Workplace Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility

Upon completion of this course, you will:

  1. Understand workplace ethics and why employees and employers need to comply with ethical codes of conduct.
  2. Identify the ethical duties, behaviours, and responsibilities of employees in the workplace.
  3. Understand the social and legal rights of employees and the role that employers have in upholding them.
  4. Identify unethical workplace behaviour and understand ways in which to address them.
  5. Examine the relationship between workplace ethics and corporate social responsibility.
  6. Test your knowledge comprehension and retention with an interactive assessment tool.
  7. Apply your knowledge of ethics in order to identify solutions to ethical dilemmas that may arise in the workplace.

Introduction to Workplace Ethics

What are Ethics?


Ethics are the values, beliefs, and ideologies that we as a society believe to be morally right or wrong. Ethical action is choosing to act in a way that is seen as morally right.

What are Workplace Ethics?

Workplace Ethics

Workplace ethics include the responsibility of employees to ensure that they are complying with established codes of conduct, as well as the rights of the employer to provide each employee a safe and fair workplace.

Examples of Key Workplace Ethics


Integrity refers to an employee's ability to behave in an honest manner, and to take care in doing tasks correctly and appropriately.


Collaboration is the ability of an employee to work productively and respectfully with their co-workers.


Conduct refers to an employee's overall behaviour and appearance in the workplace, including use of language, dress, and treatment of others.


Dedication is the degree to which an employee is hard-working and committed to their job and to their organization.


Accountability refers to an employee's will to show up to work regularly and on time. It also involves an employee's ability to take responsibility for their actions.

Why are Workplace Ethics Important?

Importance of Ethical Behaviour

Ethical behaviour in the workplace is important to understand because it has legal compliance implications as well as an impact on the overall corporate reputation of the organization.

Ethics and Legal Compliance

Legal Compliance

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has established a code of ethical practices that are legally required of businesses.

Any hiring, promotion, or training that is said to discriminate unfairly against a certain individual or group of individuals may be cause for an OHRC investigation.

Why Study Ethics?

Why Study Ethics?

As an employee of any organization, it is important to be aware of ethical and legal guidelines in order to ensure that you are complaint with them. This training will also be a valuable resource for when you are facing ethical issues or dilemmas at work.

However, we know that you may think you already know all about ethics! So did these employees, but as it turns out, they have a lot to learn, and so do you! Have a look!

This course will discuss several of the topics addressed in this video. 

Ethical Responsibilities of Employees

Financial Accountability

Financial Accountability

Employees may have access to company finances and business transactions as a part of their job, and they are required to behave legally and responsibly with this resource.

They are also required to use other company resources and supplies appropriately and without waste.

Expense Reporting

Expense Reporting

Employees have the ethical obligation to ensure that they only report work-related expenses. Any costs incurred in their personal lives should not be reported as a work expense.

Examples of Acceptable Expenses

  • Airfare expenses incurred in order to attend a company conference.
  • Required supplies that are purchased for the office.
  • The percentage of employee gas expenses required for commuting to work.

Examples of Unacceptable Expenses

  • The purchase of personal supplies not required for work.
  • Personal travel expenses.

Conflicts of Interest

Conflicts of Interest

Conflicts of interest occur when an employee's ability to perform their job ethically and impartially is brought into question due to an external, or third-party factor.

For example, if a supervisor hires an employee who is related to them, over other qualified applicants, this could be seen as providing preferential treatment.

Managing Conflicts of Interests

Employees are responsible for preventing the occurrence of conflicts of interest.

Any current or potential conflict of interest should be reported to a supervisor immediately. The employee and employer can then develop a solution to address the current situation or prevent a future problem.

Social Media

Ethical Use of Social Media

It is becoming increasingly important for employees to be aware of appropriate and inappropriate uses of social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.)

The video below was created by the insurance company Great-West Life. It covers the most common workplace issues associated with social media, but it is important to be aware that individual company policies will vary.



When starting a new job, your employer will likely ask you to sign some sort of confidentiality agreement. In most cases, this is a legally binding contract that if broken will be cause for dismissal.

Examples of Business Confidentiality

Confidentiality in the workplace can range from employee discretion in informal settings to formal policies and regulations. Here are some common examples: 

  • Refraining from participating in office gossip.
  • Refraining from disclosing employee personal information.
  • Safe-keeping of sensitive documents, both in paper and electronic form.
  • Non-disclosure agreements regarding company information which may include salaries, trade secrets, client information, and sales records.
  • Non-compete agreements that prohibit the sharing of company information with a new employer.

