What is the ethical issue?

Organisations provide different types of contracts to employees, and these may carry different benefits. There has recently been a rise in the number of people employed on part-time or atypical contracts. Employers are attracted to more flexible types of employment contracts because of the ability they give to meet increasing variations in demand.

Previously, employment conditions tended to be homogeneous among all employees. Now, a workplace might contain many workers, all with different contracts. Consequently, differences could apply to two workers performing the same job.

Contractual arrangements, including agency contracts, zero-hour and part-time workers, all have the potential to raise issues of fairness. These risks have been amplified by changing working patterns in which atypical contracts are becoming more common, and the same principles of fairness for full-time employees are not necessarily being applied. 

Where there is a lack of equality of opportunity among employees within a workplace, the perception of unfair treatment, inconsistency and double-standards increases.  Examples of unfair practices can be found in terms and conditions of employment, selection for redundancy, dismissal, access to training or promotion, as well as other benefits. These imbalances can create a backlash, both internally and externally.

The use of zero-hours contracts in particular can have negative implications for a business. While the use of zero-hour contracts is not necessarily unfair, their abuse by employers can cause reputational damage. These types of contracts can also impact company culture, as employees on zero-hours may have zero interest in the organisation, or engagement with its ethical values.

 

IBE Guidance

A summary of good practice
  • Atypical contracts must be used in interests of the organisation and the employees in a mutually beneficial way.  An ethical employer will want to treat all its employees fairly. In return, workers will want to ‘do the right thing,’ creating a positive cycle of employee engagement.
  • All employees in similar roles, regardless of the type of contract they are on, should be given equal opportunities. If utilising atypical contracts, organisations should monitor these carefully and be aware of the impacts they can have on employees.
  • Whatever type of contract is in operation, employees are entitled to expect a degree of protection against unethical behaviour, an expectation as to the number of hours they will work, and be supported to do the right thing.

 

Further resources

Blog

Doing business ethically in a time of coronavirus

Our Chair, Prof. David Grayson CBE discusses doing business ethically in a time of coronavirus in the latest IBE blog.

06 April 2020

Blog

Now is the right time to look at your culture

Ethical failures in business continue to happen with depressing regularity. Unfortunately, many organisations are only spurred to look at their culture and take the steps to embed ethical values at the heart of their decision making after things have gone badly wrong and customers, shareholders and colleagues have suffered as a result. 

05 February 2020

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Business Ethics in the News 2019

This briefing provides an overview of the ethical concerns and lapses that were recorded by the IBE in its monitoring of media coverage in 2019. It gives an overview of which sectors and issues related to business ethics were most covered in the news. For 2019, we have recorded a total of 361 different stories involving lapses of companies with a UK presence.

29 January 2020

Publication type: Survey

Ethics at Work 2018: Germany

This survey report describes the German findings of our 2018 Ethics at Work research and provides comparison with the European average from the eight countries surveyed.

10 December 2019

Publication type: Survey

Ethics at Work 2018: Italy

This survey report describes the Italian findings of our 2018 Ethics at Work research and provides comparison with the European average from the eight countries surveyed.

10 December 2019

Blog

Paying a living wage is the ethical thing to do

This week marks Living Wage Week, a chance to reflect on what it means to be paid a ‘living’ wage and evaluate how well employers are living up to this promise. Originally set up as an initiative to tackle in-work poverty, the living wage has been defined as the salary an employee requires in order to cover their basic needs, including adequate food, shelter and clothing. This Living Wage week also signifies the point at which new living wage rates will be announced.

12 November 2019

Publication type: Survey

Ethics at Work: Singapore

This survey report describes the Singapore findings of our 2018 Ethics at Work research and provides comparison with Switzerland and the UK.

23 September 2019

Publication type: Survey

Ethics at Work 2018: Canada

This survey report describes the Canadian findings of our 2018 Ethics at Work research and provides comparison with Switzerland and the UK.

26 June 2019

Publication type: Survey

Ethics at Work 2018: Switzerland

This survey report describes the Swiss findings of our 2018 Ethics at Work research and provides comparison with the European average.

23 May 2019

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

The Ethical Challenges and Opportunities of Social Media Use

Social media presents organisations with both ethical challenges and opportunities. As it blurs the boundaries between our personal lives and work, it can be a difficult balance for companies to protect their reputations, uphold their responsibilities to stakeholders, and empower employees to use social media ethically and effectively.

02 May 2019

Blog

Ethics and values are at the heart of a sustainable culture

David Grayson: I am delighted to take on the chairmanship of IBE. Ethics and values are at the heart of creating a sustainable culture.

02 April 2019

Publication type: Other

A Year In Review: Ethical Concerns and Lapses 2018

Read the IBE's annual analysis of business ethics news stories from the last year - which were the sectors and issues most in the news in 2018?

30 January 2019

Publication type: Survey

Ethics at Work 2018: New Zealand

This survey report describes the New Zealand findings of our 2018 Ethics at Work research.

28 November 2018

Publication type: Survey

Ethics at Work 2018: Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom

This survey report describes the Australia and New Zealand findings of our 2018 Ethics at Work research and compares them with the findings from the UK.

27 November 2018

Publication type: Survey

Ethics at Work 2018: Australia

This survey report describes the Australian findings of our 2018 Ethics at Work research.

27 November 2018

Publication type: Survey

Ethics at Work 2018: Portugal

This survey report describes the Portugese findings of our 2018 Ethics at Work research and provides comparison with the European average from the eight countries surveyed.

19 November 2018

Webinar

What do UK employees think about ethics at work?

16 October 2018

Publication type: Survey

Ethics at Work 2018: United Kingdom

This survey report describes the UK findings of our 2018 Ethics at Work research and provides comparison with the European average from the eight countries surveyed.

13 September 2018

Publication type: Survey

Ethics at Work: 2018 Survey of Employees: Europe

Ethics at Work: 2018 survey of employees analyses the results of the survey and examines whether formal ethics programmes are effective in embedding ethical values into organisational culture and influencing behaviour.

05 July 2018

Blog

Ethics is everybody's business

How can you support large numbers of employees in multiple locations in doing the right thing? One approach is to spread a network of ethics ambassadors throughout the business – it is an excellent way to ensure that messages about ethics and conduct are communicated effectively, consistently and meaningfully to staff in multiple territories.

18 April 2018

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