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Compensating and Non-Compensating Wage and Employment Differences

In today’s world it is not too difficult to reduce business relationships to a simple cost-benefit analysis.  It seems logical to compensate employees the most that benefit the company the most.  In an information-based economy it would seem logical that the employees who excel at communications skills, research skills, and, perhaps, computer skills would be compensated at a higher rate than those who are skilled in physical labor.

Executives, therefore, frequently receive higher compensation than a person who works on an assembly line, even if that assembly line worker works twice the hours per week and has been with the company longer than the executive has been.  In addition, the line worker might receive a ham at Christmas, while the executive receives thousands of dollars in non-compensating wages.

In terms of Kantian ethics, however, this not correct.  The categorical imperative demands that all people be treated as the actor would choose to be treated.  Clearly, while the employer might appreciate the high-end financial bonus, he or she would not appreciate the ham as compensation for a year of service to the company.  In addition, the humanity of all people must be acknowledged; people are not to be reduced solely to means to

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accomplish an end.  By reducing human employees to their job descriptions, this action ignores the demands of the categorical imperative.

While it is reasonable to provide additional compensation to reward employees, a Kantian approach to this policy requires that the company’s actions be universal.  Bowie states that Kantian ethics are a “moral critique of authoritarian hierarchical organizational structures” (12).  This critique would also extend to a critique of the hierarchical structure that  governs the uneven non-compensation wage award.  In terms of Kantian ethics an appropriate approach would be to decide on an appropriate total award amount and then to divide it equally between all company employees.

Reference

Bowie, Norman, E. “A Kantian Approach to Business Ethics.”  A Companion to Business Ethics, Robert E. Frederick, Ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, Ltd., 2002. 3-16.

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