Luke, an employee at ABC Company is part of a development project and has access to information concerning the construction of an adult entertainment store in a certain neighborhood. Luke and a few other top managers are the only individuals who are privy to this information. Coincidentally, the location of the adult entertainment store is within the same neighborhood where Owen, his brother lives. Luke reasons that if the information on the prospective adult store will be released publicly, the land prices will depreciate sharply as residents shall relocate to other habitable areas. Given that the announcement will be made after a month, Luke is worried that his brother might get a low price for his property when he sells it. Conversely, Owen just informed Luke that he was offered the full market price for his land. However, he is reluctant and feels that the property value will rise in a few years. In this situation, Luke is at a crossroad on whether to divulge secret company information on the looming construction to his brother or let Owen decide for himself when to sell his property.
In this particular situation, an employee is faced with an ethical decision of whether or not to divulge crucial information that will influence the decision of a close relative. On one hand, Luke is responsible for the proper management and administration of the development project and this includes releasing the information on the development of an adult store at the stipulated location. The whole company is dependent on Luke to exercise proper conduct and ethics when handling company information. On the other hand, there is Luke’s brother, Owen, who plans to make a crucial decision to sell his property. Luke and Owen are related and, therefore, Luke feels obligated to help his brother especially since he has inside information that could influence land rates in Owen’s neighborhood. The issue here then becomes whether Luke will maintain the integrity of company information, or leak some of it to his brother in an effort to help him make a profit in the sale.
The situation illustrated above is a classical case of maintaining confidentiality in the conduct of professional matters. Nearly all companies have a code of ethics that are accessible to all employees. Within the code of ethics are clauses concerning the maintenance of confidentiality while handling office information that guides employees in their daily functions. Several theories have been developed that attempt to explain the making of ethical decisions and the premises in which certain behavior can be considered ethical or not. The Universal Ethics (Kantian) theory was developed on the perspective that the only fundamentally good thing is a noble intention; therefore, a choice can only be good if the main drive behind it is an obligation to the ethical law (Liuzzo 34).
According to the Universal Ethics theory, an individual could be considered to have made the ethical decision if only their intentions were good. Furthermore, Kant also added that based on the categorical imperative principle, an individual’s actions could be considered ethical if they could be applied to other people without oppositions emerging. Taking Luke’s example and using the Kantian theory to assess whether he would be acting in an ethical manner to assist his brother, his actions would be considered unethical given that his intention might have been good but would not apply to all other employees without contradiction (Liuzzo 56).
The second theory that attempts to address ethical behavior in individuals is the utilitarianism theory. This theory states that the appropriate guiding principle is the one that make the most of utility specifically identified as capitalizing on happiness and eliminating suffering. This theory is more liberal in its application and provides opportunities for interpretation in different ways. According to this theory, actions are considered ethical only by their resultant outcomes even though the internal and external consequences in which these actions are done is normally considered. Borrowing heavily from the utilitarian maxim of ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’, this theory is also regularly applied to evaluate ethical situations. In Luke’s case, the utilitarianism theory would consider him helping his brother an ethical action considering that the outcome of the assistance would lead to Owen selling his property at the market price. This may be despite the several regulations and clauses that Luke might have contravened in the process. An assumption to this theory is that the end justifies the means and, therefore, encourages anarchy and unethical behavior (Liuzzo 176).
Luke is faced with a tough ethical decision whether to assist his brother to get the best market price for his property, or maintain the integrity of the official information by refusing to inform his brother of the imminent adult store construction. The best course of action would be to desist from divulging information about the forthcoming development of the adult store in his brother’s neighborhood. This is because Luke agreed to comply with code of ethics for ABC Company when being recruited and, therefore, he should maintain the confidentiality or risk being implicated in several lawsuits concerning the breach of contract. These implications can even lead to demotion or dismissal.
Liuzzo, Anthony. Essentials of Business Law. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2010. Print.
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