Engineering Ethics - Rights of Engineers

The basic rights of engineers include the right to live freely and pursue their legitimate interests as any human being, along with the right to be against racial or sexual discrimination, receiving one’s salary according to the work, choosing of political activities, etc., as other employees. Besides all of them, engineers have some special rights as professionals.

Professional Rights

The rights that engineers have as professionals are called Professional Rights. These professional rights include −

  • The basic right of professional conscience.
  • The right of conscientious refusal.
  • The right of professional recognition.

Right of Professional Conscience

This is a basic right which explains that the decisions taken while carrying on with the duty, where they are taken in moral and ethical manner, cannot be opposed. The right of professional conscience is the moral right to exercise professional judgement in pursuing professional responsibilities. It requires autonomous moral judgement in trying to uncover the most morally reasonable courses of action, and the correct courses of action are not always obvious.

There are two general ways to justify the basic right of professional conscience.

  • The exercise of moral reflection and conscience that justifies professional duties is necessary, with respect to that duty.

  • The general duties to respect persons and rule-utilitarianism would accent the public good of allowing engineers to pursue their professional duties.

Right of Conscientious Refusal

The right of conscientious refusal is the right to refuse to engage in unethical behavior. This can be done solely because it feels unethical to the doer. This action might bring conflicts within the authority-based relationships.

The two main situations to be considered here are −

  • When it is already stated that certain act is unethical in a widely shared agreement among all the employees.

  • When there occurs disagreement among considerable number of people whether the act is unethical.

Hence it is understood that engineers and other professionals have a moral right to refuse the unethical acts such as bribery, forging documents, altering test results, lying, padding payrolls or coercing employees into acting by threatening, etc.

Right to Recognition

An engineer has a right to the recognition of one’s work and accomplishments. An engineer also has right to speak about the work one does by maintaining confidentiality and can receive external recognition. The right for internal recognition which includes patents, promotions, raises etc. along with a fair remuneration, are also a part of it.

The fulfillment of right to recognition motivates the employee to be a trustful member of the organization, which also benefits the employer. This makes the employee morally bound which enhances the ethical nature to be abide by the professional ethics.

Employee Rights

An employee right can be any right, moral or legal, that involves the status of being an employee. They involve some professional rights also, such as the right to be paid according to the salary mentioned in one’s contract. Privacy and equal opportunity can be considered essential rights too.


The right to privacy refers to the right of having a private life, off the job. It is the right to control the access to and the use of information about oneself.

The examples of situations where the functions of employers conflict the rights of employees will be when the job-related queries or any other tests conducted in a job, includes questions relating to personal life such as alcohol usage or sexual conduct. The instances when a supervisor unlocks and checks the desk of his subordinate in his absence or when the management questions about his likes, dislikes or posts on social media regarding his personal opinions where it has nothing to do with the company.

Employers should view the relationship with their employees concerning confidentiality that cannot break the trust. The personal information in such cases is given based on the special professional relation and trust.

Equal Opportunity – Non-discrimination

The demeaning of a person based on trivial factors such as one’s sex, race, skin color, age or political or religious outlook can be understood as Discrimination. Such a discrimination should never be allowed at any workplace; this is where everyone has to be treated equally. These things internally affect the person’s self-identity and self-respect which is pernicious within the work environment, where the work itself should represent a person’s self-image.

According to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “It shall be unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin”.

Equal Opportunity – Sexual Harassment

In today’s world, there is an increase in the number of sexual harassment cases across the world. This is quiet an unfortunate scenario. There were a number of cases where the charges were levied since last two decades, which kept on growing. A definition of Sexual harassment is, “The unwanted imposition of sexual requirements in the context of a relationship of unequal power”. Sexual harassment is a display of power and aggression through sexual means. It takes two forms, quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

Quid Pro Quo includes cases where supervisors require sexual favors as a condition for some employment benefit (a job, promotion or raise). It can take the form of a sexual threat (of harm) or sexual offer (of a benefit in return for a benefit). Hostile work Environment by contrast, is any sexually oriented aspect of the workplace that threatens employee's rights to equal opportunity. It includes unwanted sexual proposals, lewd remarks, sexual leering, posting nude photos and inappropriate physical contact.

