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. Apply your knowledge of ethics in order to develop 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 they are complying with established codes of conduct, as well as the rights of the employer to provide each employee to a safe and fair workplace.

Examples of Key Workplace Ethics


Integrity refers to an employee's ability to behaviour 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?

You may be thinking to yourself that you already know what ethics are. So did these employees, but as it turns out, they have a lot to learn. 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 legal 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 gas expense 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 conflicts 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 use 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 companies 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 have the right to file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

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.

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 

Fraud and Embezzlement 

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Falsifying Documents

Insider Trading

Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility

Developing Policies on Ethics

Enforcing Ethical Behaviour

Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility

Ethics Quiz

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.

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.

An employee who regularly shows up for work on time is demonstrating which type of ethic?

  • Integrity
  • Accountability
  • Conduct
  • Dedication

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.

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

  • True
  • False

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.

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Final Assessment: 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 develop 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 would be the most inappropriate response to this situation?

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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 somehting with this informaiton, but what would the best course of action be?

What should be done 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 Battle

Situation 4: Retaliation

Feedback Form

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