Ethical Responsibilities of Human Resources Management

by Shamsul
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Ethical Responsibilities of Human Resources Management


Assess, with examples from a range of organizations, the ethical responsibilities of Human Resources Management staff to all organizational stakeholders.


Today, it is challenging to ignore the ethical question that runs through our society and to which the company is not immune. Is this an “ethical wave” sweeping? A question that arises following a scandal or, more generally, when things are not going well? Is this a new management? Sustainable development, social responsibility, ethical management, the names are different, practices and expectations may vary or be similar (Greenwood, 2001). All sectors of the company are affected: finance, marketing, production, and human resources, all the “stakeholders” of the company are concerned: those who work or govern it, customers, suppliers, competitors, neighbors, various associations, and others. What is the role of human resources managers? How are they affected? These questions are indeed useful and need to be answered.

Indeed, the opinions and positions of company managers differ depending on the situations encountered within each company. Moreover, on the definition of ethics adopted. Depending on the sector of activity, the legal provisions, the type of “stakeholders” along with the strategy and the type of organization, according to the significant events related to ethics. It all depends on the company’s knowledge or ability to know, and according to the attitude of its leaders. The question will be presented differently and the response methods will be specific (Greenwood and Simmons, 2004).

Human resources managers have a role to play in the ethical conduct of the various HR functions: from recruitment to career management to layoffs and retraining, including management through skills, assessment, or training. They all have a role to play in relations with colleagues, staff, and union representations, with socio-economic and political leaders, and with the company’s external partners. They have a role to play in the implementation of cross-company practices (Greenwood, Michelle, and Freeman, 2011).

Ethical Human Resource Management

If we combine the concept of employees engagement with the moral treatment of the employees, the entire scenario refers to as ethical HRM. Basically, it combines stakeholder engagement with the organizational stakeholders’ moral treatment, which is implied by ethical HRM (Kaler, 2002). As per the stakeholder theory, the organization is obliged to treat its employees professionally. It is an end in its own right as well as bearing the consequences of its behavior towards the company employees. This position is also consistent with pluralist assumptions related to the employment relationship. All the parties enter into a contract with their consent and voluntary action. The company will hold positive obligations by virtue of acceptance of the benefits of the employees’ contribution and vice-versa (Miles and Friedman, 2002).

On the other side, employees have liberty and safety in the workplace. Like the right to organize, freedom of association, eradication of forced labor, collective bargaining, provision of equal treatment and opportunities. They also work with standard and regulating conditions across the spectrum of work-related issues (International Labour Organisation, 2004). An argument to this aspect presented by Bowie (1998) which suggests that employees also hold the right to meaningful work. Moreover, Rowan (2000) argues that the employees also have the right to get respect in which he added the right to freedom, equality, and well-being. This viewpoint of ethical HR implies that the organization is obliged to act in the best interest of the employees. Also, do so to enhance these interests and involve employees in the decision related to those interests. 

The Image of the Leader and the Identification of Unethical Practices

The perception that staff members have of their leader as a “moral” leader is important. This encourages staff to follow the leader and enables a process of change. The leader’s role is “to articulate and personify the values ​​and standards to which the organization aspires, to inspire and motivate employees to follow their leader.” If we think first of all of the company’s managers, each of them, at their level of responsibility, play a leadership role. “Staff needs to recognize the moral characteristics of the leader: his honesty, his integrity.” “This will allow the leader to focus the attention of the organization over ethics and values ​​and to disseminate in the organization those principles which will guide the actions of the employees” (Crane & Matten, 2004).

Certain practices related to organizations and human resources can be qualified as “unethical.” These applications discredit the entire company: in theory, we are talking about new working models; in practice, this may be accompanied by part-time jobs rather than full-time jobs; In theory, we can speak of flexibility; for practice, it may be for management to “do whatever it wants”; In theory, we can talk about delegation, empowerment and, in practice, making someone else take risks and responsibilities; In theory, we can speak of training and development and, in practice, of manipulation; through the theory, we can speak of the recognition of the work of individuals and, in practice, we “underestimate unions and collective disputes”; In theory, we can speak of work teams and, in practice, be less respectful towards individuals (Werhane, Radin and Bowie, 2004).

Ethical Misconduct

An example of this can be associated with ethical misconduct in the fast-food chain, McDonald’s, which stated that the fast-food giant treated its employees in a criminal and illegal manner. In the year 2012, approximately 200 Eastwood workers in the New York City associated with the McDonalds chain went over a strike demanding an hourly wage of 15 dollars as well as the right to establish a union.  

The protests for Fight for 15 widely spread across the US. Simultaneously, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) supported this. Simaltiouneosly it expanded to almost 150 US cities and over 33 countries. This case is eventual evidence of the inability of the restaurant’s HR department to connect with its employees. 

This campaign on part of the McDonalds employees was a remarkable success in a very short time span. The National Labor Relations Board ruled out that the corporation is a joint employer of those who is working in franchise-based restaurants, a big win for fast food activists. Later on, New York City ordered the managers to grant a minimum $15 wage to 180,000 fast-food workers in the state. Similarly, the fast-food chain operator offered an increase to those who were working in the restaurants outright owned by the corporation which imposed pressure over the HR departments of the franchises to do the same.


Basically, the concept of ethical HRM practices and stakeholders is an argument between the moral treatment of the organizational stakeholders. As well as the strategic treatment of the stakeholders. This distinction does have a considerable implication for human resources. Employees can morally be viewed as individuals who have their own interests and rights or they can either be viewed strategically. They will be a resource for maximizing organizational revenues. Depicting employees as moral stakeholders provides a normative and practical model for ethical human resource management and the stakeholder theory holds the potential for presenting a framework. 

This will determine the darker side of HR and increase the theoretical understanding of this aspect.

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  2. Greenwood, M., & Simmons, J. (2004). A Stakeholder Approach to Ethical Human Resource Management. Business & Professional Ethics Journal, 23(3), 3-23. Retrieved February 3, 2021, from
  3. Greenwood, M.R. 2001. Community as a stakeholder: Focusing on corporate social and environmental reporting. Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 1(4): 31-45
  4. Greenwood, Michelle & Freeman, R.. (2011). Ethics and HRM. Business and Professional Ethics Journal. 30. 269-292. 10.5840/bpej2011303/413.
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  7. Miles, Samantha, and Andrew L. Friedman. (2002). “Exploring the Social Construction of Stakeholder Management in the UK.” Oxford Brookes University Business School: Discussion Papers in Governance and Accountability No 02/008
  8. Werhane, P. H., T. J. Radin, and N. E. Bowie. (2004). Employment and Employee Rights. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

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