Business Ethics and Sexual Harassment: A Way Out

Speaking about life in contemporary world it is impossible not to take into account business ethics. As a lot of modern life processes that influence human society are possible through business, it is important to consider business ethics. What is business ethics, what does it control and are there any limits in its power of influence? Those are questions to answer.

Business ethics is a studying that has a lot of common features with ethics itself. The only difference between the two notions is that business ethics investigates what is right or wrong exactly in business sphere and business relationships, and business environment. However, the problematic of the business ethics is not only in doing right or wrong but making choice. As a rule, such choice implies psychological pressure. Telling lies or stealing from the company is not only the matter business ethics deals with.

On the other hand, any business is not able to exist without ethics. It is so because society where the business exists provides rules and obligations according to which all business participants should live. This condition is obligatory for good business functioning. Otherwise, no big deals and considerable profit is possible to gain. No common goals would be possible to achieve. Everything should be done on the basis of established standards, values and moral rules in society. We can make a conclusion that business existence has to be called moral as well. In different societies the establishment of business ethics was a different process and depended on the historical and cultural background as well as on the social condition of the present day. There is no need to say that business changes with the society. Morals influences on people that make business. Thus, moral influences the business itself. Moreover, business works in a case of business ethics existence that settles and defeats interests of different parties.

Ethics used to be a rare word in western public life. But recent years have brought a rising tide of concern about standards in public life and business; concerns which are, above all, about ethics. Ethical processes can be brought into organizations to replace the unwritten contracts and assumptions that may have worked in the past, but which no longer hold good (Carmichael, p.11).

In contemporary world the interest to business ethics increased greatly because there appeared a lot of cases when norms and rules of behavior are broken and many people suffer from it. Here appears a question what is business ethics breaking and how serious can it be?

In an attempt to measure unethical conduct by individuals, some survey studies have created long lists of unethical behaviors, such as theft, lies, misuse of confidential information. Although using any such list may implicitly commit a researcher and research subjects to a particular normative stance, that commitment is not likely to be problematic if it is recognized as a description of what is typically viewed as unethical in a particular social context (Trevino, p. 299).

As an example of the sexual harassment I would like to discuss the story depicted in the book Business Ethics: Case Studies and Selected Readings by M. Jennings. This example clearly presents the sharp situation that exists in the modern business world almost everywhere.

Hooters is a successful chain of restaurants and bars that features waitresses in tight shirts and very short shorts. Hooters also market T-shirts that bear its name as well as its slogan, “More Than a Mouthful.” Former Hooters waitresses filed a class action lawsuit, alleging that the atmosphere Hooters created in its restaurants allowed them to be sexually harassed. One waitress noted on a talk show, “We thought it was a family restaurant. [The uniforms] made us look stupid.” The former waitresses have noted that Hooters hired no male wait staff, and that all of the waitresses at its restaurants are very young and mostly blonde. Customers, cooks, and managers, according to the women, made lewd comments and, on occasion, touched them. The women contend that Hooters’ atmosphere, their mandatory uniforms, and all-made management caused them to be sexually harassed. The EEOC and Hooters settled the litigation. Hooters’ dress policy and its slogans and practices remain the same. Hooters continues to enjoy great success, and it recently created Hooters Airlines, a company that flies to resort destinations and features Hooters girls as flight attendants (Jennings, p.99).

From the example mentioned above we can see that the situation is hard enough. Many young girls have experienced sexual harassment on their workplaces and suffered from it. In spite of the fact that there was no direct physical contact between waitresses and managers or waitresses and clients, girls felt moral injury and dissatisfaction by their obligations and actual duties.

The ethical problem here is that the managers of the restaurants did not provide moral security for their staff. Moreover, they did everything to intensify the seductive image of the waitresses and make them more available to various clients’ desires.

The ethical problem of this situation is caused by the moral problem. The participants of the depicted situation may be divided into two separate groups: victims and those who provoked harassment. The moral problem consists in the following: managers did not have any moral principals to follow. They were blinded by the money only and did not take care about their staff. They considered young girls to be attractive means to earn money and nothing more. Their personal principles, thoughts and emotions were not taken into account. Thus, the representatives of the ethically responsible management did not make their duties properly.

The moral problem of the second party that is presented by waitresses who are victims in this situation is in their inability to resist the sexual harassment on their working place. The fact that they were only victims, puppets in the hand of the hotel managers cannot be excluded. On the other hand such social exposure as the lack of money made them bear bad attitudes and sexual harassment from managers and clients.

The third problem in this situation is the state inability to protect its inhabitants from the injuries of such kind. Even the litigation could not limit dishonest actions of the hotel managers as their behavior, slogans, and dress code remained the same. Thus, it means that more and more women in future would be victims of sexual harassment from managers and clients.

Thus, we can say that the discussion on business ethics is a burning problem nowadays. The fact that there are a lot of cases of sexual harassment nowadays proves that business has become unethical in some ways. Except the harassment there are other cases revealing cheating and immoral actions on the working places

This point makes us think that the primary duty of the contemporary business and business management is to elaborate the correspondent business ethics and create the appropriate social environment where staff of any company could feel itself protected from any kind of moral injuries and dishonest moral actions. The connection between trajectories of any action in business sphere and the result of business negotiations or business transactions is direct. Staff that experiences total harassment from its managerial staff would diminish the productivity of its work. Moreover, the scandal that can appear as a result of dishonest actions from managers may lead to the loss of company reputation and may lead even to the bankruptcy.

If to speak about who is responsible for business ethics fulfillment and what authorities are able to influence dishonest managers, we can say that those are legislature which edits laws about behavior on the working places and punishment for those who do not follow the laws. Then courts should be attentive to cases of harassment and observe the punishment fulfillment and the changes on the working places like it should have been in case with waitresses but had not been done.

In conclusion I would like to point out that business ethics is a set of rules established by any company for its staff to follow. Those rules and laws are needed not only for effective business making but for employees to feel themselves comfortable at their working places as success in business depends directly on the staff psychological well-being.

However, many cases of sexual harassment and the dishonest attitude at the working places evidence that business policy in some companies should be reconsidered as they break the elementary rules of behavior and may cause stress to employees.

Regarding all the said above we can say that there is a positive tendency towards the changes in the business sphere. During the last several years many companies recognized the necessity to reconsider their attitude to their employee in order not only to improve their business but employees’ working conditions.

Thus, many companies have established some unwritten rules of behavior to be successful. An ideal ethics policy should be the following:

  • Top management should provide support to employees, by both word and example.
  • Ethics should be explained and repeated several times in written form and orally.
  • Ethical rules should be doable. This means that employees should be able to put them into practice.
  • The fulfillment of the business ethics should be controlled by top management.
  • Everyone should be neutral in relations. Any sexual relation is excluded.


Carmichael, M. (1995). Business Ethics: the New Bottom Line. London: Demos.

Jennings, M.M. (2008). Business Ethics: Case Studies and Selected Readings. New York: Cengage Learning.

Trevino L.K., Weaver G.R. (2003). Managing Ethics in Business Organizations: Social Scientific Petrspective. New York: Stanford University Press.

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