Workplace Ethics : Some practical and foundational problems

Sammanfattning: The aim of the present thesis is twofold: first, to analyse some practical ethical problems that stem from the workplace and the working environment and to offer guidelines concerning how such problems can be solved; second, to illuminate how the specific nature of work and the working environment is intimately connected to the relation between the employee and the employing entity, as set forth in an employment contract, and how the form and content of such contracts are, among other things, determined by culturally and socially established ideas. The normative question to be addressed is thus: which of these ideas should be maintained? This can be seen as a second-order, or more fundamental, ethical question whose answer depends on determining which normative principles are right. An additional aim of this thesis is thus to illuminate that the contract relation has relevance to practical ethical problems in the workplace context in this second-order mode. The thesis consists of an Introduction and five papers. In Paper I (written together with Sven Ove Hansson) we argue that employees have a prima facie right to privacy, but that this right can be overridden by competing moral principles that follow, explicitly or implicitly, from the contract of employment. A set of ethical criteria is developed and summarized in the form of a guideline for determining the moral status of infringements into workplace privacy. In Paper II these criteria are applied to three broad classes of privacy-intrusive workplace practices: (1) monitoring and surveillance, (2) genetic testing, and (3) drug testing. In relation to some scenarios on these themes, it is shown that it is possible to handle such practical ethical problems systematically by way of the proposed guideline. Paper III deals with the fact that employees are protected by health and safety standards that are less protective than those that apply to the general public. Emphasis is put on the distinction between exposure and risk, and this distinction is claimed to be a key determinant for the relevance of arguments put forward in support of such double standards. In Paper IV the nature of the contract of employment is explored from an ethical point of view. An argument is developed against the claim that (a) the individual’s freedom of decision and (b) the practice of institutional arrangements are sufficient to justify a contract of employment. Paper V questions the standpoint that the voluntariness of the contracting parties in an employment relationship has substantial value. One overarching issue concerns the meaning of voluntariness in the employment context, another, its normative importance. It is argued that it is indeterminate exactly where the line should be drawn between voluntary and non–voluntary agreements in this context. Concerning the latter issue, it is claimed that even if we were able to draw such a line, this fact does not tell us anything about the normative importance of the voluntariness condition, nor how much normative weight we should assign to the fulfilment of its conditions in the workplace context.