What to do When Your Boss Asks You to Compromise Your Ethics

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As young professionals entering the workforce, we may soon be forced to make the dreaded decision of what to do when a boss asks us to do something unethical. I know it’s easy to say, “This won’t happen to me.” But it might. And if it does, you need to be ready to react appropriately while following your own ethical standards.

Establish your personal ethical standards

It’s a good idea to establish your ethics and beliefs before you enter the workforce. You need to know what you stand for before you’re challenged to fight for it. If you’re not sure what this entails, take a look at the PRSSA Code of Ethics. Also think about how you were raised and what you were taught. A lot of this can be used in the real world. For example, if you were taught to do your best work, but to never cheat or take someone else’s work, this can apply very nicely to your personal ethical standards.

Clarify what’s actually going on in the situation

Make sure you completely understand what your boss was saying. There’s a possibility that it could have sounded unethical when it was really just a simple misunderstanding. If it is very clear that they have overstepped a boundary, then go with your gut and think through your next steps.

Remember that it’s OK to say no

It’s easy to get caught up in your new job and strive to make your boss happy by doing everything he or she asks you to do, but if you’re not comfortable doing something or if it goes against your ethical standards, it’s best to just say no. If they have gone too far or this is an ongoing occurrence, it might even be time to consider resigning. You shouldn’t have to be in a situation where you’re forced to make unethical decisions each day.

Walk away with no regrets

Whether you’ve left your job or worked things out with your boss and clarified the line you don’t want to cross, you shouldn’t have a single regret. Remind yourself that you’re doing what’s best for you and the organization. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Not that breaking the Code of Ethics is going to literally kill you, but turning away and saying no will definitely make you stronger. Although it might feel like you’re quitting, that’s not the case. Saying no can be a lot harder than saying yes, and for that you should be proud.

If you’re faced with a situation where your boss wants you to break the Code, think through these considerations and remember that you should never have to compromise your standards and beliefs under any circumstances.

Have you faced an ethical dilemma? How did you deal with the situation?


Jessica Carnprobst is a junior studying strategic communications at Ohio University and is the Scripps PRSSA vice president of member relations. She starts every morning with a cup coffee and a side of enthusiasm. Follow her on Twitter @jess_carnprobst or connect with her on LinkedIn

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