A company keeps producing innovative products to strengthen their competitive advantage in a market. This involves the development of products, selling them to potential customers, and conducting after sales service to the customers. For some types of business such as in information technology, which involve a number of computer programmers, a violation on ethical conduct is common. This could happen in a business that personal skills and knowledge are heavily involved just like in software business. Under such circumstances, employers must create the DOs and DONTs, known as ethical standards, and make sure that employees understand them.

According to Oxford Advanced Learner’ Dictionary (1989), ethics refer to moral principles and rule of conduct. The moral principles not only bind the employees but also the entire stakeholders of the organization. For this reason, we witness a growing number of stakeholder including customers, investors, and media pay attention to the ethical behavior of companies and employees. Companies state this behavior into ethics program that composes of set of values that interpreted into ethics codes.

Concerning the ethical issue, this paper will discuss about a particular case on a computer programmer who works for a business enterprise and he commits a sales activity of a computer program that is no longer used to potential customer without the written authorization from the company he works for. In this discussion, specific issue will be elaborated. First is about the ethical issues that the programmer violates, the general principles of using company resources for personal benefit, and recommendation what a company must do to prevent this type of unethical issues and how the programmer must do when he is facing the situation.

Ethics of Selling Program No Longer Used

When a programmer is involved in the development of a computer program/application in a team, it does not mean that he has the right to sell the program to customers without the authorization from the company. This is because intellectual property of the finished computer program is retained by the company (Francis, 2005). Intellectual property refers to the idea that the product of thinking should be protected by law as applicable to other products, services, ideas, intangibles, and other matter that originated from a person or a group of person that should entitle exclusive rights to the subject matter of the intellectual property.

In the case study, there are two violations that the computer programmer commits. First, he conducts marketing copies of the program for personal benefit. Second, he carries out a side business during working hours that he should devote himself doing works for the company’s benefit.

Therefore, the computer programmer has violated the ethical conduct that the company has. The explanation of general principles that the programmer violate will be discussed in the following section.

General Principles of Ethical Conducts #1:

Using Company Assets

The first ethical principle that is related to the programmer’s decision to sell computer program that is no longer used is about the protection of company assets. Any products and materials that a company produces and possesses become the company’s assets.

This complies with the Article Number 16 that suggests a company must commit to protect their company's assets (National Academy of Engineering, 2011). In this Article, there several practices that an employee should avoid. Two points that are related to the case are:

Taking home the office supplies.

When making a copy of computer program, the computer program may use office supplies home in order to complete the copy of program for particular use of customers.

Illegal use computer equipment

When customizing a copy of computer program to match customer’s needs, the computer programmer uses computer equipment for personal purpose (National Academy of Engineering, 2011).

As employees are determined to be more critical to bottom-line productivity and as technological advances change the nature of conducting business, employers may need to ensure that their employees attend ethics training programs.

General Principles of Ethical Conducts #2:

Doing Side Jobs during Working Hours

Article Number 37 describes the guidance for those who work in information technology industry not to commit personal business activity during working hours. The first thing that the computer programmer violates this Article is he works for the customer outside the company’s assignment (National Academy of Engineering, 2011).

Second, the Article says that side job should not use the company resources including the computer equipment and its facilities during working hours or after office hours (National Academy of Engineering, 2011). Third, the Article says that outside work should be discussed with the supervisor and has the supervisor’s approval.

General Principles of Ethical Conducts #3:

Using TI Resources for Personal Work

In Article 227 regarding using IT resources for personal purposes, it is stated that a computer programmer should not use the IT equipment for personal benefits. In the case of computer programmer that sells computer program that is no longer used, the programmer shows unethical conduct by using, modifying, and selling the computer program to customer for personal benefits (National Academy of Engineering, 2011).

Preventing Illegal Actions at Works

According to survey by the American Management Association in 2001, nearly 80 percent of employers engage in electronic monitoring of employees’ communications and activities. This includes the monitoring of e-mail and Internet usage during working hours, and tapping employee telephone calls (Towns, 2004).

In carrying out the monitoring program of employees’ usage on e-mail and internet, companies need to take it based on the principle of utility (Utilitarian Ethics) where it guides us that approved or disapproved actions must see the increases or diminishes amount of happiness in the party of interests.

  • Act Utilitarianism: An act is right if and only if the outcome of the Act is as much as good of another options/alternatives
  • Rule Utilitarianism: An act is right if and only if it is needed by a rule

Therefore, in order to carry out ethical standards in a company’s operation, employers should state clearly the ethics codes as suggested by Douglas M. Towns (2004) in Legal Issues Involved in Monitoring Employees’ Internet and E-Mail Usage as following: 

  • Integrate the use of e-mail and other policies in the ethical standards
  • Limit the use of company’s assets to business purposes only. In this case, employer should inform that employees are restricted to use computers including e-mail and access to the Internet for non business purposes.
  • Reserve right to review and monitor. The employer should inform employees that they have rights to review, monitor, and disclose the employees activities during working hours.

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