What Is an Ethical Dilemma? (With 5 Examples)

A disagreement between two morally righteous actions is an ethical dilemma. It’s a situation when the values or principles are at odds with one another.

The problem is that by choosing one correct action, you will invalidate the other right course because you would act rightly and wrongly at the exact moment and in the same situation.

The situation needs to meet three requirements to qualify as an ethical dilemma. The first condition arises when a person must choose the best course of action.

The absence of choice does not constitute an ethical dilemma.

The availability of alternative courses of action is the second requirement for an ethical dilemma. And third is a moral predicament; it means that certain ethical standard is violated regardless of the decision made.

So, selecting any course of action isn’t a perfect solution.

To understand an ethical dilemma, it is essential to distinguish between ethics, values, morality, laws, and policies that form an ethical dilemma.

When deciding what to do in a given situation, an individual consults their ethics, which are prepositional assertions or standards different for each person in the universe.  

On the other hand, values represent concepts that we prize or attach high importance to. When we have something, we cherish and consider to be worthwhile, we are said to appreciate it.

On the other hand, morals refer to a set of behavioral principles that a person adheres to.

Lastly, complicated cases frequently involve laws and agency regulations, and public servants are frequently required by law to follow a specific course of action.

For various reasons, clashing personal and professional beliefs or values shouldn’t be considered ethical.

Values disputes cannot be resolved using the same reasoning method used to resolve ethical problems since values entail feelings and are personal. Let’s understand ethical dilemmas with the help of examples.

Examples of ethical dilemma

1-     Professional obligations may clash with personal gain

A salesperson may ignore the client’s needs if a company pays a higher commission for a particular product than a smaller commission for a more suitable product from a customer perspective.

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If we analyze the situation from the salesman’s perspective, he has been hired to sell the product and he is selling the product.

So, from a legal perspective, he is right about selling either product. However, it’s wrong at the same time with the customer as a salesman does not recommend a more suitable product to the customer because of personal gain.

So, unreliable rewards can encourage immoral behavior. A person who acts solely in their best interests would go for the course of action that offers the most personal gain.

2-     Ethical dilemma in a classroom.

Bullying is considered an ethical dilemma from teachers’ perspectives in the classroom. It’s because the teachers’ prime responsibility is to teach.

However, they must keep an eye on all the students to maintain classroom discipline. So, the dilemma is that teachers have been hired to ensure teaching and not ensure good relations between students.

3-     Theft in the office creates an ethical dilemma.

Your colleague at the office is responsible for managing the petty cash and you know how much petty cash level the office has currently.

The petty cash is drawn back each Thursday for a fixed amount. On the very next day of getting petty cash, your manager said we have sufficiently increased the petty cash level from this week.

 However, you know that your colleague has only put an old amount in the drawer for petty cash. In this situation, it’s not your duty to inform the manager about theft made by your colleague in the petty cash.

However, at the same time, you must be loyal to your organization. So, here the situation created an ethical dilemma where you need to choose the right actions.

So, your right can be different from what right is in our perspective.

4-     A quick money

Your old friend approaches you and discloses an excellent deal to make money. In a deal, you are told that he wants to borrow $600 from you to invest in an offshore account.

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The offshore account is illegal. However, it’s an excellent chance to make money.

So, if you give money to your friend, it will be used in illegal activities. However, it’s not you doing such work. So, from a legal perspective you can’t be held responsible, but you friend.

On the other hand, your friend might get angry if you don’t help him.

So, from your perspective, giving and not giving money are both right choices. However, either option can be wrong/right at the same time. So, it’s an ethical dilemma.

5-     Doctor-assisted suicide

The patient on the dead bed requests the doctor to prescribe him suicide medicines. So, he can die easily. It’s important to note that there are states worldwide where doctor-assisted suicide is legal.

So, in this situation doctor might face an ethical dilemma. For instance, if he prescribes medicines leading to death, it’s not good because he is supposed to treat the patients.

Another perspective is that the patient is facing severe pain. So, his death should be made easy.

Any options a doctor selects can be right/wrong simultaneously. Hence, the doctor is facing an ethical dilemma in this situation. 

Dilemmas at an organizational level

At an organizational level, ethical dilemmas are often observed. Organizations with immoral leadership suffer from a hostile work environment.

Leaders who have no hesitation about accepting bribes, falsifying the sales records or pressing subordinates or partners for personal or financial privileges are also likely to intimidate and insult their staff.

The toxic culture can worsen by repeatedly hiring people with similar personalities and harmful ideologies.

Overall, company leadership is responsible for ensuring staff is ethically trained. So, they can decide the best course of action when facing an ethical dilemma.

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In other words, enterprises and organizations should set high ethical standards for their staff to resolve ethical issues.

Each organization must show that it cares about moral standards. Furthermore, businesses might offer their staff members ethics training. It’s expected to enhance their ethical values leading to a prosperous future.


An ethical dilemma is when a person needs to decide between two right decisions. Each selection can be right or wrong at the same time.

It’s important to note that an ethical dilemma is only created when you have two choices and the best course of action needs to be selected.

Both courses of action seem to be indifferent from an ethical perspective. In this situation, the personal preference and values of the person matter and they need to decide the best action.

At an organizational level, staff often has to face an ethical dilemma. Organizational leaders should focus on the personal values and traits of the employees.

So, they always choose the best course of action in line with the higher ethical values.

Frequently asked questions

Why do ethical problems arise in the organization?

Various reasons lead to ethical problems in the organization. These reasons include conflict between personal and organizational goals, lack of personal character, hazardous products, and conflict between organizational goals and personal values.

Is ethics important in the organization?

Ethics is a building block for the success of an organization. An ethical character depends on an employee’s integrity, transparency, improved work processes, and organizational reputation. All of these factors lead to a better working environment.

Enlist major ethical issues faced by businesses.

Following are some of the major ethical issues face by businesses.

  1. Discrimination in the workplace. It may be based on color, gender, language, or anything else.
  2. Selection of accounting standards/estimates. It may not be ethical to opt for a specific standard under certain situations.
  3. Privacy practices and technology.
  4. Social media rants and whistleblowing.