Navigating Ethical Dilemmas in the Workplace: Balancing Compassion and Employment Contracts
In today’s complex and interconnected world, employees sometimes face ethical dilemmas that conflict with their job duties. This can be particularly challenging when acts of compassion conflict with company protocols outlined in their employment contracts. A recent incident in British Columbia involving the firing of a man who saved a moose brings to light the need for careful consideration of the ethical implications surrounding employees’ actions inside and outside the workplace.
In this blog post, we will delve into the ethical considerations at play and how to mitigate acts of compassion from colliding with contractual obligations in the workplace.
Example Case: A Compassionate Act Leads to Termination
In the case highlighted by CBC News, a British Columbia man was fired from his job after saving a distressed moose. The man, purportedly driven by his desire to help the animal, took action to rescue the young moose despite the potential risks involved. However, his employer disputed his version of events and cited a violation of company policy as grounds for termination. The man is appealing his employer’s decision nonetheless (with much support from an online petition that’s garnered more than 13,000 signatures).
The situation highlights the need for employees to consider the consequences of their actions outside of work and whether they conflict with their employment contracts. It also serves as a reminder to employers to clarify their strictly defined protocols and procedures and determine if and when exceptions will be accommodated. If protocols aren’t being followed, something needs to be done.
The situation also raises important ethical questions about the boundaries of an employee’s responsibilities and the potential clash between personal values and contractual obligations. When faced with a moral dilemma that falls outside the scope of their job duties, employees may find themselves torn between doing what they believe is right and adhering to the rules set by their employers.
Motivated by compassion
Acts of compassion and kindness towards animals or individuals in need are often driven by empathy and a sense of moral obligation – desirable character qualities that often make good employees and team players. Although, sometimes, an individual’s good intentions don’t always align with the law or an employer’s regulations.
To muddy the waters further, acts of kindness shared via social media may also stem from an individual’s desire for fame, which can escalate public relations concerns for the companies they work for. For this reason, it’s pertinent that employers consider including specific social media activities when crafting their protocols.
On the other hand, employment contracts outline the terms and conditions of employment, including what is expected of each employee, which may extend to behaviour and actions outside of the workplace. When employees sign such a contract, they are stating they understand their employer’s protocols and agree to follow each guideline to maintain employment. When conflicts arise, the employee has disregarded the guidelines, forgotten them altogether, or needs clarification about what’s expected of them and how their behaviour has violated company protocols.
Consequences and mitigation
Employees who act outside the bounds of their employment contracts may face potential consequences such as reprimands, warnings, or even termination. But it doesn’t end there. Prosecuting an employee for breach of contract involving perceived acts of compassion can create public outcry against the organization if the public perceives the outcome as unjust or unfair.
What is clear is that preventing ethical dilemmas is in the best interest of both the employee and the employer. And to do so, organizations should establish clear guidelines and communication channels for employees to address ethical concerns while fostering a culture that values compassion and encourages open dialogue.
Proactively Moving Forward
Finding a balance between compassion and contractual obligations can be a complex task. While acts of compassion should be encouraged and valued, employers must weigh them against potential legal, safety, and operational implications. Employers are responsible for enforcing policies and protocols to ensure consistent standards are followed, protecting both employees and the organization from potential public relations dilemmas and legal ramifications. In essence, clearly outlined contracts serve both the employee and the employer.
In his Ted Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” Simon Sinek explains that “people don’t buy what you do, people buy why you do it.” While Simon is speaking about marketing, the same can apply to getting employees’ “buy-in” regarding your company protocols and contracts. The takeaway: Take time to explain why each guideline exists and why it’s essential to follow each one.
Revisit, revise, remind, repeat
Repetition builds recognition. Because of this, it’s important to periodically revisit and review contractual obligations with your team in a way that allows for inquiry and discussion.
Establish an open-door policy
As we navigate the intricacies of workplace ethics, employers and employees should engage in constructive conversations about mutual expectations and the implications of their actions. Organizations can implement an easy and confidential way for employees to raise ethical concerns or ask for guidance. Implementing an open-door policy can help prevent conflicts, mitigate issues when they arise, and ensure that compassionate acts can be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Connect with a trusted HR consultant and employment law specialist
Having the right help at your fingertips makes a big difference, including streamlining your employment contracts and workplace policies while ensuring they are balanced, clearly written and relatable for employees.
The case of the man fired after saving a moose serves as a powerful reminder of the ethical considerations surrounding workplace actions that extend beyond job duties. It underscores the need for open dialogue, clear guidelines, and a balance between compassion and contractual obligations. As we strive for a harmonious work environment, it is crucial to find ways to address ethical dilemmas while maintaining professionalism, integrity, and the overall well-being of both employees and organizations.
If You Have Questions, We Can Help!
If you’re an employee or employer within BC that has questions about employment contracts or breaches of contract, our HR Consultant and Employment Law Specialists at Spraggs Law are here to help. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at 604 359 1618 or online today.
Please note: This article does not contain legal advice. If you would like advice on your specific situation, please contact Spraggs Law.