35 Ethical Dilemmas





1) Assume your wife is extremely ill, but you have no money with which to buy her medicine. She is extremely uncomfortable, and may die if you don’t get her the medicine she needs. Is it acceptable for you to break into the pharmacy and steal the medicine? This dilemma forces you to consider moral laws versus written laws.

2) Your neighbor kills someone very close to you. You know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that it was he, but the justice system lets you down and he is allowed to go free. What do you do, if anything? Do you take the law into your own hands?

3) You’re a juror in a trial in which the defendant pleads the Fifth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment protects defendants against self-incrimination. Do you think about the fact that she pled the fifth when you are considering how to vote? Is her silence an implicit admission of guilt?

4) You are in a boat with five other people, one of whom is extremely overweight, during a storm, the low-lying boat starts taking on water. If things stay the way they are, everyone is going to drown. However, if you throw the heavy person overboard the remaining five people will live. Do you throw him over for the sake of the greater good, or do you let everyone die?

5) You’re driving to work while texting and run into someone, which causes a multicar accident. You get out of your car — unhurt — and see that the person you hit is dead. Then, someone comes up to you frantically and says that she hit someone; in the chaos of the crash, she has convinced herself that she hit the person you hit. Do you let her take the fall for you?

6) You run your own business and can claim business expenses. Since the IRS does not have many auditing facilities, you realize that you can claim a number of expenses that are not legitimate. Do you do so in order to pay lower taxes, even though you use the same roads, hospitals and schools as other people?

7) You’re buying groceries and the total is $8. You hand the cashier a $10 bill, and she gives you $12 in change, having thought that you gave her a $20. Do you tell her, or do you pocket the $10?

8) You and someone else are in locked rooms, unable to communicate with one another. Each of you has a button you can press that will kill you while also unlocking the door to the other room. If an hour goes by without either of you pressing the button, you’ll both die. Do you press the button, or wait for him to press his button?

9) There are two kinds of eggs available at the supermarket. The free-range hens’ eggs are $5 a dozen, and the eggs of hens kept in coops are $3 a dozen. What is more important to you: the hens’ living conditions or the $2 savings?

10) You are grounded. Your parents are away for the evening. Friends drop by and want you to join them for a hamburger. You know that it will be at least 2 hours before your parents come home. In sharing the dilemma with your friends, they remind you that the punishment given by your parents was not fair. What choice to you make?

11) The clerk at the record store forgot to charge you for one of the CDs you purchased. You realize this as you are walking out of the store. In looking back to the register, there is already a long line. Your first thought is that this wasn’t your mistake. Maybe something like this will teach the clerk a lesson about being more careful. Then, you think about how hungry you are and that the money just “saved” could feed you nicely. What will you do?

12) You find a wallet containing $500. No one sees you pick it up. There is a name inside of the wallet.

But, you don’t know the owner. In fact, you’re not even sure if the address is close to your house. Again, you look around and realize that nobody saw you. No one needs to know that you found the wallet. What will you do?

13) At lunch time you realize that you forgot to do your math homework. The assignment is 3 pages long with 45 computation problems to complete. Instead of eating, you start to do the assignment. A friend offers you his completed assignment to copy before class. What will you do?

14) You promise a friend that you would go to the movies with him on Saturday. After you made the promise, the most popular kid in school invites you to a swim party at his house on the same day. You’re thrilled to be invited and really want to go to his swim party. But your friend did not receive an invitation. Should you cancel or uphold your commitment to go to the movies?

15) Your best friend makes fun of your 8th grade math teacher every day. Usually, it is just when the two of you are alone. Other times, he does it when you’re with friends. He even smarts off in class, poking fun of the teacher. Your response is to laugh along whether you’re alone with your friend or when he pokes fun in front of the teacher or when you’re with other kids. It’s starting to get old, and you no longer find his actions funny. But you don’t know what to do. When you mention this to your friend, he tells you to lighten up – it’s no big deal. How do you respond?

16) A close friend gets a job as assistant manager of a record store. You visit her and she gives you three CDs saying, “The owner is really a jerk and the inventory system is so bad here they never know what they have in stock, Even my manager takes stuff home. You can have the CDs if you want.” What would you do?

17) Now that you are a high school senior, your dad’s on your case before you go out on Saturday nights.  It all started when you told him about how your friends have been drinking at some of the parties you go to. He really freaked out when you told him that your friends are pressuring you to drink. You know if you’re caught drinking, you will be off the basketball team and lose any hope of receiving a scholarship. Your dad’s strategy is this – the next time you’re asked to have a drink, you are supposed to lie and say that every time you come home from a party, your dad gives you a drug test. This bothers you because it would not be the truth. Do you follow your dad’s suggestion? How would your dad feel if you said that telling a lie is not a way to get out of this situation? What would you do?

