Skip to main content
Log in

A Change in Business Ethics: The Impact on Employer–Employee Relations

Journal of Business Ethics Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Cite this article


This research explores the historical perspective of business ethics from the viewpoint of the employer–employee relationship by outlining the impact of the changing social contract between employer and employee relations from the end of World War II to the current day; provides the basic definition of the key elements of the organizational social contract and outlines the social contract in employment relations. It also provides what the author believes to be the key drivers in employer–employee relations and the benefits to good employer–employee relations for each individual within the employment relationship. The results of this research indicate a significant shift in business ethics as it relates to the employers relationship to the employee within a work environment. It further shows the state of the employment relationship prior to World War II. Written contracts were unheard of, but rather, the employment agreement was steeped in a tradition that carried the promise sealed with nothing but a handshake. Now employees have little or no rights; and the ones they are given are provided not by the employer, but by government regulation and court precedent. Issues such as time off for illness, sexual harassment, and workers’ compensation are all handled through legal or regulatory means rather than ethical considerations. The research further shows that the distinct lack of leadership within organizations play a significant role in the disintegration of employer–employee relationships. Specifically, how the lack of leadership relates to the emotional intelligence of the leader. Areas such as empathy and social skills are under trained and under developed by organizations. This research shows that the employer who is willing to give employees what they want and need are far more likely to have success, but more importantly, the organizations will be doing the right thing.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others


Download references


The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Suzanne Ritchie and Dr. Terri Deems, Ph.D. both of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa for their assistance in this project.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Roger Eugene Karnes.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Karnes, R.E. A Change in Business Ethics: The Impact on Employer–Employee Relations. J Bus Ethics 87, 189–197 (2009).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: