is common in business today for regular staff turnover for various reasons. Employees may be unhappy and may seek employment elsewhere and this is usually done in secret as you described. Unfortunately this is a necessary process and is not a disloyalty. If an employer was pre-warned that an employee was seeking out other employment, there is a high possibility of negative repercussions. The employer may try to end the employment, or even make the work environment unpleasant. In saying that, people generally give adequate notice of departure so both sides can make the transition comfortably and with minimal disruption.
In conclusion, the relationship between employer and employee is not and never will be one of loyalty but one of mutual respect and an understanding of the business objectives to make a product or service resulting in profits.

References
Duska, R.F. (1990) Whistleblowing and employee loyalty.
The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand (2013) 71203 Business Ethics, Module 2: Ethics and employment relations
James Brusseau; The Business Ethics Workshop v 1.0 (wwwcatalog.flatworldknowledge.com/bookhub/reader/1695?e=brusseau-ch01)

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assignment writing UK May 3, 2014 at 6:44 am

I am replying to your blog as part of a business ethics assignment. I don’t usually read blogs but have found this an interesting assignment and enjoyed the opportunity to comment on your blog.

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AL July 3, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Hello, I work in Florida on a 5 year Government contract given to a private for profit company. Rumors that 4 employees will be fired when the contract ends are in the air. When the Government renews the contract for 10 years instead of five. What rights do these 4 workers have. New contract is calling for the elimination of 4 spots also.

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Musa November 17, 2014 at 2:31 am

Are commitment to a contract and business ethics essential to the world of work?”, do you agree or desagree?

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Rob Short January 18, 2015 at 6:47 pm

I like this article and do not really take issue with what has been said. However, having been given the assignment of critically commenting on an article for a business ethics paper I respectfully submit the following comment/s.

The broad premise of this article appears to come in two parts. Firstly, it is suggested that the employer-employee relationship should not be looked at simply in economic terms. Subsequently it is suggested that both employers and employees have moral obligations to each other arising from their employment relationship. The main body of the article appears to be concerned with discussing these moral obligations and appears to support the Kantian view that people should not be treated as a means to an end It also aligns in with the Social contract theory.

The article does not mention employer or employee obligations and duties in relation to employment law, which actually covers many issues that may otherwise be contested as moral issues. In decision making terms it would be usual to firstly establish what the law says and then consider morality aspects. Employment law which, whilst not always fully tested or entirely prescriptive provides both employee and employer with a fairly comprehensive guide to what is right and wrong behaviour within the employment relationship.

In view of this, I question the value of adding a moral dimension at all, beyond suggesting that both the employer and employee have a moral duty to each other to understand and honour their respective obligations according to contract and law. But even here I question the need to add the word moral in that the duty is already incumbent upon them on the basis of legality, in which case the moral aspect merely endorses compliance to a pre-existing obligation and as such may be considered superfluous.

However, brushing past the above I find myself with more questions regarding the validity or workability of the premise regarding moral obligations in a fairly general sense.

What of the wide variety of views people hold regarding what determines the moral good in a situation, decision or action? Someone who basis their decisions on a deontological basis may have a very different opinion of the moral good to someone who follows utilitarianism or Kantianism, to name but a few. Even within these broad groups there are many conflicting perspectives and opposing views. Who is to say what moral obligations should be adhered to by employees and employers?

To suggest that “companies have a moral obligation to make business decisions in a manner that demonstrates concern for and seeks to advance the welfare of employees” is merely to state a personal view of “what is right”. My view of what is morally right may be to replace the word advance with protect, which is no righter or wronger than the other statement, in which case who is to say what “the” moral obligations or employer or employee are?

If these moral obligations are lawful and are to form part of the relationship then they should be documented and if they are documented should form part of the contract and if they are a part of the contract and then there is no need to categorise them as moral obligations because they are now contractual obligations.

