Business Ethics in a COVID World

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Many workplaces are beginning the return to office spaces and normal operational status as the numbers of COVID-19 cases flatten across the country. There remain risks of a resurgence of the virus, so the return to work will raise ethical questions and choices for many managers as they establish new patterns and approaches.

Here are three examples to consider:

  • Ethics Concerning Privacy. How will you monitor the health status of employees to minimize the chance that the virus will spread? How will you allow employees to self-report if they are in a high-risk health category without compromising privacy? How do you accomplish contact tracing without revealing personal information? The pandemic has made medical ethics more complicated in the workplace. Consider how you will balance the need for personal privacy along with serving the public good.
  • Ethics Concerning Customer Service. You may find yourself short-staffed with material and human resource shortages making it harder to meet business demands. How will you help your staff think through and address emerging problems? There may be areas where teams consider “shortcuts” to meet consumer demand—material substitutions, altering requirements, or unreasonably stretching resources across service areas. What will you disclose to your clients? How will you balance the need to deliver products with unavoidable constraints? You have an ethical obligation to be truthful to your customer—even when the news is hard to give or receive. Work through training scenarios with your team so everyone understands different contingency plans.
  • Ethics Concerning Government Support. Unfortunately, some well-known businesses have created a public relations crisis for themselves because they identified and pursued loopholes offered by recent government recovery programs. How businesses choose to approach the availability of government aid is not only an economic issue—it is an ethical one as well. Customers tend to think negatively of companies that are perceived to “exploit” loopholes—even if the company’s behavior is legal. How you access and leverage government aid in difficult economic times is an ethical issue and can impact how consumers view your brand. Align your decisions with how you’d like customer perception to follow.

As businesses continue the path to recovery during this global pandemic, be aware of new ethical challenges. Respond in a way that makes you, your employees and customers further believe in and identify with your brand.

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