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If legal then is etchical, always. Remember that laws are not matter of discussion but are matter of interpretation. Because of that lawyers and judges exists. But here comes the second part: how you meassure if something is ethical or not? That has been discussed from Greeks more than 2000 years ago. What is or not ethical must be discussed in a context. Your example is aberrant from my personal point of view but I can not said that it is ethical or not.
As Sergio has noted, legal and ethical are terms that are interpreted differently across the globe. A "bribery" type of payment is often required in some countries in order to get access (or accelerated access) to various officials or permits. Even if illegal, it is ethically accepted. And in some countries, such a payment could be considered legal based on some laws, and illegal based on others. In the USA, for example, there is a fee for getting a US Passport. If you need or want the Passport expedited, you can pay an additional fee. In this case, the extra monetary charge is legal. Whether it is ethical to use money to be able to jump ahead in the processing queue is open to interpretation.
PMI has issued a Code of Ethics for its professionals. We are expected to uphold those principles regardless of the accepted practices across national and other boundaries. Yet, in my opinion, even the PMI Code of Ethics could be open to interpretation in certain situations and circumstances.
I just finished reading The Good, The Bad & The Difference by Randy Cohen. It's a great read and delves into topics such as legality versus ethics. It's only available in print but is available on Amazon.
Project management as other occupations and professions involves both ethical and legal dimensions.
The law and ethics remain though distinct.
There may be a situation when a project manager work with a team to revise an internal practice that may be incompatible ethically. In this case the Code may guide the project manager on how to approach situations to have the ability to practise ethically. A system of law is compatible with the values in the Code.
When referenced to legality aspect, the point made concern evidence that is undisputed. In this case the outcome depends on the interpretation of the law.
When referenced to an ethical aspect, the point made concerns right and wrong, rights and responsibilities, human welfare, or individuals’ best interests. A negative answer to any of these aspects clarifies that the situation/actions is not an ethical in nature.
I will disagree that anything legal, is ethical. Ethics is a matter of moral principals, which is subjective. Legality on the other hand is what a governmental body has formally codified as law.
Throughout human history, there have been innumerable laws that are not moral, and there have been many morally objectionable things that only become illegal as a response after the fact to prevent re-occurrence.
Legal or illegal is identified based on a system of law and regulations, and it is changing. Somethings are legal in the past maybe considered to be illegal today. Ethical or unethical is based on ideology; thing may be ethical to someones but unethical to others. One example is that company leader in my company decided to fire a low performance employee after receiving report from PM; someones know his family context felt it is very unethical but, for the company, it is legal to stop a working contract in such case. That is depended on the context and also on ideology of someone to say it is ethical or not.
Ethics mostly are evolving from a societal need (sustainability, fighting global warming) and are promoted by society groups, NGOs and countered by existing groups (auto industry) who have to loose something.
The political process might morph ethical standards into laws, or establish laws to to even prevent this, depending on which group has the most influence/power/money.
So being lawful might even be unethical and being ethical might be illegal.
Whistleblowers and journalists can tell.
Great topic Mohamed! Going by a healthcare example, assisted suicide is legal in 5 countries across the world and many more are evaluating the guidelines. It was interesting to check this article on morality of assisted suicide and the response of the physician community. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5402774/
While the human welfare community stands divided on this issue, the issue is well into the debate of ethical vs legal.
Any legal systems has its own limitations and there are always people who find some loopholes to do things which are legal but not ethical. Mass firing in organizations for decreasing losses and increasing their share value is one such example.
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