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Workers Report Pressure on Ethics Rules in Survey

U.S. workers report mounting pressure to violate corporate policies, according to a survey by the nonprofit Ethics Resource Center that also showed retaliation against whistle-blowers reached a record level.

Demands on employees to ignore company policies, or even break the law, are approaching the highest level since 2000, just before corporate scandals led to laws combating violations, according to a report released today by the Arlington, Virginia-based group.

The percentage of employees who perceived pressure to break rules rose to 13 percent, from 8 percent in 2009, and 93 percent of those workers said they saw misconduct. Retaliation was more far-reaching than in 2009, according to the group.

“The co-existence of widespread retaliation and pressure with historically low misconduct and high reporting is unlike any previous pattern,” according to the report. “The economy and the unique experiences of those using social networking at work” led to differences in 2011 workplace ethics trends.

The National Business Ethics Survey shows historically low levels of misconduct in the U.S. workplace. The percentage of employees who said they saw bad behavior at work fell to an all-time low 45 percent from 49 percent in 2009 and 55 percent in 2007, the highest, according to the survey.

Retaliation Rises

Retaliation against whistle-blowers rose. More than one in five employees, or 22 percent, who reported misconduct said they experienced some form of retaliation, up from 12 percent in 2007 and 15 percent in 2009. Workplace retaliation included being “given a cold shoulder by other employees,” verbal abuse by a supervisor or being denied a raise or a promotion.

A record 65 percent reported bad workplace behavior, a record, up from 63 percent two years earlier and 12 percentage points higher than the 53 percent in 2005.

The report showed that about one third, or 34 percent, of all employees say management now watches them more closely, and more than four in 10 employees say their company has increased efforts to raise awareness about ethics.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Northrop Grumman Corp. were principal sponsors of the survey, with BP Plc, Southern Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. among sponsors, according to the center.

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