How Ethical Can Hr Managers Be

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Human resource managers are expected to resolve workplace disputes and deliver workplace justice. The primary mechanism by which this occurs is the workplace dispute resolution procedure which generally calls for a neutral third person to assist in resolving the dispute. We argue that ethical decision-making to resolve conflict is challenged both by the inherent nature of human resource management and the extent to which HR managers carry out ethical issues. Human resource managers perform a range of roles, such as 'strategic partner', which can be at odds with that of the 'employee champion' role, and as they represent the firm, they cannot be considered neutral mediators of workplace conflicts. The tensions in the role raise ethical questions.

We argue and discuss about the varieties of ethical and non-ethical stance an HR manager may make. The argument is made that an understanding of ethical decision-making in human resource management warrants the exploration of the dynamics involving ethical inaction, not just the dynamics of ethical action. The paper considers the impact of these changes on human resource development. Some of the areas in which an organisation's social and ethical responsibility can encompass HR practices are explored and possible HR responses to the issues and concerns raised are discussed. As we seek to address that gap. Two key recommendations are that ethical conventions are fully addressed by the HR profession and that ethics be integrated into the organisation's strategic process.

Employee Email Monitoring

Ethics has become an important issue for modern organisation as they face the inherent conflicts between the goals of profit maximisation and social responsibility (Vickers, 2005). According to Australian Human Resources Institute (2007), "Intruding into employees' private lives can potentially undermine employees' respect for their employers and ruin previously good working relationships."

Nevertheless, employers must be able to recognise their daily responsibilities such as:

Maintaining the company's professional reputation and image

Maintaining employee productivity

Preventing and discouraging sexual or other illegal workplace harassment

Preventing "cyberstalking" by employees

Preventing possible defamation liability

Preventing employee disclosure of trade secrets and other confidential information

Avoiding copyright and other intellectual property infringement from employees illegally downloading software

In today's increasingly working environment employees are expected to be able to access email and internet facilities 24/7. However, the abuse of these systems by employees can have a detrimental effect and serious legal implications for employers. Organisations often hold a wealth of confidential information belonging to them and third parties such as customers and suppliers. Often much of an organisation's confidential information is held in electronic format. The unauthorised release of information via email presents a real problem for employers. Employees must understand the risks to the employer's business if confidentiality is broken (Muckle, 2003). Figure 1 below shows the pros and cons of having an email monitoring policy.

These legal issues are real and valid and monitoring could most likely be necessary for restricting privacy and harassment in the workplace. However, monitoring is a two-edged sword. Currently, employers are not liable for harassment unless they are made aware that harassment is occurring. If an organisation monitors employees then the organisation must assume the responsibilities for the all content it monitors, whether an employee brings an issue to the organisation's attention or not. Employers are finding it hard to fulfil their responsibilities and acting ethical at the same time. Not monitoring could be seen as negligent while monitoring but not acting on violations is negligent.


In order to avoid liability and to minimise the risks in employee's use of email, employers should "take all necessary steps to eliminate any reasonable expectation of privacy that employees may have concerning their use of company e-mail systems" (Ciocchetti, 2001). This can be done through a detailed and clearly written electronic policy that is distributed regularly to employees. This policy should inform employees about several things:

A statement in the policy declaring that the employer's emailing system is the employer's property, to be used for the purpose of furthering employer's business.

The policy should state whether personal e-mails are permitted, and define any limitations on personal use of the system

An explanation of the rules governing the use of the e-mail system

The employer's ability and right to monitor, record and review all communications sent by employees over the company's e-mail system.

A statement stating that the employee has no expectation to privacy regarding any e-mails sent, received, or stored at the workplace

Drug Testing

A study from Joseph Rowtree Foundation (2004) has shown that employers or HR managers have a legitimate interest in drug and alcohol use amongst their employees in a restricted set of circumstances only. These circumstances are:

Where employees are engaging in illegal activities in the workplace;

Where employees are actually intoxicated in work hours;

Where drug or alcohol use is (otherwise) having a demonstrable impact on employees' performance that goes beyond a threshold of acceptability;

Where the nature of the work is such that any responsible employer would be expected to take all reasonable steps to minimise the risk of accident; and

Where the nature of the work is such that the public is entitled to expect a higher than average standard of behaviour from employees and/or there is a risk of vulnerability to corruption.