Fair and Respectful Treatment of Co-workers

Treatment of Coworkers

Employees have the responsibility to treat their fellow coworkers fairly and with respect.

This may involve recognizing coworker contributions, listening to and respecting other people's opinions, and treating people with kindness and dignity.

Legal and Social Rights of Employees

Workplace Health and Safety

Workplace Health and Safety

Employers have the responsibility to ensure a comfortable and safe working environment for their employees.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Ontario, workers have the right to identify safety concerns, the right to know of any hazards in the workplace, and the right to refuse unsafe work.

Diversity and Equality

Diversity and Equality

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, employers are forbidden to mistreat or discriminate against any employee on the basis of age, race, sex, ancestry, place of origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital/family status, or disability.

Any employee who feels they have been discriminated against has the right to file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Rights Against Retaliation

Rights Against Retaliation

When an employee files a human rights complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, they have the right not to be threatened or treated differently by an employer in response to them filing the complaint.

Employees also have the right to report their knowledge of unethical behaviour in the workplace without fear of retaliation by their superiors or coworkers.

Privacy Rights

Privacy Rights

Employees have the reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace.

Specific regulations will vary by organization, but the following are usually included in privacy policies:

  • Employees have the right to know what and how their personal information will be collected.
  • Employees must consent to the collection, use, and disclosure of their personal information.
  • Employees have the right to view their own personal information.

Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual Property Rights

When an employee creates a new technology, gets a patent, or copyrights a new product in the course of employment, this is known as intellectual property.

Most organizations require their employees to sign an agreement at the start of the employment term stating that the employer has the right to any and all intellectual property created by their employees.

Unethical Behaviour in the Workplace

Harassment and Violence in the Workplace


Employers have the responsibility to prevent harassment and violence in the workplace.

Any statement, threat, or behaviour that harms or threatens to harm the mental or physical well-being of an employee is prohibited and is grounds for dismissal.


The use of physical force against an employee or coworker is strictly prohibited under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Employers should have comprehensive harassment policies in place to prevent the occurrence of such behaviour. There should also be a formal process for addressing harassment complaints from employees.

Misuse of Company Property

Theft and Damages

Employees who intentionally steal from their employers or damage company property and resources may be asked to reimburse the company for the damages incurred. Depending on the severity of the behaviour, employees may be terminated.

Fraud and Embezzlement 

Fraud is the intentional misuse of company financial assets for personal gain. 

Embezzlement occurs when an employee withholds the financial assets of someone against their will. 

Both of these acts are not only unethical, but are punishable by law in Canada.

Falsifying Documents

Falsifying Documents

This refers to the intentional manipulation or alteration of a company document in order to deceive someone. Employees may falsify documents in order to gain more money or working hours. This behaviour is often grounds for dismissal.

Types of Commonly Falsified Documents 

  • Financial documents
  • Time card information
  • Bank account records
  • Business records
  • Inventory or sales records

Insider Trading

Insider Trading

This refers to the disclosure of non-public company information which has an impact on the decisions that investors make about the company. When employees use private company information to make or improve their own investments, this is also a form of insider trading.

Insider trading is unfair and unethical, and often illegal. While company policies may vary, they should include an agreement or contract that prohibits these practices.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility

This is defined as the voluntary acts of a company to operate in a socially, environmentally and economically sustainable way. The following video provides a great summary of why this practice is important.

Corporate Culture and Ethics Policies

Corporate Culture

A positive corporate culture is becoming essential in terms of promoting and maintaining ethical practices in the workplace.

Employers who build a culture of integrity, honesty, and hard work will likely lead to improvements in ethical behaviour among their employees.

Ethics Policies

Most organizations have their own set of policies and practices regarding ethics in the workplace. They vary due to differences in the nature of the business, as well as differences in the culture of the organization. 

Writing Ethics Policies

Set Priorities

Each company needs to decide what they value in their employees and how they want to conduct their business.

The ethics code should be based on the mission, vision, and values of the organization.

Request Input

Employers should request feedback from their employees.

Employees may have ideas on what to include, or may be aware of ethical issues that should be addressed by the policy.

