School to Work - Workplace Ethics

As young people enter the workforce they encounter a variety of ethical problems that require tough decisions. Here are some thorny scenarios for your students to wrestle with.

The material on this page was adapted from Not For Sale – Ethics in the Workplace, a video based learning program developed by the Ethics Resource Center, in Washington, D.C.

school to work

ethics in the workplace

school to work

workplace ethics

ethhics in the workplace

Getting Ahead

Suppose you are a sales clerk in a store and some of your friends want you to let them shoplift. Answer the following questions.

1. If you refused to let them shoplift, would that make you a disloyal friend? Explain your answer.

2. How would you respond if your friends said to you:

 – “Just turn your back. You won’t even be involved.”

 – “Don’t let it bother you. Everybody does it.”

 – “The store will never miss it.”

 – “This store rips everybody off. We’re entitled to get even.”

3. If they shoplift despite your objections, what would you do?

4. Many people think you can’t get ahead being honest. Do you agree or disagree? Explain.


school to work
Ellen has loyalty problems

Ellen Hazard is one of four young adults whose story unfolds in the video portion of Not For Sale: Ethics in The Workplace. She is a newly hired sales clerk in the Young Apparel department of a large department store. Ellen is an insecure teenager who is relentlessly pressured by her two “best friends” to help them shoplift. At first she refuses, but eventually she goes along. Then, feeling guilty, she agonizes over whether or not to tell her boss and risk being fired.

The questions in the box on the left pertain to Ellen’s situation. They are adapted from the Teacher’s Guide for Not For Sale: Ethics in The Workplace.

Customer Relations
Community Service


1. There is an old saying that “the customer is always right.”
– What do you think that means?
– Do you agree with it? Explain your answer.
– What should you do if you think the customer is dead wrong?

2. Suppose you are serving a customer who insults you with racist remarks and attitudes.
– Is this a problem for you?
– What is the best way to deal with this person?

3. Suppose you have a customer who knows nothing about the product she is buying. You sense she will buy any model you recommend.
– Is it your duty to sell her the most expensive model in the store? Explain your answer.

4. Should businesses become involved in community service activities? Why, or why not?

5. Write about the community service involvement of a business in your community, or develop an idea for a community service initiative for a business you know of.


school to work
Collins has customer problems

Collins Taylor, a new hire in the Electron-ics Department, learns some important lessons about dealing with problem people and giving good customer service. First, he loses a customer because he’s talking on the phone. Then, he loses his temper at an apparently racist customer. Next, he has to satisfy a customer who doesn’t know what he wants. Finally, he mistakenly comes to believe that his community service idea for the store has been stolen by his supervisor.

The questions in the box on the left pertain to Collins’ situation. They are adapted from the Teacher’s Guide for Not For Sale: Ethics in The Workplace.

Sexual Harassment


1. You are new on the job. During your training you were taught company policies. Now your supervisor gives you instructions that contradict those company policies. What would/should you do?

2. What is a kickback scheme?
– Is it ethical? What’s wrong with it?
– What impact does it have on the store and its customers?

3. Suppose you discover that your supervisor is accepting kickbacks or stealing from the company. Would you report it, ignore it, or handle it some other way? Explain your answer.

4. Suppose you think your supervisor or a co-worker is sexually harassing you.
– How can you determine whether or not the behavior constitutes sexual harassment?
– If you determine that it is sexual harassment, should you report it to upper management or try to deal with it yourself?
– What options do you have to deal with it yourself?


school to work
Lydia has boss problems

Lydia Hernandez is a newly hired clerk in the Purchasing Department. Her boss keeps asking her for a date and making inappropriate sexual advances. He’s also receiving gifts from suppliers and paying excessively high prices for supplies. When Lydia discovers his kickback scheme she is faced with a difficult decision about whether or not to “blow the whistle.”

The questions in the box on the left pertain to Lydia’s situation. They are adapted from the Teacher’s Guide for Not For Sale: Ethics in The Workplace.



1. Suppose you have some personal problems that are troubling you. Is it okay to attend to these problems while you are at work?

– To what degree (or under what circumstances) do you think it’s okay to deal with your own personal affairs on company time?

2. What, if any, responsibilities does an employee have to his or her co-workers? Explain your answers, giving examples if you can.

3. How does a negative attitude affect other people in the workplace?

4. Suppose you are getting paid less than you think you deserve. Could that justify stealing from the company or goofing off on the job? Explain your answer.

– What other options might you have to remedy your dissatisfaction?

5. Suppose your supervisor instructs you to do something unethical or illegal. What responsibility do you have to that supervisor?


school to work
Roy has attitude problems

Roy Lynley is a new hire in the warehouse, who thinks his salary is too low. His attitude becomes a problem the moment he arrives. The son of an abusive, alcoholic father, Roy begins his new job by goofing off and talking on the phone. While his supervisor is trying to straighten him out Roy is bribed by Lydia’s boss to help him steal merchandise from the store.

The questions in the box on the left pertain to Roy’s situation. They are adapted from the Teacher’s Guide for Not For Sale: Ethics in The Workplace.

Ethics and Personal Responsibility

1. You are the lunchtime host at a popular restaurant. The waiting list is 30 minutes long. A customer offers you $20 to seat his party next. Would it be ethical to accept the offer? Explain your answer.

2. How do we know whether or not something is ethical? What does “ethical” mean?

3. Compile and bring to the next class a written list of five business situations in which people must make ethical decisions. The examples can be taken from home, school, work, TV shows or movies. For each situation, state:
1) What ethical question was raised?
2) Do you think the answer was easy or difficult?
3) How was the question resolved?
4) How would you have resolved it?”

4. When you accept a job, what does the employer owe you, and what do you owe the employer?

5. What is the obligation of a salesperson to a customer?

6. Draft a brief code of conduct specifying the rules that employees should follow in treating co-workers, including supervisors and subordinates, with respect.

7. How often to you think about whether something is right or wrong before you make a choice?
– If you care about doing the right thing, does that make your choices easier or harder?

8. How important is it to you to be a moral and ethical person? Why?

Not For Sale: Ethics in The Workplace is a video-based learning program for high school students. It consists of two videos and a comprehensive Teacher’s Guide. The videos present a compelling story in ten episodes about four young people’s experiences as new employees in a large department store. The Teacher’s Guide provides:
An introduction on how to teach ethics.
A complete set of lesson plans
Discussion questions with answers
Student assignments
Recommended readings
Information on business ethics
Instructions for business partners

Not For Sale: Ethics in The Workplace teaches skills and values essential to success in the workplace. It prepares students for situations and decisions they will experience at work. It starts new workers off on the right foot. It reduces the likelihood of getting into trouble on the job.

To learn more about Not For Sale: Ethics in The Workplace, click here.