In a fast-changing global economy, human resources play a critical role in maintaining a strategic advantage for organisations. Human resources are people who make up the workers of a company or the economy as a whole. Human resources can also be used to identify the group of an organization responsible for identifying, choosing, hiring and preparing job candidates, as well as coordinating and handling employee benefits. The human resources department is important in an organization to help businesses cope with the changing economy and the need for quality employees. As such, human capital are vital to an enterprise regardless of their scale. The human resource department is primarily focused on maximizing employees’ productivity and protecting the company from issues related to the workforce. The human resource department performs a lot of legal and ethical issues related to the company’s workforce. From the laws of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to other standard practices of an organization the human resource must comply with the hiring, promotion, termination and other guidelines regarding the workforce to avoid legal actions against the organization. This paper explores the ethical issues expected in the human resource department by analyzing in detail six case studies of ethical dilemmas in human resource. It further pinpoints the ethical dilemmas by interviewing two working professionals who comment on one of the case studies. The analysis of the interview involves the application of ethical theories to provide insight on ethical issues in human resource.
Review of the Case Studies
Human resources face several ethical issues including employment issues, cash and incentive plans, employees’ discriminations, performance appraisal, privacy, safety and health problems and reconstructing and layoffs. The case studies shade light regarding these issues. In a case of Romana, a female intern in an upcoming power electronics startup, there is a case of discrimination. Romana and her colleagues had been requested to share a laboratory where they were to complete most of their projects. Romana was to share the lab space with nine other male interns. Since the laboratory could only accommodate a maximum of five interns, the working schedule was divided into two shifts one during daytime from 8 am to 4 pm and the other one at night from 4 pm to 12 am (Tan). It was decided to advocate for fairness the shifts will change during certain days of the week. The morning shift was a popular choice for a majority of the individuals. Romana was fortunate to be selected for four out of five daytime shifts. Several weeks into her internship one of the male interns asked how she was fairing she said she was good but tired (Tan). The intern insulted her indicating that she had no reason to be tired since she worked mostly in the morning shifts. Romana was offended but choose to ignore his comment. The following day Romana ran into the same intern who made a comment about her always getting her way because she was a girl. Since the intern did not behave similarly towards the other interns, Romana speculated that the colleague held a prejudice against female engineers.
A framework of laws and regulations have been enacted throughout the years to avoid discrimination of employees either by their employers or other employees regarding their gender, religion, race, age or disability. The intern insulted Romana by her gender while it is evident it was sheer luck for Romana to get four out of five-morning shifts. An ethical dilemma arises when the organization is expected to protect Romana against discrimination while maintaining a good working relationship in the laboratory. It is the responsibility of the human resource department to make decisions that will maximize productivity and advocate for a healthy working relationship.
In a small business organization with no resources to fund a human resource department the owners of the company has the responsibility to find, select and train the new recruits. In the case of the Athlete’s Warehouse, Colin Power the majority owner of the Athlete’s warehouse and several other small businesses in Grand Falls-Windsor sought the services of a human resource consultant. Power was trying to employ another employee part- time to help in the operations of his other business since his four businesses were expanding. Power was in a dilemma whether to promote someone from the firm or to hire someone from outside. Similarly, he admitted to the consultant he was not sure what the job description would include (Acadia Institute). Power began Athlete’s Warehouse, and after the initial success, he opened other business entities which encompassed a printing store, computer store and Tom Horton franchise, fast food firm. He had tried to employ another part-time employee for a trial period of three months, but it did not work well due to personality issues. His dilemma involves recruiting of a competent employee who will be able to assist in two of his business.
The human resource professionals or business owners face ethical dilemmas in the areas of the hiring of employees. Human resource is responsible for ensuring the recruitment of capable individuals to maximize production in the organization. Power is seeking an employee who can jungle between the little responsibilities in Athlete’s warehouse and the computer store. He does not understand the full job description hence it is difficult to access capabilities. Issues in recruiting are a significant issue in human resource, and this article reflects the dilemmas that human resource department face in accessing the best candidate for the job.
