5 Ethical Dilemmas at Workplace with examples

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The workplace can be complex and challenging, with many ethical dilemmas that can quickly turn stressful. It’s vital to be aware of these situations and know how to handle them responsibly.

This blog explores five common ethical dilemmas that can arise in the workplace. Armed with this knowledge, you will be better prepared to make decisions that will benefit you and your team.

Without delay, let us explore the ethical dilemma in the workplace.

Ethical dilemmas
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What is an Ethical Dilemma?

An ethical dilemma is a situation in which you have to make a decision that conflicts with personal values. It puts you in a difficult position where you find it difficult to arrive at a decision. It is one of the toughest situations that you can encounter.

Ethical dilemma at work often arises when employees are torn between upholding company policies and doing what they believe is morally right.

There are three main types of ethical dilemma situations where you have to choose between:

  • Equally valid options.
  • Two bad options.
  • Two good options.

The most common ethical dilemmas in the workplace is when you have to choose between two bad options. In this case, you have to choose a bad one with a lower impact.

For example, let’s say you work for a company that manufactures products that harm the environment. You are morally opposed to this, but your job requires that you keep working for the company. How do you handle this dilemma?

Another common ethical dilemma involves choosing between two valid options that are equally valid but opposite in some way. 

For example, suppose you’re considering whether or not to break up with your business partner.

Both choices are reasonable and good-intentioned, but they involve different consequences for you (e.g., staying together vs. breaking up). How do you decide which option to take?

Finally, there are situations where you have to choose between two good options that are not necessarily equal in terms of their goodness. 

Suppose someone asks for help with a task, but you can choose to do it either way.

The advantage of doing it the “right” way is that it will result in more good, while the advantage of doing it the “easy” method is that it will save time. How do you decide which option to take?

These difficult decisions often have morally ambiguous outcomes and can arise from conflicts of interest, mismanagement of resources, or unethical behavior.

To avoid dilemmas, be aware of them and have a plan for resolving them when they arise. By understanding the ethical dilemma definition, you can better identify the relevant stakeholders and make informed decisions in the best interests of all involved.

Should you do something ethically questionable?

Some of the most common examples include whether or not to lie, how to handle confidential information, and whether or not to break laws. Weigh the risks and benefits of every decision before making it.

However, here are a few guidelines that can help you make an ethical decision when caught in ethical situations at work:

– Think about what’s best for the people involved.

– Consider the consequences of your actions.

– Be honest with yourself and others about what you’re doing.

– Keep in mind that morality is relative – what is acceptable behavior to one person may not be acceptable to another.

Ultimately, it’s up to you as the individual employee to decide what is ethically acceptable behavior in your work setting. So, be smart about it and know the right thing to do in any given situation!

5 Ethical Dilemmas that arise in the workplace

These days ethical dilemmas in the workplace are common. They can arise in the form of questions like who owns the data? Should employees have the right to unionize? These are just a few of the many.

To navigate these tricky waters, here are five ethical dilemmas in the workplace. These apply to remote teams as well. For example, your team may be in the United States, and the extended team elsewhere in Asia.

Remember to stay ethical and fair in all situations, no matter how difficult they may seem.

Examples of Ethical dilemmas:

Time needed: 5 minutes

Here are some trending examples for ethical dilemmas at the workplace in 2023.

  1. The conflict between personal and professional goals –

    When facing a conflict between personal and professional goals, consider the risks and benefits of both options.

    For example, suppose you are working on a project that is personally important to you but may not meet your employer’s standards. In this case, it may be best to put your personal feelings aside and follow company policy.

  2. The conflict between confidentiality and disclosure –

    When it comes to taking bribes or disclosing confidential information, many employees hesitate because they want to maintain the trust of their clients or colleagues. On the other hand, confidentiality agreements can sometimes prevent others from learning important information.

    An ethical dilemma often arises when an employee moves to break confidentiality to protect someone else. 
    In this case, consider both sides of the coin before making a decision.

  3. The conflict between ownership and use of intellectual property –

    Employees may have to decide whether they own the intellectual property they create. It can be difficult, especially if it involves the theft of copyright or other copyrighted material.

    Entertain the pros and cons of owning intellectual property before taking any action. 

    If they deny owning their work, they may lose out on opportunities for royalties or other benefits.

  4. The conflict between personal values and company policy –

    Sometimes, employees must choose between upholding personal values and following company policy.

    For example, an employee may object to working on an unethical or illegal project. Also, they must think about how it will impact their family members.

  5. The conflict between authority and independence –

    Employees must often choose between following authority figures or acting independently.

    For example, an employee may have to choose between anonymously reporting a problem or speaking out publicly on social media. Honesty plays a role here.

These were some ethical dilemma examples at the workplace. There are many extreme cases of ethical behavior that we can think of. 

If you have experienced some, share your thoughts in the comments.

Learn more about ethical dilemma with CFI.

How can you handle an ethical dilemma?