Pick a Leader

Organizations should place someone in charge of developing the ethics policy.

After implementation, there should be an ethics officer that can enforce and update policies as needed.

Enforcing Ethical Behaviour

Enforcing Ethical Behaviour

The following steps should be followed by an organization to ensure ethical compliance by its employees:

  1. Establish an ethics officer or panel.
  2. Establish and post clear guidelines for ethical behaviour.
  3. Outline the consequences for breaking ethical codes of conduct.
  4. Ensure privacy and fair treatment to anyone who reports ethical violations.
  5. Carry out punishment when the guidelines are not being followed.

Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility

Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility

  • Improved corporate image and reputation.
  • Increased customer retention.
  • Enhanced relationships with business partners and suppliers.
  • Better recruitment and retention of employees.
  • Increased competitiveness.
  • Engaged and motivated employees.

Ethics Quiz

Ethics Quiz

Ethics Quiz

Congratulations on completing the module content! Now test your knowledge with our ethics quiz.

Which of the following would not be acceptable on a work expense report?

  • Hotel fees incurred by an employee in order to attend a health and safety training program.
  • The purchase of printer ink for the photocopier in the office.
  • The purchase of personal supplies to be used in an employee's home office.
  • School supplies for the children of employees.

Match the key terms to their correct definitions.

  • Set priorities.
    Establish what your organization values.
  • Request input.
    Solicit feedback from employees.
  • Pick a leader.
    Establish an ethics officer or panel.

The sharing of company secrets with non-employees is known as:

  • Insider trading.
  • Non-disclosure clause.
  • Misuse of company funds.
  • Property damage.

What are the steps involved in enforcing ethical behaviour?

  • Establish an ethics officer or panel.
  • Establish clear guidelines for ethical behaviour.
  • Outline consequences for not following the guidelines.
  • Ensure privacy and fair treatment for those who file complaints.
  • Follow up on complaints and carry out punishment as needed.

Answer whether the following statements are either true or false.

  • Ethics are upheld solely through formal agreements.
  • Conflicts of interest should be reported immediately to your supervisor.
  • Corporate social responsibility is when a company acts in socially and environmentally sustainable way.
  • It is considered ethical to take money from the cash register at work with the intention of returning it later.
  • One of the benefits of corporate social responsibility is increased competitiveness.
  • It is okay to share non-public company information on your social media accounts.
  • Gender identity is not a ground covered under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
  • Employees have the right to know how and why their personal information is being collected.
  • Embezzlement refers to the wrongful withholding of financial assets.
  • Financial documents are not one of the types of commonly falsified documents.

A non-compete agreement is:

  • An informal agreement between an employee and an employer.
  • A formal agreement that prohibits the sharing of information with other employees.
  • An informal agreement that enables an employer to terminate employees who share trade secrets.
  • A formal agreement that prohibits an employee from sharing company information with a new employer.

Fill in the blanks in the statement below.

is known as the intentional manipulation of a company document. This behaviour is often grounds for .

What does the Occupational Health and Safety Act cover (check all that apply)?

  • Workplace violence policies.
  • Information on how to write ethics policies.
  • Policies on harassment in the workplace.
  • The right of an employee to refuse unsafe work.
  • The right of an employer to hide workplace hazards.

Fill in the blanks in the statement below.

include the responsibility of employees to ensure they are complying with established codes of conduct.

Match the key terms to their correct definitions.

  • Accountability
    Work attendance, being on time, and taking responsibility.
  • Integrity
    Honesty, taking care in work activities.
  • Dedication
    Hard-work and commitment.
  • Collaboration
    Respectful and productive work with coworkers.
  • Conduct
    Use of language, dress, and treatment of others.

Workplace ethics are upheld solely by the employees of an organization.

  • True
  • False

Fill in the blanks in the statement below.

Ethics are the
, , and that we as a society believe to be morally right or wrong.

An employee's right to report unethical behaviour without negative consequences is known as:

  • Right to the protection of personal information.
  • Right to a safe workplace.
  • Rights against retaliation.
  • Diversity and equality rights.

Which of the following are unacceptable uses of social media in the workplace (check all that apply)?

  • Sharing the corporate social media posts of your place of work.
  • Writing personal opinions about your employer on your page.
  • Sharing confidential company information.
  • Sharing images of coworkers and company events.
  • Sharing your opinion of your place of work without indicating that it is your opinion.