Or are these moral obligations distinguished from law and contracts by their un-written nature? In which case, given the broad and diverse range of views on morality amongst different people is it sensible to expect them to benefit anyone?

If one were to take an example from the article or a moral obligation suggested as being incumbent upon both employer and employee, one may choose to consider loyalty.

Even if loyalty were held to be an incumbent moral responsibility of both parties how would the specific contributing behaviours of loyalty be quantified or defined. It seems to me that incorporating an un-defined duty of loyalty into the employment relationship does little more than create subjective, vague and perhaps un-reasonable expectations amongst both parties. Further to this it negates the value of defined duties and responsibilities provisioned for in a legitimate employment agreement/ contract. If the contract says two week notice period shall be given by each party then it is a contract issue not a moral issue. Am I then expected to give the company a three week notice period because that would fulfil their loyalty expectations, even though my view of the loyalty account would suggest I should only give a one week notice period?
But of course we have employment law and contracts as a common point of reference for employees and employers to evaluate their incumbent duties. So surely adding un-written and un-defined expectations just contributes to confusion and conflict
The statement of “loyalty goes both ways” appears to undermine the premise that employers and employees each hold an incumbent duty of loyalty to each other, but rather suggests that loyalty is a commodity in the relationship that is tradable on some kind of a reciprocal basis. The loyalty goes both ways “rule” for moral guidance tends to imply that loyalty is not a given component of the relationship but rather an earned component, in which case it cannot be sensibly demanded as a blanket obligation.
To summarise I would suggest that employment law and contracts should be the primary source of determining obligations in regard to employer-employee relations. This I would suggest largely leaves morality as a personal matter that individuals may or may not allow to influence their choices within the scope of the law. Loyalty is a bit like trust in that you can give it but not demand it, and in the workplace banking on it may not be wise.

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Ula January 19, 2015 at 1:04 am