18) Over the intercom at your middle school, the dean announces that a teacher’s laptop has been stolen from her classroom. If it is not turned in by the afternoon, a locker search will take place. You remember that when you came to school this morning, you noticed that the kid whose locker is next to yours was stuffing what looked like a laptop in his backpack. Do you go down to the office and share what you know with the dean? Do you find the kid and ask if he took it? Maybe he’ll give you some money (which you really could use) to have you keep quiet. How should you proceed?

19) In your computer applications class, there are several students who gather together to discuss the latest computer games. You play a couple of the games that are discussed, so you can occasionally add to the conversation. You would like to fit in more to their group, but you don’t have the all the games. You can get copies of the games from one of the students who burns copies for a small price. Do you get into the group by paying a small price for the pirated software?

20) Your busy schedule has kept you from really working on that science research paper. It is due in two days, and you have only a rough outline of what you are going to say. You need this paper to be good, to keep your sports and activities schedule from suffering. You need more supporting research. There is a web site that has “ready to use” research papers. In fact, you have found one that would work for your paper. Your science teacher is very busy with school business and doesn’t always check the reports against online copies. Do you use the online copy to fit your schedule, or do you make room in your schedule to write it yourself?

21) As part of a student technician team, you work with teachers and students to keep the technology running. Because you are still a technician in-training, you can’t always fix the problem or supply the answers. As a result, you see a different side of the teachers. Some of them can be rude and demanding when it comes to fixing technology that they rely on for their lessons and others can be really nice. In your conversations with your friends at school, do you share all this “tasty gossip,” or do you hold back when other students talk about teachers?

23) You have an opportunity for an internship at a respected business in the community. Part of your qualifications comes from a senior project that you worked on with several other students. Through the interview process, you discover that you are given credit for a key section of the project that really impressed the company. In fact, another member of your senior team, with little input from you, did that section. How do you proceed?

24) You are a valuable member of the student store staff. You handle many of the cash box transactions, moving the daily cash between the store and the office, where it is held overnight. You remember that you needed to have cash to reserve your spot on the senior trip today, and your wallet is empty. You have the money at home, but forgot to pick it up this morning. You can’t ask your friends because they don’t carry that much cash and no one is at your house to bring it over. You know how the money is moved around through the student store, and could “borrow” the money from the cash box until tomorrow, and nobody would probably know. How do you proceed?

25) You have been struggling in your Economics class. The content does not come easily, so you have put in countless hours to understand and do the assignments. There is another student who breezes through the assignments, getting high marks for the work he turns in. You know for a fact that he has used his college-aged cousin to do some of the assignments for him. You don’t know how many assignments were turned in this way, but you are certain that he, in fact, did not do all the work. Your frustration increases over the last assignment that you worked overtime on, but did poorly. Of course, this other student scored well on the same assignment. You could drop the teacher an anonymous note about the implied cheating on the part of this other student. It might get the teacher to slow down a little, and help you in the long run. What do you do?

26) A customer (or client) asked for a product (or service) from us today. After telling him our price, he said he couldn’t afford it. I know he could get it cheaper from a competitor. Should I tell him about the competitor, or let him go without getting what he needs? What should I do?

27) Our company prides itself on its merit-based pay system. One of my employees has done a tremendous job all year, so he deserves strong recognition. He’s already paid at the top of the salary range for his job grade and our company has too many people in the grade above him, so we can’t promote him. What should I do?

28) Our company prides itself on hiring minorities. One Asian candidate fully fits the job requirements for our open position. However, we’re concerned that our customers won’t understand his limited command of the English language. What should I do?

29) My top software designer suddenly refused to use our e-mail system. He explained to me that, as a Christian, he could not use a product built by a company that provided benefits to the partners of homosexual employees. He’d basically cut himself off from our team, creating a major obstacle to our product development. What should I do?

30) My boss told me that one of my employees is going to be laid off soon, and that I’m not to tell my employee yet or he might tell the whole organization which would soon be in an uproar. Meanwhile, I heard from my employee that he plans to buy braces for his daughter and a new carpet for his house. What should I do?

31) A fellow employee told me that he plans to quit the company in two months and start a new job that has been guaranteed to him. Meanwhile, my boss told me that he wasn’t going to give me a new opportunity in our company because he was going to give it to my fellow employee now. What should I do?

32) A friend at my workplace asks to use my computer terminal while I’m away from my desk. He works in the programming group – why can’t he use his own computer? Does he want to enter some data or program that he doesn’t want his terminal ID to be associated with? How should I proceed?

33) I receive a certain weekly report that is necessary for me to do my particular job. It is marked “Company Confidential”. I was called away from my desk while I was working with the report and I left it lying out. When I came back, I found a co-worker looking at the report and making notes from its contents. Why is she doing this? How should I proceed?

34) You are employed as a receptionist. Your supervisor asks you to tell callers that “she is not in” even though she is in the office. How do you handle this?

35) Your work pays for your cell phone because you are a delivery driver and they want to be able to reach you. You have been asked not to use your phone for sending text messages; they are not willing to pay for this feature. One of your friends keeps sending you text messages anyway. What should you do?

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