Understanding professional ethics

When referencing cases of professional malpractice in Jacksonville, many of those involved will use the term "breach of ethics." At first glance, identifying an ethical breach may seem difficult because ethics themselves are seemingly subjective. What one may deem to be ethical, another might just as easily argue that it is not. Some may view ethics (even those established for professions) as being founded on religious standards, while others may view them as being based upon the laws of the land. Still others might argue that they are rooted in societal or industry norms. Thus, how is one to clearly know when a professional breach of ethics occurs? 

The Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions at the Illinois Institute of Technology defines a professional code of ethics as the manner in which professionals should pursue their common ideal so as to be able to do the best they can at a minimal cost to themselves and their stakeholders. To be viewed as a professional standard, a code of ethics should: 

  • Standardize generally the work done within a profession
  • Be modifiable based on the experience of profession
  • Make sense in a practical context 

In addition, professional ethics should be influenced by one's professional obligations. In a professional context, one's obligations are to his or her employer, clients, other professionals within his or her industry, his or her profession as a whole, and to public welfare. 

One might think that breaches of professional ethics are few and far between. Statistics suggest otherwise. Information shared in the National Business Ethics Survey of 2013 showed that 41 percent of workers in the U.S. observed misconduct on the job. Their ability to recognize such misconduct no doubt comes from their understanding of the code of ethics for their respective industries. 

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