In another case, Sarah is promoted to a managerial position at her industrial engineering organization. In her new position, her responsibilities entail overseeing the company’s production sector which consists of approximately fifty workers who report to her. At her the end of her first day Sarah notices her factory workers continue to work past their eight hours shift. She questions the factor supervisor citing that the current budget of the facility cannot afford to pay for overtime (Barlett). The factor controller reports that the company meets production goals by making the workers work off the clock. The workers are aware they are not paid for their overtime but went along with the company’s decision to avoid losing their jobs. Sarah is shocked since she is very conscious off the clock is illegal and an exploitation of the employees. However, the factory supervisor confirms that indeed the company CEO, Who in turn is Sarah’s boss is aware of the practice.
This case is particularly interesting since Sarah’s options are limited considering that the CEO is involved in the exploitation of the workers. Cases of workers working overtime without the necessary compensation have been a topic in human resource under the cash and incentive plan. It is necessary for employees to be compensated for every production effort they put in the organization through incentive programs that are included in the firm’s budget.
Luke Cavanaugh was the deputy editor at a large Los Angeles company that specialized in the production of trailers, television spots, and other promotional film entertainment materials. His job description entailed helping the editor in breaking down a movie to get it ready for promotional distribution. His career was based on confidentiality. Luke was under pressure to provide the “insides” to his friends and family especially in the popular Hollywood production. The company was all aware of the external factors associated with working at a prestigious promotional company. Luke together with his colleagues was required to sign the confidentiality agreement at the beginning of their employment. Breaching of the agreement could result in immediate termination or legally action against the employee (Silliman ). Luke was working on a highly anticipated third movie in a trilogy, and although his friends and family pressured him for information, he refused to term it unethical. However, the trailer was leaked by one of his co-workers, and it was impossible to determine the perpetrator since all his colleagues had access to the movie. However, the leak created a larger fan base for the film and as a result securing Luke’s job.
Privacy is important in protecting business techniques in an organization. This case is particularly interesting since the violation of the contract led to positive returns to both the company and the movie producers. In such scenarios efforts to take legal action or terminate the offender would have seemed unfair. However, it is the responsibility of human resource department to ensure the privacy of the company’s information.
Statistics indicate that the Disney board compensated Michael Eisner, their CEO, with 285 million dollars between 1996 and 2004. This shows that Eisner was paid with more than 35 million dollars annually (O’Toole). While it’s hard to analyze what Eisner deserves to earn as the CEO, the question of whether the CEO contribution to Disney was 10 or 100 or 1000 times greater than that of the other employees in the organization. In this essence, the input of the cartoon animators of the Space Mountain ride in Disneyland is undervalued. Many giant companies assume to consider the compensation ratios between their managers and their average employees.
Compensation rates between the managers and the workers differ significantly in companies. For instance, payment rates in some of the fortune 500 companies approach 500:1. This case is particularly interesting as it points to the aspect of if mere observation of legality is the observance of ethical values. The distributions of rewards in organizations should consider all the employees in annual increments and incentives.
In another case, a medical researcher, Joaquin, is requested to trim the results of research to meet the expectations of the board members. Her seniors asked her to omit samples that did not reflect positive results for the medical device. Joaquin had been hired to develop a medical device that could quickly detect HIV, and the expected sensitivity was aimed at 80 percent. However, the results showed 60 percent (Deen). Her boss asks her to filter data countering that so much time as they do not change the results there is no harm omitting information. However, Joaquin insists that the numbers may be substantial in showcasing the distinct stages of the disease.
The issue of compromising quality for quantity is standard in many of the businesses across the globe. In many cases, the employees are asked to abandon their professional ethics in pursuit of profits. The human resource professionals have the responsibility to protect the employees from such influences from their boss. This case is particularly interesting as it showcases how unethical business practices can affect human resource ethics.
I interviewed two female engineers in a medium sized power plant. Anne Shaw and Phoebe Anderson work at an engineering power plant and have different job descriptions. Anderson is the assistant operations supervisor, and her job description entails overseeing the operations of her colleagues in the absence of the operations manager. Her responsibilities apart from assisting in managing operations include participating in ensuring efficient machinery operations. Shaw, on the other hand, is involved in activities as an average employee. The interview was carried out through a phone call that was made about the public relations office in the plant. Questions in the interview were open-ended to allow for optimization of the responses.
