Ethics and Small Business
Ethical guidelines for employees are perhaps more important in a small firm than in a large firm. Most small firms don’t have the elaborate system of internal controls that larger firms have. This makes it easier for employees to engage in unethical behavior and lessens the chance they will be caught. Small firms also don’t have the legal obligation of full disclosure that big corporations have. This, too, makes it easier for employees to get away with unethical behavior.
Big corporations tend to have a written code of ethics, perhaps drawn up by an ethics committee. In a small firm the ethical tone for the business is more often set by example by the owners’ actions and deeds.
Sexual Harassment and Sexism
Do you recall the charges of sexual harassment and sexism in connection with the Navy and Marine aviators' Tailhook convention? Sexual harassment and sexism still exist in the workplace. Sexual harassment is a violation of federal civil rights law, and the offended worker can sue the employer. Still, many incidents go unreported because the harassed employees fear for their jobs. Employers have an ethical obligation to end these practices and to ensure that victims will not be mistreated if they pursue legal remedies. The 1991 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas included days of TV coverage of allegations by law professor Anita Hill of sexual harassment. After the hearings, a consultant on sexual harassment said: “Irrevocably, this is a workplace issue. No one is now going to say that sexual harassment is an interpersonal problem that companies shouldn’t be involved.”
From a legal point of view, sexual harassment encompasses acts that over time create a "hostile work environment." Thus more and more firms are sponsoring seminars to educate employees about what sexual harassment is, using hotlines
and investigating allegations quickly, providing security for victims fearful of reprisals, and penalizing offenders.
Stroh Brewing Company was criticized for its “Swedish bikini team” ad campaign. In addition, five female Stroh brewery workers claimed in lawsuits that the TV ads featuring bikini-clad women contributed to sexual harassment on the job.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida planned to defend the right of shipyard workers to make vulgar comments and to hang photos of nude women. The ACLU Women’s Rights Project, based in the national office in New York, planned to file a legal brief opposing the Florida group.
Sexism is still a problem. In 1990 women’s earnings as a percent of men’s earnings for year-round, full-time workers in all occupations was 71 percent—an all-time high!20 During the 1990s women will make up 65 percent of the new entrants into the work force. “Woman-friendly companies” offer an environment that helps women get to the top of the job ladder. In a recent poll 60 percent of management women in large corporations identified “a male-dominated corporate culture” as an obstacle to women’s success. Some firms are cutting back on the travel, relocation, and long hours that create problems for women with families. Extended leaves, flextime, and elder-care assistance also help. Women still bear the major share of the burden of taking care of elderly parents.51 And when women leave the work force for several years, for whatever purpose (rearing children or taking care of elderly parents, for example), it’s hard for them to catch up to their peers once they reenter.
At Gannett Company up to 10 percent of bonus pay may be linked to a manager’s record on promoting women and minorities. DuPont conducts gender- awareness workshops to help male managers identify and overcome the subconscious ways in which they still treat women unfairly.
As the numbers of single-parent households and families in which both parents work have increased, so have employee demands for child care. The big issues are: Who should provide it? and Who should pay for it? Thousands of for-profit firms and nonprofit organizations are in the day-care business. Some even specialize in offering day care for mildly ill children. Some employers pay some or all of their employees’ costs for child-care services at for-profit or nonprofit facilities. Tax credits are available for working parents who meet certain requirements.
Other employers provide child care on company premises as an employee benefit. The parent can spend time with the child during the lunch break. The on-premise arrangement is especially popular with nursing mothers.
A recent study of corporate work-family programs summarized more than a decade of research on flexible scheduling, family leave, child-care assistance, and other benefits. The study cites evidence that “family-friendly” policies, particularly on-site child care, increase workers’ job satisfaction and morale and reduce absenteeism, turnover, and tardiness. The study also indicated that more work is needed on the link between family policies and workers’ output. “It cannot be assumed that employees who feel better about their work environment are necessarily more productive,” the study says.24
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Department of Labor enforce equal employment opportunity. Many firms have affirmative action plans. An affirmative action plan is a firm’s detailed statement describing how it will actively recruit minorities and women and upgrade the jobs they currently hold. The challenge is to develop plans that are fair to all employees.
Employers also have an obligation to remove race- and gender-based obstacles to upper-echelon jobs.25 The glass ceiling is a term used to describe the attitudes and prejudices that have blocked women, minorities, and other disenfranchised groups from moving up the corporate ladder.
- Affirmative action plan A firm’s detailed statement describing how it will actively recruit minorities and women and upgrade the jobs they currently hold.
- Glass ceiling A term used to describe the attitudes and prejudices that have blocked women, minorities, and other disenfranchised groups from moving up the corporate ladder.
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