Hi Michael, I’m responding to your blog as part of a business ethics course I’m currently taking with the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, our task is to argue one or more claims on a business ethics I chose your blog as I can relate to the responsibilities in the employer-employee relationships.
As a full time employee I can understand your point of view, that the responsibilities in the employee-employer relationship shouldn’t be seen as only in economic terms, but significant human relations of mutual dependency. In accordance to Kantian theory, the principle of moral actions is to consider humanity rationality (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2013) the maxim will and what is morally acceptable, provided that the categorical imperative is in according to our moral duties in life (Kantian Ethics, n.d.). But I would argue the claim, it cannot only be of human relation dependency as economic and human dependency is interrelated. The employment relationship agreement is both economic and social (Rudman, 2000). There are 6 elements, an offer and acceptance, consideration, intention to create, capacity, consent and legality (Rudman, 2000). In consideration of economic terms employer’s is to pay salary honestly, respect, provide good working conditions and seek to advance staff welfare. The word “relationship” started from old traditions of law and the concept from master and servant (Rudman, 2000).
Your blog states the moral obligation for employees is loyalty, candor, caring and respect. In my view, I would measure this as also a human “psyche” aspects inclusive of the employment contractual agreement and would argue the claim that the moral obligation of employees on loyalty in giving a full day’s work for a full day’s pay in accordance with my other Open Polytechnic students comment from Schrag that “loyalty can motivate the employee to act for the organisation above and beyond the call of duty, but there cannot be a duty to act above and beyond the call of duty.” (Schrag, p47.There is that expectation of loyalty to go both ways although, In my own work experience the new challenges within the organisational like my job role, the terms, responsibilities and conditions changed. As an employee, in giving a full day’s work for a full day’s pay came down to my decision to go beyond my employment obligations and would argue the claim of loyalty in my actions. As it was mostly done for self interest and self satisfaction and considers my actions as anything more and outside of my employment contractual agreement as indicated anything over and above the contractual agreement it becomes obliged to do (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand 2013). The obligations of loyalty claims is that first premise lies within the contract obligation between two parties for employment; second premise is mutual and appropriate that loyalty is to be recognised (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand 2013). The employee’s obligation in contractual agreements provides 4 obligations 1) that employees must be present at the workplace, ready and willing to perform the required work contract 2) to obey lawful and reasonable orders 3) to exercise reasonable care 4) to work faithfully and honestly (Rudman 2000). If faithfully equals loyalty then I did not recognised it when i made the decision for my actions. According to Duska, a company or an employer does not have the recognition of mutual reciprocated emotional relationship. The obligation of loyalty to and from real people like friends and family whom have the emotional relationship that can be reciprocated (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand 2013). Furthermore, I would relate this also to other employees and customers that you mentioned in your blog, if there is an emotional relation, that can be forged with other employees and customers and be recognised and can be reciprocated then there is loyalty owed.
I also found interesting is whether an employee has a moral obligation of loyalty to their current employer when seeking future employment, and is seen as an act of betrayal. Employee’s that seek future employment serves their self interest and is beneficial to the employee, but I would disagree it’s an act of betrayal of loyalty by the employee. People of character have virtue habits and would take into account their employment relation responsibilities as this is what they would do in their virtue approach, this is illustrated by their character traits or disposition traits. An individual character is of their trait of character (Virtue Ethics, 2005). But argue from, the Kantian theory and the Utilitarianism theory aspects, as perspective people morally are based on free self (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand 2013). Kantian theory says that the individual is intrinsically, valuable and should be treated with importance, but never to be used as object of value as a means for other purposes (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2013). Utilitarianism theory is identifying the options for action that would provide for maximising happiness and to minimise suffering to all those that will be affected (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand 2013). Whether, the departure of an employee jeopardises the organisation or not, I would disagree if both parties were given the participation opportunity that will maximise the most happiness and less suffering for all those concerned.
In conclusion, (Milton Friedman) Profit maximisation provides that most managers are to act on behalf of the company, to be entrusted to act for the company and to further company interest (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2013). So, for an employee’s to jeopardise its organiation in their departure according to profit maximisation, I think not at all.

References
Kantian Ethics. (n.d.). Kantian Ethics. Retrieved from

http://www.csus.edu/indiv/g/gaskilld/ethics/Kantian%20Ethics.htm

Oksy,K. (2013,February 3). Re:Responsibilites in the Employer-Employee relationship [web log comment]. Retrieved from
http://www.josephsoninstitute.or/business/blog/2014

Rudman, R. (2000). Human Resources Management in New Zealand. Auckland, New Zealand: Pearson

The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2013). Module 2 Ethics and employment relations. Lower Hutt, New Zealand: The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand.

Virtue Ethics (2005, November 28). Re:A Basic introductory Essay. Retrieved from
http://people.wku.edu/jan.garrett/ethics/virtthry.htm

