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Posted on Apr 25, 2015

Training Employees to Make Ethical Decisions

by Katlin M. Bryant, CPA, Audit Associate II

It seems like anytime you attend a seminar or read an article about fraud prevention, the necessity for management to communicate the importance of ethical behavior is always mentioned. Managers can tell their staff to act ethically, but how does management really know if their employees understand what this means?

One solution to this question is for management to offer training that ensures that all employees work through ethical issues that could arise in their particular industry. By providing employees with tools for analysis of ethical situations, this training could assist with the instillation and/or enhancement of ethical values and principles.

During the staff training, an ethical decision making model can be followed to analyze an ethical issue. There are many ethical decision making models available; however most of the models follow similar steps. Generally the first step is to identify the ethical issue. At the training, management should present a situation that contains an ethical dilemma and have all employees determine the nature of the ethical issue is the given situation. Once employees have had a chance to identify the ethical issue, management can then explain the ethical issue that they wanted to be identified for comparison with the employees’ responses.

A common next step in ethical decision making models is to identify all stakeholders in the situation. After all stakeholders have been identified, it is then typical to identify all possible options and analyze these options using a philosophical-based approach. Three of the more common types of philosophical approaches are the Utilitarian approach, the Rights approach, and the Justice approach. Overall, these approaches and philosophies are meant to be as a guide to analyze ethical issues and the alternatives that have been identified. These approaches also prompt a person to consider each alternative in a thoughtful and thorough manner before coming to a conclusion. If you would like to learn more about the philosophical approaches, a good summary of the approaches is provided in Brown Univeristy’s article “A Framework for Making Ethical Decisions,” available at

Before the training, management should go through the various ethical philosophies and determine which philosophy and method suits the organization best and how the organization would like its employees to resolve ethical issues that arise through either internal or external factors. Once the preferred approach has been determined, management should demonstrate how they would like the ethical decision making process to work. After giving an example, management can have employees practice the full process on a few different examples. During the training employees should have an opportunity to identify the ethical issue, stakeholders, and alternatives to resolve the situation, and then analyze the situation using the recommended approach(es) by management. After they have analyzed the situation and reached a conclusion on the appropriate action, management should go through the full process with their employees and compare their results at each step.

The hope is that these approaches will help give employers more confidence in their employees’ abilities to make ethical decisions on a day-to day-basis and ensure that decisions are not just based on what each individual employee considers right or wrong. By providing a detailed training on the topic, your organization will help ensure that your employees’ ethical decisions are based on conscious and thorough analysis that takes into account all stakeholders and outcomes.

The content of these pages is for general information purposes only and does not constitute advice. Heinfeld, Meech & Co., P.C. tries to provide content that is true and accurate as of the date of writing; however, we give no assurance or warranty regarding the accuracy, timeliness, or applicability of any of the contents.