Ethical values and the course of action we take may lead to many conflicts. It may be religious beliefs, a code of ethics, no compassion at the workplace, and other negative consequences in the long term.

Here are some tips on how to deal with them:

1. First, analyze the situation carefully. It will help you understand the ethical issue and the possible consequences.

2. Decide whether or not you feel comfortable acting on your own behalf or reporting the issue to a supervisor.

3. Finally, find a fair resolution for all involved – this will minimize conflict and maximize productivity.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are some ethical dilemmas that a doctor or health professional faces?

Doctors and health professionals face a variety of moral dilemmas daily.

These include situations where patient confidentiality is at risk, conflicts of interest, medical malpractice, CPR initiation, end-of-life decisions, and allocation of scarce resources. The next course of action defines your ability to handle an ethical decision.

These moral principles can be tough to navigate, but healthcare professionals must know them to make well-informed decisions. By doing so, they can hope to uphold the principles of patient autonomy, beneficence, and justice while still serving their patients in the best way possible.

What is an example of an ethical dilemma at work?

One example of an ethical dilemma at work is when an employee discovers that their manager is engaging in fraudulent practices, like misreporting financial data or falsifying documents.

The employee now has to make a difficult decision to report the misconduct. It could put their job or career at risk, but failing to notify will enable the fraudulent behavior to continue.

What are examples of ethical dilemmas? or What are ethical dilemmas in a company?

1) Telling the truth vs. protecting someone’s feelings
2) Prioritizing personal values vs. company policies
3) Balancing individual rights vs. community well-being
4) Honoring loyalty vs. speaking out against injustice
5) Choosing between short-term gains vs. long-term consequences

What are the 4 main ethical dilemmas?

The 4 main ethical dilemmas are:

1. Confidentiality: Balancing the need to maintain patient confidentiality with the duty to protect the welfare of others.

2. Autonomy: Respecting an individual’s right to make their own decisions, even if it conflicts with what is considered socially or morally acceptable.

3. Beneficence: Striving to do good and promote the well-being of others, while also considering the potential harm that may result from an action.

4. Justice: Ensuring fairness and equality in the distribution of resources and opportunities, while also recognizing the inherent limitations and constraints that may exist.

What is ethical dilemma and its characteristics?

An ethical dilemma refers to a situation in which a person is faced with two or more conflicting moral principles or choices. It is characterized by the difficulty of making a decision because each option has its own ethical implications and consequences.

Ethical dilemmas often involve complex issues that require careful consideration and balancing of conflicting values.

Some common characteristics of ethical dilemmas include:

1. Conflicting moral principles: Ethical dilemmas arise when there is a conflict between different moral principles or values, such as the duty to protect patient confidentiality and the duty to prevent harm to others.

2. Complexity: Ethical dilemmas are often complex and multifaceted, involving multiple factors, perspectives, and considerations. They may require a thorough understanding of the situation and the ethical principles involved.

3. Uncertainty: Ethical dilemmas can be challenging because there is often no clear right or wrong answer. Different options may have both positive and negative consequences, making it difficult to determine the best course of action.

4. Personal and professional values: Ethical dilemmas can also involve conflicts between personal values and professional obligations. Healthcare professionals may face situations where their own beliefs or preferences clash with their professional responsibilities.

5. Impact on stakeholders: Ethical dilemmas have a significant impact on various stakeholders involved. These stakeholders can include individuals, communities, organizations, or even society as a whole. The decisions made in ethical dilemmas can have far-reaching consequences, both positive and negative.

What causes ethical dilemma?

Ethical dilemmas in the workplace can arise from a variety of sources and circumstances. Some common causes include:

1. Conflicting interests: When individuals or groups have different interests or goals, ethical dilemmas can emerge. For example, in the business world, a company may face a dilemma when deciding between maximizing profits and ensuring the well-being of its employees.

2. Limited resources: Scarcity of resources can create ethical challenges. Healthcare professionals, for instance, may be confronted with the difficult decision of allocating limited medical supplies when there is an overwhelming demand.

3. Cultural differences: Ethical dilemmas can also arise from cultural differences. What may be considered morally acceptable in one culture could be seen as unethical in another. For instance, the use of animals for scientific research may be deemed necessary in one society while being viewed as cruel and unethical in another.

4. Legal and regulatory requirements: Ethical dilemmas can also stem from conflicts between what is morally right and what is legally required. There may be instances where individuals are faced with decisions that comply with the law but may not align with their personal ethical values.

5. Organizational pressures: Within an organizational setting, ethical dilemmas can arise due to pressure from various stakeholders. For example, employees may find themselves torn between following the company’s code of ethics and meeting the demands of their superiors or clients.


As a professional, you must abide by ethical standards that guide your behavior. However, sometimes, you may find yourself in a situation where you have to make a difficult choice. In this blog, we have discussed five ethical dilemmas in the workplace.

We hope this article has helped you to understand the complexities of ethical decision-making and to equip you with the skills necessary to navigate these tricky waters. Thank you for taking the time to read. If you want to receive our next article by email – consider the free subscription below.

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