Additionally, the CEO of an organisation can implement drug-free workplace program, as they have traditionally been developed, to encourage employees with a substance abuse problem to seek treatment, recover, and return to work.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Drug-Free Workplace Programs (2006), "Today, the concept of a 'Drug-Free Workplace' has become the norm with large and medium size employers. Efforts are continually made by Federal, State, and civic and community organizations to bring the Drug-Free Workplace experience to a greater percentage of smaller employers."


By implementing a drug-free workplace program, organisations will be able to value the health and safety of its employees. Showing concerns about the impact of unhealthy lifestyle choices on medical and insurance costs for the business, and being able to understand all the aspects that could negatively impact an employee's life. These negative impacts, such as broken families, cannot help but flow over into the workplace and manifest as absenteeism, lower productivity, and damaged relationships.

An effective drug workplace program shares the characteristics of an effective workplace and results provide:

Active, visible leadership and support by the managers and other company leaders

Clearly written policies and procedures that are publicized, trained, and uniformly applied to all employees; with well-trained managers, supervisors, union representatives, and human resources staff who understand their roles, rights, and responsibilities

Additional training for employees in the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse

Clearly stated policies about the disciplinary action that will be take is an employee, with a problem that is impacting the workplace or whose actions are in violation of the workplace policies, fails to obtain help

Ways to identify people with alcohol, drug, or other substance abuse problems, including drug testing.

The goal of a drug free workplace program is to provide the opportunity for the employee to obtain treatment, overcome their substance abuse issues, and return to work. With some attention to these measures, organisations can establish and promote a healthy, drug-free workplace for all its employees.

Banning religion in the workplace

Australians enjoy two freedoms with respect to religion: the right to be free from a government-imposed religion, and a right to practice any religion (Reuters, 2010).

As Reuters (2010) states "Religion is a matter of belief and practice, and religious beliefs will rarely affect the duties of our employment." Yet the faithful also practice their religion, discussing it with others within and without their faith, and conducting themselves according to its principles. Federal and state law requires that employees not be treated unfairly on the basis of religion.

However, as the population diversifies, conflicts between work and religion inevitably arise. Not surprisingly, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2008) has reported a significant increase in the number of religious discrimination charges and employees must understand each other's rights and responsibilities. Religion conflicts at work arise in a wide variety of contexts. A common example that (Wolf, Friedman, and Sutherland, 1998) mentioned is when an employer's denial of an employee's request for leave to observe a religious holiday, forcing the employee to choose between career and conviction. Other situations are more complex. For example, one employee may actively espouse religious views in the workplace, while co-workers find the proselytizing offensive. Whose side should the employer take when an employee demands freedom of speech, while others demand a cessation of what they see as harassment?

If you allow one religion, you need to allow all. If you allow one person to append a religious quotation to their emails, then you cannot stop another. This is true for all ways in which we can express our religious beliefs. If the Christian at work may display a cross or picture of Jesus, then the Pagan may display a Pentagram, the Jewish may display the Star of David. So in this case, where do we draw the line?


According to employment attorneys, employers are required to accommodate the religious beliefs of their workers such as allowing them to wear a religious insignia or allowing them to attend mass during their worship day. However, if the accommodation will create undue hardship to the company, or will affect its operation employers are not required to provide this (Mesriani, 2010).

In many such conflicts, the dispute between employer and employee can be resolved through simple mediation efforts. The real cause of most conflicts is simple ignorance on the part of both management and employees as to the requirements of the law.

To prevent religious discrimination, employers should create a company policy that:

Clearly states that any form of religious discrimination is not acceptable

Employees and workers are provided with programs and training about this workplace issue

To avoid religious discrimination, a statement in the policy should clearly state that no religion practice is allowed in the workplace

However, a CEO can measure how effective its policy and communication strategy is by asking the following questions:

Are you aware of the business strategy or issue facing your organisation, division or department?

How effectively do your current employee communication tools address that issue or strategy?

Have you examined customer satisfaction data, do you know the precise areas where there could be improvement?