What are some of the benefits of corporate social responsibility (check all that apply)?

  • Increased customer retention.
  • Better quality advertisements.
  • Improved corporate image and reputation.
  • Engaged and motivated employees.
  • More accurate financial data.

Ethical Dilemmas in the Workplace

Ethical Dilemmas

Ethical Dilemmas

Ethical behaviour in the workplace is easier to discuss and understand than it is to actually apply. Certain situations may not be clearly right or clearly wrong, and as such, are handled on a case by case basis. In this activity, you will be exposed to several of these dilemmas, and must identify appropriate solutions. 

Situation 1: Employee Theft

The Problem

Imagine you are the manager of a small local bank and you have just discovered some slight discrepencies between the daily cash in and cash out on certain nights of the week. Upon comparison to your employees' schedule, you discover that one of your employees, Amy, has been on shift every night there has been a discrepency. What course of action should you take in this situation?

What would be the most inappropriate response to this situation?

  • Confront Amy in front of others and accuse her of stealing.
  • Ask to see Amy in private to discuss the discrepancies.
  • Try to determine the reason why Amy is stealing.
  • Watch the security cameras while she's on shift and see if she steals.

What is the best series of steps that you should take from start to finish?

  • Double check your math to ensure that there is in fact a discrepancy.
  • Double check the schedule to determine if only Amy could have done this.
  • Check security cameras of the nights in question.
  • Ask to see Amy in private to discuss the situation.
  • Determine appropriate response or consequence.

Situation 2: Conflict of Interest

Situation 2: Conflict of Interest

You are an employee in the marketing department of a retail company that has just developed a new type of waterproofing fabric. You know that your brother, who works for a competing company, is involved in the development of a similar, but more effective product. You know you should do something with this information, but what would the best course of action be?

Why does this constitute a conflict of interest?

  • Because the other company's product is better.
  • Because your impartiality is influenced by a third-party factor.
  • Because your brother works in marketing.
  • Because your coworkers need to improve your company's product.

What is the best course of action in this situation?

  • Go ahead with the marketing project as planned, and keep the information to yourself.
  • Disclose to your coworkers that the competition has a better product, and develop a new marketing technique.
  • Talk to your brother to see what type of marketing campaign his company is using, and adapt yours in response.
  • Meet with your supervisor and ask to be taken off the project.

Situation 3: Intellectual Property

The Problem

Imagine you work for a computer engineering firm, and have been tasked with developing a new software program that will allow clients to troubleshoot their network issues from home. After several months, you have established a prototype and have sent it out to clients for beta testing. One of your clients happens to be the manager of a competing engineering firm and she tells you that she is very impressed with the program and when she offers to purchase the program from you, you tell her that she can. When you tell you boss that you have promised to sell the program, you are fired. What happened here?

Who does the software program likely belong to?

  • You
  • Your boss
  • Your company
  • The other manager

Assuming that there is a non-compete clause and an intellectual property clause in the employment contract, does the employer have the right to fire you?

  • Yes
  • No

Upon examination of your employment contract, you find that neither clauses are explicitly stated. Do you have reason to pursue legal action?

  • Yes
  • No

Situation 4: Retaliation

The Problem

Simon works in a busy clothing retail store and one day he overhears his coworker Alex being very rude to a customer. Alex has known to be short with people, especially lately with the extra shifts she has been forced to pick up. Simon knows that excellent customer service is the number one priority in their jobs, but he also knows that Alex is going through a stressful time. He decides to report her behaviour to their supervisor, and Alex finds out. The next day Alex approaches Simon and threatens to tell their boss about the time he had another employee sign in for him as he was running late if he doesn't retract his report. What is going on in this situation?

Was Simon justified in reporting his coworker's behaviour?

  • Yes
  • No

Why does Alex's behaviour constitute retaliation?

  • Because she identified a real reason to report Simon.
  • Because she was rude to Simon.
  • Because she threatened to take action in response to his report.
  • Because Simon didn't talk to her before going to the manager.

What is the best solution to this problem?

  • Simon and Alex should promise not to report on each other again.
  • Alex should report Simon's indiscretion.
  • Simon should retract his report to prevent Alex's.
  • Alex and Simon should both meet with the boss to discuss options for resolution.

Feedback Form

Feedback Form

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