Top 20 Examples of Unethical Business Practices

What you do by and for yourself may not necessarily be pleasant to the public eye. As a business owner, employee or manager, you should keep what you do in private may contradict the expectations and ethical standards of your professional role. Thus, you should be watching out and avoiding unethical practices at all times.

In this article we explain twenty of the most common unethical practices that may affect your behavior and business practice. Although these actions are a replication of what is generally considered as unethical, they are neither exhaustive nor obvious. There are different ethical expectations for different organizations, cultures, and communities. This list is just for you to choose your actions carefully and avoid falling into the temptation to act unethically.

1) Sexual harassment: this is straightforward and needs no explanation. There are many cases of sexual harassment that have ruined the reputations of people and organization. Uber faced significant public backlash in 2017 for allegedly allowing toxic culture of sexual harassment to take place in the organization. This forced the CEO to resign in June. The character of former President of the USA Donald Trump was also put up for public criticism due to allegations of sexual harassment. Be careful with what you believe to be sexual harassment and what is not. In some context, touching the breast or bottoms of a woman may get you in trouble. Just avoid intentional and close contact with members of the opposite sex to be safe in the workplace.

2) Racial Discrimination: there is currently a movement called #BlackLivesMatter, which has been popularized in social media following the killing of a Black man by police. In anything you do in the workplace, take care not to offend a person who is racially different from you. Otherwise you will be accused of unethical practice. It might be categorized as racial discrimination. Even using the word “negro” can put you in trouble. Try to understand the culture of the other person before engaging more deeply with them, so that you may know what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in their culture. Furthermore, assigning resources and duties should be done equally regardless of race or ethnicity.

3) Using social media to chat while at work: Although social media is acceptable in some work environments, it should not be used inappropriately or for personal purposes. Such behavior is unacceptable and unethical.

4) Using company emails to send private messages: you should not mix private and public communications. Using company’s emails to reach out to your friends may lead to either intentional or unintentional disclosure of pertinent information about the company. That will undermine privacy and confidentiality of the organization’s information.

5) Safety and health issues: employers may face public criticisms for putting employees through unhealthy environments such as working in a dangerous mining site without proper protective devices.

6) Pollution: dumping wastes and releasing affluent into rivers, lakes or public land is unethical. Current societies expect businesses and organizations to take good care of the environment to avoid climate change and loss of diversity.

7) Selling defective products: expired and defective products should not be sold knowingly to customers. Every business has the duty of care towards their customers. A business person should not sell any product that will either affect their customers’ health or not serve the purpose it was intended. Doing so would be considered as an unethical business practice.

8) Quoting wrong prices: as a business person, you should stick to the required price of a product. Some employees deceive unsuspecting customers to pay more than the required prices of the item. Such behavior is wrong and unethical; you should always charge fair and reasonable prices for products.

9) Withholding important information. Let’s say a customer comes in and gets served, then he forgets their purpose on the counter. Then comes back and you refuse to tell them where their purse is. As long as you saw it, you have the responsibility to help them find their purse. Don’t hide important information that will help customers or fellow employees to perform their duties.

10) Financial fraud: This is one of the most serious ethical issues. It does not even deserve to be sat #10. Some accountants use their knowledge to manipulate figures and steal from their companies, shareholders or customers. Wrong!

11) Dishonesty: this is so wide. Any action of dishonesty is unethical and unprofessional, although it may not necessarily be an illegal behaviour. For example, if an employee asks you whether the product has side effects and you say “Yes,” yet you know that it has, then you are lying. That is absolutely unethical.

12) Corruption and bribery: giving gifts in some places may not be unethical, and is encouraged. However, in most cases, receiving gifts to extent undue favor or to provide public service while on duty is unethical. For example, a customer can offer you $100 to give them priority when delivering products. That is corruption, and any ethical person should refuse.

13) Breach of data privacy is an unethical behavior. Employees should not disclose their customers’ information to third parties. Facebook faced ethical challenge when it allowed third parties to access personal information of their users. If a person trusts you with their personal information, only use them for the purpose it is intended and don’t share them with anyone.

14) Nepotism: favoring your cousins or any other relative in employment is a classic example of nepotism. Any favor extended to your relative without following due processes is an unethical practice. They should deserve or earn it by merit.

15) Compelling juniors to engage in sexual activities in exchange for favors such as promotion is unethical. Everyone deserves the right to be promoted if they qualify.

16) Using company resources for personal use. For example, you should not use the company’s car or fuel to attend your friend’s wedding. Doing so would contravene professional code of ethics, and it is an unethical issue that affects many companies.

17) Misusing the organization’s time. This is another unethical behavior that should be given serious thought. You should spend paid hours doing official duty, except breaks. For example, leaving your job during working hours to attend a personal business or take a girl for a date is unethical.

18) Abusive behavior: any abusive behavior such as hitting a colleague with a hand or object is unethical.

19) Violating company policy/rules. You should follow all rules in your company. If you are not comfortable with any one of them, you should either quit or follow the right procedure to get it abolished by relevant authorities.

20) Drug use or sale: selling or using drugs at work is both illegal and unethical. Add alcohol and it is still unethical, even if it may not be illegal.

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