How could the ethical theories of utilitarianism and ethical relativism be applied to employee termination practices?
Applying either the theory of utilitarianism or the theory of relativism to the topic of job termination is bit of a stretch. Whereas these theories are generally more appropriately applied to discussions of law and order, their application to the process by which employees are terminated is a little questionable.
A policy or practice of terminating the employment of specific individuals usually involves well-established series of causes, such as employee theft, behavior unconducive to the proper functioning of a business, repeated instances of incompetence, a failure to produce in the specified manner, or an economic requirement to reduce staff. These causes are generally universally recognized as legitimate grounds for dismissal from one’s job. As such, if one were forced to choose between a utilitarian approach to job termination or one formulated on the basis of moral relativism, the former would be the more likely choice. Utilitarianism is predicated upon the notion that decisions should reflect the option that produces the greatest amount of satisfaction or the most positive results for the most people. A decision to terminate an individual’s employment, then, would naturally reflect a calculation that such an action is for the benefit of the workplace as a whole.
Moral relativism has no place in considerations of job termination in most of the world. Absent union representation, which would provide guidelines for the removal of individuals from their positions within an organization, the application of a relativistic approach to employee termination would create serious problems for management. The world is an enormously diverse place. The variations in culture and tradition are too numerous to count. That some cultures provide for resolution of disputes through mutilation or execution of one side or the other obviously does not provide a rationale for inhumane, if less barbaric, treatment of people in other countries, especially those that purport to adhere to democratic principles. That employee termination decisions and procedures in less developed countries are less protective of employee rights than in the United States is not an argument or justification for applying harsher policies and practices in this country. Custom and, depending upon the presence of organized labor, union protections dictate that decisions on when and how to remove somebody from his or her job follow certain guidelines – guidelines that generally reflect societal values and are not derived through a process of norming relative to cultures where similar standards are unimaginable.
To the extent that moral or ethical relativism is considered when terminating employees, the comparisons would have to be with countries where labor enjoys the right to unionize and where the rule of law is universally recognized. Even there, it would be difficult to argue that Italy’s labor practices should provide the basis for comparison with that expected in the United States or in Germany. To suggest that employment termination polices should be drafted that use the experiences of laborers in nondemocratic countries where unionization or collective bargaining is prohibited, however, would be both morally untenable and contrary to those laws that exist in this country for the protection of workers.