Do you know the key issue, the "Aha!" factor that will create a new paradigm for employees?

Do your employee communication strategies engage or simply inform?

How do you measure the impact of your strategy on the business?


The implementation of new policies within the workplace and the monitoring of employees is a delicate issue that must be handled properly. Communication to the employees is critical as well as employee involvement in the implementation of any kind of policy formation. Figure 2 and 3 below shows the crucial communication skills HR manager need in order to communicate effectively. As the figure explains, HR managers must be able to foresee problems that might occur including those ethical issues that may arise and CEO's should develop strategic plans to prevent any conflict that may occur between an employee and an employer.

On the other hand, employees should be encouraged to realise their personal responsibilities under their contract, particularly those who deal with personal information on a regular basis. The policies and procedures must be clearly stated and followed for an organisation to be properly protected. Employee contracts should state that the organisation's policies are fundamental to the employer's business and must be adhered to at all times. Failure to adhere to policies should be specified to be a breach of the employees' terms and conditions of employment which could lead to dismissal on the ground of misconduct. Procedures should be implemented by employers for employees to ask questions about any policy in operation. As such, the implementation of the policies above should be executed properly to ensure its full effectiveness.


Vickers, M. R. (2005). Business ethics and the HR role: Past, present and future. Human Resource Planning, 28(1), 26-32.

Australian Human Resources Institute. (2007). Email Monitoring. Retrieved 23rd August 2010 from

Muckle, R. (2003). Email Monitoring in the Workplace - A simple Guide to Employers. Waterford Technologies. 2-3.

Ciocchetti, C. (2001). Monitoring employee e-mail: Efficient Workplaces VS Employee Privacy. Duke Law and Technology Review. Retrieved 18th August 2010 from

(2001). Drug testing in the workplace: Summary conclusions of the Independent Inquiry into Drug Testing at Work. Joseph Rowtree Foundation, 26(2), 3-6.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Drug-Free Workplace Programs. (2006). Drug Testing. Retrieved 19th August 2010 from

Thomson Reuter's business. (2010). Find Law. Retrieved 18th August 2010 from

Australian Human Rights Commission. (2008). Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 21st Century. 7-10.

Wolf, M. Friedman, B. & Sutherland, D. (1998). Religion in the Workplace: A comprehensive guide to legal rights and responsibilities. USA: American Bar Association

Mesriani Law Group. (2010). Workplace Discrimination Based on Religion. Retrieved 18th August 2010 from

Technical Research Group. (2004). Employee Email Monitoring. n.a. 3-6.

Muckle, R. (2003). Email Monitoring in the Workplace - A simple Guide to Employers. Waterford Technologies. 10-13.

Facey, J, A. (2010). CEO Forum - Effective communication: Skills that make leaders stand out from the crowd. CEO Forum, Spring 2010, 18-34

Appendix 1

Employee Email Monitoring - Pros and Cons

Figure 1

Monitoring Pros: (Arguments for monitoring)

Monitoring Cons: (Arguments for not monitoring)

Assists in making the work environment free from hostile and harassing activity. This improved work environment lowers the exposure to employee lawsuits as monitoring assists in creating a safe and secure working environment

Employees maintain efficient, increase productivity and improve customer service

Employees avoid misuse of the employer's equipment and resources. This misuse could clog up network bandwidth and computer disk space

Sensitive information about trade secrets, intellectual property, customers, employees, and financial data is properly protected

Opponents of monitoring employees also make some valid arguments, many of which are around ethical, moral and cultural issues. Some of the arguments against monitoring are as follows:

Loss of respect and trust for employer resulting in higher turnover, loss of productivity and decay of a positive work culture

People are paid to do a job, and so long as the job is done within the specified parameters, they should be allowed some personal freedoms at work

Monitoring costs the company more than it saves. It is a distracting to getting the business of the business done

Workplaces that are subject to high surveillance typically are culturally in trouble where trust is missing

Without proper checks and balances, employers may take on a "Big Brother" role and abuse monitoring. Corporate governance needs to be explored in this area

Appendix 2

HR communication skills

Figure 2

(Technical Research Group, 2008)