Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 120, Issue 2, pp 237–250 | Cite as

Ethical Perspectives in Work Disability Prevention and Return to Work: Toward a Common Vocabulary for Analyzing Stakeholders’ Actions and Interactions

  • Christian StåhlEmail author
  • Ellen MacEachen
  • Katherine Lippel


Many studies have emphasized the importance of medical, insurance, and workplace systems treating individuals fairly in work disability prevention (WDP) and return-to-work (RTW). However, ethical theories and perspectives from these different systems are rarely discussed in relation to each other, even though in practice these systems constantly interact. This paper explores ethical theories and perspectives that may apply to the WDP–RTW field, and discusses these in relation to perspectives attributed to dominant stakeholders in this field, and to potential differences in different jurisdictional contexts. Literature was sought primarily in biomedical ethics, business ethics, and public administration ethics. In biomedical ethics, four ethical principles are dominant: autonomy, beneficence, nonmalevolence, and justice. Business ethics involve theories on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), social contracts, and organizational justice. Public administration ethics focus on constitutional theory, citizenship, social equity, virtue, and public interest. Several concepts were identified as relevant for ethical analyses in the WDP–RTW field, including justice; individual autonomy; nonmalevolence; economic and social responsibility; and social contracts. These concepts provide a vocabulary that may be used to analyze stakeholders’ actions and interactions in RTW processes. It was also noted how the power balance between stakeholders will influence which ethical perspectives will influence RTW. Jurisdictional differences that influence RTW processes with regard to stakeholder responsibilities were identified, as well as varying beliefs as to who is the client in different compensation systems. A social contractual approach may inform an analysis of cultural and legal differences.


Business Ethics Medicine Public administration Social insurance Work disability 



Corporate social responsibility


Integrative social contract theory




Work disability prevention


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Ståhl
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ellen MacEachen
    • 2
    • 4
  • Katherine Lippel
    • 3
  1. 1.National Centre for Work and Rehabilitation, Department of Medical and Health SciencesLinköping UniversityLinköpingSweden
  2. 2.Institute for Work & HealthUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Canada Research Chair on Occupational Health and Safety Law, Law Faculty, Civil Law SectionUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  4. 4.Dalla Lana School of Public HealthUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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