Questions inquired about the number of employees in the plant, the ratio of the female and the male employees in the organization and the experience of Anne and Phoebe as female engineers. The interview sought to establish the efficiency of the human resource department in the organization in dealing with discrimination on any basis from other employees and more specifically in addressing gender discrimination. The questions inquired if both Anne and Phoebe have personally experienced discrimination at work by their sex and if so how has the firm addressed these issues. It investigated whether they have witnessed any other type of discrimination in the organization and if so how they reacted to it at both individual and organizational levels.
How many employees are currently working at the plant?
We have a total of 24 workers now, 18 involved in the plant two as managers and the rest as errand guys and cleaners.
How many female workers des the organization have?
We are currently at 6, however, in the engineering process out of the 18 only three are women.
Do you feel like the ratio affects your productivity?
No. It is not unusual for such types of rates in engineering organizations. It does not affect our productivity we work as a team with other engineers.
How does human resource department address ethical issues regarding discrimination?
Being a startup business we do not have an established human resource department; the managers address personnel issues from the hiring process to termination to employees complaints. I would like to think the managers aim to follow the laws and regulations related to discrimination. I have never heard of an instance of employer-employee discrimination.
What about employee-employee discrimination?
That is a different case you know… everyone is entitled to their opinions about other something that an organization cannot control.
Does that mean you have been insulted by your gender by your co-workers?
No I have not, but I have heard of reports of my co-worker being teased that she needs breaks severally because she is female.do you think discrimination is adequately addressed in organizations and at the national level?
Yes. I think the current laws protect the employees from discrimination from their employers. In the event of insults from co-workers, the individual can report to the human resource department which would take disciplinary actions against the individual.
Am told that in the engineering department has only three female workers out of 18. Does this affect your productivity as one of the female employees?
No. If it affected my productivity, it would mean that women are not cut out to be engineers, which is not the case.
Do your face discrimination for being a woman?
Not discrimination in that sense, just a little teasing comments such as “you would work better without the heels” or “it is the mascara” such things I would not call them discrimination since I do not think they are.
In that case, your managers have never handled a case of discrimination?
I do not think they have. We are a close group, but in some cases, people discriminated are afraid to voice their complaints.
Do you think discrimination in employment is adequately handled in the country?
Yes. Policymakers have done their best. The work remains in individual organizations. It is all about the cultivated culture in the organization. The human resource departments should address complaints well to encourage openness.
The field of ethics involves advocating for the concepts of right and wrong. Human resource is valuable in driving the economy, and as such, each organization should work to ensure the good working ethics in the organization. The involvement of human resource in corporate ethics is crucial in creating a perceived fairness. Ethical theories in most cases serve as the solution to difficult situations people encounter in their day to day activities. Utilitarianism holds that the amount of happiness and sufferings that are a result of an individual’s actions is what matters. According to the theory, maximizing happiness and minimizing sadness is essential. As such, the mere aspect of fighting against discrimination at the workplace should not only aim at abiding by the regulations but also advocate for the happiness of the individuals at the workplace. The teasing about her gender in the case of Anne Shaw should be aimed at creating happiness rather than sadness and feeling of inadequacy.
The virtue theory, on the other hand, maintains that virtues matter above everything else. According to virtue ethics, living an ethical life involves developing and representing virtues such as courage and compassion. This means compassion against individuals that are discriminated in an organization and relating with to suffering. Courage entails the ability to report discrimination instances. Ethical theories are an essential foundation in stressful situations experienced in life.
Acadia Institute. “Athelete’s Warehouse.” 2016. Acadia Institute of case Studies. aics.acadiau.ca/humanresources.html. 14 June 2017.
Barlett, Clare. “Off the Clock.” 26 August 2015. Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/more/engineering-ethics-/engineeering-ethics-cases/off-the-clock/. 14 June 2017.
Deen, Nabilah. “Trimming Data.” 26 August 2015. Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/more/engineering-ethics/engineering-ethics-cases/trimming-data/. 14 June 2017.
O’Toole, James. “Ethical Challenges in Human Resources .” 6 October 2015. Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/business-ethics/resources/ethical-challenges-in-human-resources. 14 June 2017.
Silliman , Jessica. “Leaked Movie Trailer and Confidentiality Agrrement.” 1 June 2007. Markkula Center for Applied Ethics . https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/business-ethic/resources/leaked-movie-trailer. 14 June 2017.
Tan, Jocelyn. “Time-sharing Space.” 26 August 2015. Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/more/engineering-ethics/engineeering-ethics-cses/time-sharing-space/. 14 June 2017.