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07 Rationalizations

You are a market researcher at a small firm, hoping to convert your short contract into a full-time job. You need more data points to deliver a solid report for a client. Then your boss moves up your deadline. 


This narrative is about a junior employee put in an awkward position by a supervisor who encourages them to invent numbers in order to complete a report on time. Regardless of whether the employee agrees to do so, they end up being faced with rationalizations — either the opportunity to engage in rationalization to help themselves feel better, or the opportunity to respond to a rationalization in order to defend their own integrity. This case is an exploration of a common problem faced by early career employees. It is also an opportunity to discuss a point drawn from the literature on wrongdoing, which is that very often “good people do bad things” because they are able to make use of rationalizations.



Questions for Discussion:

  • How common do you think rationalizations and excuse-making are in the average workplace?

  • How do you think an individual might feel after offering a rationalization for something that they are pretty sure is against the rules?

  • If someone tried to get you to do something you thought was wrong, and told that “Everybody does it,” what would YOU say in response?

  • If someone told you they did something you thought was wrong, and told that “It’s not my fault, because I was ordered to do it,” what would YOU say in response?

  • When you hear someone offering those kinds of rationalizations, what do you tend to think about that person, their values, or their situation?





Ethics and Rationalization
Rationalizations (video from Ethics Unwrapped)
Twelve Common Rationalizations and Excuses to Avoid

06 Chaos in Cambodia

You are a few hours away from a long-deserved getaway at the cottage with family. Then the phone rings. There's been a major accident at a factory in your supply chain. 


This narrative puts the reader in the role of the Operations Manager for a mid-sized garment company, on the day that a sub-contractor’s factory explodes in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It raises questions both of personal responsibility, and of a company’s responsibility for safety along its supply chain.

The people and companies in this narrative are fictional, but rooted in reality. The narrative is loosely based on the Rana factory collapse, which occurred in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2013.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Who is responsible for the deaths at the factory in Phnom Pen? 

  • What is the ethical weight of Sareh’s noting that Simply Bergaya doesn’t actually own any factories, but instead has contracts with factory owners to produce their garments?

  • Is a company like Simply Bergaya justified in relying on local contractors, and local inspectors, to ensure safe working conditions?




2013 Dhaka garment factory collapse (Wikipedia)

Collapse at Rana Plaza (video & notes from Ethics Unwrapped)

Globalization (Concise Encyclopedia of Business Ethics)

05 Overtime

You are a junior employee working a short-term contract at a small market research firm. You want to show your boss that you are a team player and secure a permanent position.


This Interactive involves a junior employee being asked to work a small amount of unpaid overtime, to demonstrate loyalty as a “team player.” Regardless of whether the employee says “yes” or “no,” the situation turns ugly. 


This scenario is intended to illustrate several key points. The first is that ethical issues can arise out of dilemmas that don’t have an obvious ethical dimension. The second is that an agreement ‘willingly’ made between two individuals (in this case, boss and employee) can have unanticipated effects on third parties. The third issue is that sometimes there is no good outcome — there are situations in which all available choices lead to bad outcomes for someone.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Is it reasonable for a boss to ask an employee to work a small num er of extra hours in order to meet a deadline, even if that work is unpaid?

  • Is “being a team player” in the face of a request for unpaid overtime ever obligatory?

  • Are certain categories of employees more likely to be vulnerable to such requests?

  • If one employee agrees to work unpaid overtime, there’s a chance that others might then feel pressure to do likewise. Should that risk factor into the decision?





“Second $80M employee class action lawsuit expands to include RBC Life Insurance Company” (

“Spain’s Fight Against Unpaid Overtime” (BBC News)

“Ethics of Wages & Working Conditions” (Concise Encyclopedia of Business Ethics)

04 Perks of the Job

You are a customer service rep for a major airline. You and your bandmates need to get to a gig in LA.

03 Missing the Message

You are one half of a dynamic team of two. However your colleague seems to be getting too close for comfort. 


This interactive asks you to navigate the romantic advances of your most effective workplace collaborator. Unfortunately, after the unwanted advance there is no cure all solution. The case highlights the tension between the personal and professional, as well as the fact that there often no perfect solutions to ethical workplace dilemmas.


This case was inspired by the video “The Boss”, featuring Zazie Beetz & David Schwimmer, which is based on a true story.


Questions for Discussion:

  • Should personal relationships be allowed in the workplace? What are the reasons for or against this, and what are some unforeseen consequences of prohibiting personal relationships in the workplace?

  • What are some potentially appropriate ways that people might try to initiate a workplace romance? When might these actions not be appropriate? How would a person know when they have crossed the line into harassing or sexually harassing behaviour in the workplace?

  • What role does good professional collaboration play in making personal decisions? 

  • When should personal events be reported to workplace authorities? 



The Boss (featuring Zazie Beetz and David Schwimmer)
Workplace Sexual Harassment (Ontario Human Rights Commission)

02 "Their" People

You are in competition for a promotion. However your Haudenosaunee colleague may not be receiving the recognition she deserves. 


This narrative puts the reader in the role of a recent university graduate in competition for a promotion at a marketing firm. When you overhear the boss making potential racially discriminating remarks about your main competitor for the promotion, you face tough decisions about how to proceed, especially in light of your past approach to the relationship with your competitor. 


The narrative is intended to bring out the hidden role that racism can play in promotion decisions as well as the potential conflict between choosing personal success over personal and procedural integrity.


Questions for Discussion:

  • Does the benefit of an outcome outweigh the means of getting there?

  • How should you approach your relationships with a colleague who may compete with you for a promotion?

  • What role do you think racism played in Suganda's comment regarding natural leadership?



Who are the Haudenosaunee (Haudenosaunee Confederacy)
Human Rights (Concise Encyclopedia of Business Ethics)

01 Delivery Costs

You are a new hire at a company known for quick reliable delivery. Your first task? Review a lucrative but dangerous marketing program. 


This narrative asks the player to advise senior executives on continuing, or discontinuing, a profitable but dangerous marketing campaign. It is very loosely based on the Domino’s “30 Minutes or It’s Free” policy.

One extra feature: players are asked to name a mentor, who is then inserted into the narrative to provide feedback.



Questions for Discussion:

  • Who is responsible for the deaths? The drivers themselves? Franchise owners or local managers? The CEO?

  • What is an acceptable rate of deaths in a case like this? 

  • What is a company obligated to do in order to get to that number? (Note that if the only acceptable number is “zero,” the only plausible solution is to stop delivering altogether.)

  • How (un)safe does a corporate policy have to be, in order for it to be unethical?





Jury Award Ends Domino’s 30-Minute Delivery Pledge (LA Times, 1993)
Domino's Pizza 30 Minutes Free Pizza Delivery Policy (Domino’s corporate website)
Domino's Tweaks Retired 30-Minute Delivery Promise (Huffington Post, 2008)

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