Reply

ula January 19, 2015 at 2:43 am

Hi Michael, I’m responding to your blog as part of a business ethics course I’m currently taking with the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, our task is to argue one or more claims on a business ethics I chose your blog as I can relate to the responsibilities in the employer-employee relationships.
As a full time employee I can understand your point of view, that the responsibilities in the employee-employer relationship shouldn’t be seen as only in economic terms, but significant human relations of mutual dependency. In accordance to Kantian theory, the principle of moral actions is to consider humanity rationality (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2013) the maxim will and what is morally acceptable, provided that the categorical imperative is in according to our moral duties in life (Kantian Ethics, n.d.). But I would argue the claim, it cannot only be of human relation dependency as economic and human dependency is interrelated. The employment relationship agreement is both economic and social (Rudman, 2000). There are 6 elements, an offer and acceptance, consideration, intention to create, capacity, consent and legality (Rudman, 2000). In consideration of economic terms employer’s is to pay salary honestly, respect, provide good working conditions and seek to advance staff welfare. The word “relationship” started from old traditions of law and the concept from master and servant (Rudman, 2000).
Your blog states the moral obligation for employees is loyalty, candor, caring and respect. In my view, I would measure this as also a human “psyche” aspects inclusive of the employment contractual agreement and would argue the claim that the moral obligation of employees on loyalty in giving a full day’s work for a full day’s pay in accordance with my other Open Polytechnic students comment from Schrag that “loyalty can motivate the employee to act for the organisation above and beyond the call of duty, but there cannot be a duty to act above and beyond the call of duty.” (Schrag, p47.There is that expectation of loyalty to go both ways although, In my own work experience the new challenges within the organisational like my job role, the terms, responsibilities and conditions changed. As an employee, in giving a full day’s work for a full day’s pay came down to my decision to go beyond my employment obligations and would argue the claim of loyalty in my actions. As it was mostly done for self interest and self satisfaction and considers my actions as anything more and outside of my employment contractual agreement as indicated anything over and above the contractual agreement it becomes obliged to do (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand 2013). The obligations of loyalty claims is that first premise lies within the contract obligation between two parties for employment; second premise is mutual and appropriate that loyalty is to be recognised (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand 2013). The employee’s obligation in contractual agreements provides 4 obligations 1) that employees must be present at the workplace, ready and willing to perform the required work contract 2) to obey lawful and reasonable orders 3) to exercise reasonable care 4) to work faithfully and honestly (Rudman 2000). If faithfully equals loyalty then I did not recognised it when i made the decision for my actions. According to Duska, a company or an employer does not have the recognition of mutual reciprocated emotional relationship. The obligation of loyalty to and from real people like friends and family whom have the emotional relationship that can be reciprocated (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand 2013). Furthermore, I would relate this also to other employees and customers that you mentioned in your blog, if there is an emotional relation, that can be forged with other employees and customers and be recognised and can be reciprocated then there is loyalty owed.
I also found interesting is whether an employee has a moral obligation of loyalty to their current employer when seeking future employment, and is seen as an act of betrayal. Employee’s that seek future employment serves their self interest and is beneficial to the employee, but I would disagree it’s an act of betrayal of loyalty by the employee. People of character have virtue habits and would take into account their employment relation responsibilities as this is what they would do in their virtue approach, this is illustrated by their character traits or disposition traits. An individual character is of their trait of character (Virtue Ethics, 2005). But argue from, the Kantian theory and the Utilitarianism theory aspects, as perspective people morally are based on free self (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand 2013). Kantian theory says that the individual is intrinsically, valuable and should be treated with importance, but never to be used as object of value as a means for other purposes (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2013). Utilitarianism theory is identifying the options for action that would provide for maximising happiness and to minimise suffering to all those that will be affected (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand 2013). Whether, the departure of an employee jeopardises the organisation or not, I would disagree if both parties were given the participation opportunity that will maximise the most happiness and less suffering for all those concerned.
In conclusion, (Milton Friedman) Profit maximisation provides that most managers are to act on behalf of the company, to be entrusted to act for the company and to further company interest (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2013). So, for an employee’s to jeopardise its organiation in their departure according to profit maximisation, I think not at all.

References
Kantian Ethics. (n.d.). Kantian Ethics. Retrieved from

http://www.csus.edu/indiv/g/gaskilld/ethics/Kantian%20Ethics.htm

Oksy,K. (2013,February 3). Re:Responsibilites in the Employer-Employee relationship [web log comment]. Retrieved from
http://www.josephsoninstitute.or/business/blog/2014

Rudman, R. (2000). Human Resources Management in New Zealand. Auckland, New Zealand: Pearson

The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2013). Module 2 Ethics and employment relations. Lower Hutt, New Zealand: The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand.

Virtue Ethics (2005, November 28). Re:A Basic introductory Essay. Retrieved from
http://people.wku.edu/jan.garrett/ethics/virtthry.htm

Reply

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