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How to Report Unethical Behavior in the Workplace

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Unethical behavior often falls into a gray area where people are unsure of how to react. Professional organizations, religious groups and individuals may have differing definitions of "unethical behavior." The law also addresses unethical behavior, although not all actions considered unethical by an individual or a group would fall into the category of unethical behavior. Employees and group members benefit from specific guidance on what to consider in assessing a situation, so an organization should have its own ethical standards that all staff or members agree to abide by upon being hired or joining. The Association of Authors' Representatives provides a clear example in its Canon of Ethics, which not only serves as a guide or members but also for others in the publishing industry.

Ask yourself whether an action merits being labeled as an unethical behavior. HR Solutions recommends putting those questions into the employee handbook. CEO Kevin Sheridan offers the following as a model: Is it legal? Does it comply with human resources policies and procedures? Is it in sync with the company's core goals and values? Will I be comfortable and guilt-free if I do it? Would I be perfectly okay with someone doing it to me? Would the most ethical person I know do it? Answering those questions will help you determine whether or not an action you observe might fall into the category of "unethical behavior."

Be objective in reporting what appears to constitute unethical behavior. Try not to focus on your relationship with the employee in question; simply focus on that person’s actions. If a tense or competitive element exists in the relationship, step back from your emotions and agenda to evaluate the behavior fairly.

Be sure of the facts. Reporting false information can damage the person in question as well as your own career. Don't rely on hearsay to supplement your report, even if you consider the source of the information reliable.

Don’t succumb to peer pressure. Doing the right thing does not make you a “tattletale.”

Keep it private and professional by reporting the problem directly to the appropriate individual within the organization and not sharing the critical observations with co-workers. Organizations sensitive to these human resources issues try to establish a reporting system whereby employees have the option to meet with different people to increase the chances they will speak up and report unethical behavior. If your organization does not have such a reporting mechanism, propose putting it place.