A Practical Approach to Ethical Dilemmas

Ethics are very well-known for not being black and white. In fact, it is all those muddling shades of grey that make this field of study such an enigma. It can be an especially tricky challenge in the workplace, where leadership is expected to protect its employees from unethical behavior and at the same time, protect the company from potential litigation.

In an educational webinar last month, two experts on ethics in hospitality explored the ethical implications in a variety of situational examples. These experts are HFTP Global Director James Bina, CHAE+, CHTP, the director of finance for Rosen Hotels and Resorts and Dr. Judy Holcomb, CHAE+, associate professor of hospitality management at Saint Leo University.

When confronted with an ethical dilemma and asked what you would do in that situation, the answer may not always be as clear as you would like it to be. Here is one example: You fly out on business and your plane gets delayed, so you receive a voucher for $200 travel credit. Can you use that credit for a personal trip, or is it strictly business?

This one has no right or wrong answer up front. Was a company credit card used to pay for the trip – or a personal card? Who gets the travel points? Did the flight delay take away personal time, and should that time then be reimbursed with the travel credit?

It is in a scenario such as this that your company’s policy handbook becomes an invaluable asset. Your company should have specific policies in place that outline what to do in this situation and others regarding business travel.

The policy handbook is also the answer to this next scenario. Susan is a hard-working banquet manager who comes to you and tells you she received a hefty cash tip from a group. Your hotel policy states that no cash tips are to be taken by any banquet or catering employee that are not put in the gratuity pool. She knows the policy, but she is asking that she be able to keep it and not turn it in.

What do you do? In this situation, the answer is easy. Your company has already established clear guidelines on cash tips. Those guidelines should be followed to the letter. Any other action could be construed as favoritism or bias. You never want to put yourself in a position of having to defend apparent inequity in the workplace.

What if it is not Susan, but your boss or manager who is asking you to go against company policy or engage in unethical behavior? For example, the owner of a cash-strapped management company tells you, as the company’s controller, to “borrow” funds from an account of a well-functioning property within the company’s portfolio. If you do not, he says the company will be forced to declare bankruptcy and put all employees out of work.

Situations like this require us to engage in difficult conversations. We need to be honest with our superiors, as well as our fellow employees, about what we feel is right and wrong. Employees are often concerned with retribution, but it is important to let your boss know if you feel uncomfortable, or if a request goes against your moral code.  One way to combat potential retribution amongst employees is to institute a dual reporting system, so associates have another level of management or a human resources representative to turn to if they are being pressured to act against their moral code by their boss. And always note when an action goes against company policy, assuming such a policy is in place.

It is important that your company’s handbook is reviewed on a regular basis. This handbook should be what a manager turns to for the rules on how the organization operates. Within this document, there should be certain requirements that every associate is expected to meet – while outside of the document, the company should have a set of procedures in place that everyone must follow. Policies are important to help everyone understand what behavior is expected, tolerated and allowed in the organization. Also, very importantly, policies must be fair and equitable across the entire company.

The webinar goes deep in its exploration of ethics, integrity and moral action and offers more guidance on ethical hiring practices, social media and training policies. This webinar can be viewed in its entirety in the Webinar Archives Library on the HFTP website. Attending HFTP webinars is an easy way to earn continuing education credits (CPEs) and advance your professional education from the comforts of your home office. Go online to learn more and register.

Briana Gilmore is the HFTP Communications Coordinator. Briana can be reached at Briana.Gilmore@hftp.org or +1 (512) 220-4017.

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About the Author: Briana Gilmore