Equal opportunity – Affirmative Action

Affirmative action refers to the preference given to a person or a group who was denied equal importance in the past. For example, the women and the minority communities were not given equal treatment and were ill-treated in the past. So to compensate that, amendments were made in recent laws to provide them special quota for reservations in education, employment and social sectors.

These preferential treatments are made in order to compensate the previous ill-actions. Ideally such compensation should be given to those specific individuals who in the past were denied jobs. But the practical possibilities of such actions are limited. Sexism and racism still permeate in our society and to counterbalance their insidious impact reverse preferential treatment is warranted in order to ensure equal opportunity for minorities and women.

Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual property right is a type of property right which allows the creators or owners of patents trademarks or copyrighted works to benefit from their own work or investment. These rights enable the right person to benefit from the protection of moral and material interests resulting from the authorship of scientific, literary or artistic productions. These rights are outlines in the article 27 of the Universal declaration of Human rights.

Protection of IPR

Like the other rights, the intellectual rights also should be protected and supported. The IPR (Intellectual property Rights) need to be protected in order to serve the following reasons

  • The creations and inventions are the paths which lead to the progress of human development, either in technology or culture.

  • These inventions should be protected legally in order to develop the commitment and interest for more creations.

  • These intellectual properties must be protected and promoted which indirectly promote the economic growth that creates new jobs and industries, and enhances the quality and enjoyment of life.

The Intellectual property rights are protected by certain measures like patents, trademarks, industrial designs, copyrights, etc.


A Patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention. It provides the patent owners with protection generally for a period of 20years. With the patent rights one can access any material reward for their marketable innovations.

Once the patent protection is granted, that invention cannot be commercially made, used, distributed or sold without the patent owner’s consent. Courts provide the legal safety for these patent rights. Conversely, if a third party challenges the invention and is successful, the court can declare the patent invalid.


We often come across certain distinctive marks or signs that identifies certain goods or services produced or provided by an individual or a company. These trademarks ensure the belongingness of products to the authorized owners. The owners can authorize other persons in return for some payment. The protection offered through the trademarks is limited for a period, but can be renewed indefinitely upon payment of the corresponding fee.

These trademarks can be one or a combination of words, letters and numerals. They may even consist of drawings or signs such as shapes, colors, holograms, sizes or some non-visible signs such as smell, taste and sound also. The collective trademarks are owned by an association whose members use them to indicate products with a certain level of quality and who agree to adhere to specific requirements set by the association.

Industrial Designs

The ownership of an industrial design protects it from any duplication. Industrial designs are what make an article attractive and appealing and add commercial value to the product. This further increases marketability. Duplication will definitely mislead consumers and might also lead to the defamation of the original product.

Geographical Locations

The geographical location indications are helpful for the customers to identify the original and quality products, which are produced using the raw materials of that geographical area. This indication guarantees the customers that a product was produced in certain place and has certain characteristics that are due to the place of production. It may be used by all the producers who make products that share certain qualities in the place designated by a geographical location.

Some examples include “Brazil” for coffee beans, “Bordeaux” of France for wine, and “Habana” of Cuba for tobacco.


The intellectual property rights are protected by an International organization called as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) which was established in 1970. This organization was established to ensure the protection of rights of creators and owners of Intellectual property across the world. The inventors and authors are therefore recognized and rewarded for their ingenuity.

Following is an image of the headquarters of WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) situated at Geneva, Switzerland.


Whistleblowing occurs when an employee or former employee conveys information about a significant moral problem to someone in a position to take action on the problem and does so outside approved organizational channels (or against strong pressure).

When the information is passed outside the organization, it is External Whistleblowing. When the information is conveyed to someone within the organization, it is Internal Whistleblowing. While conveying the information, if the individuals openly reveal their identity, it is Open Whistleblowing; and if one conceals their identity, it is Anonymous Whistleblowing.

Concerns of Whistleblowing

It is generally believed to be permissible and obligatory to whistleblow if the following conditions are met −

  • The actual or potential harm reported is serious.

  • The harm has been adequately documented.

  • The concerns have been reported to immediate superiors.

  • After not getting satisfaction from immediate superiors, regular channels within the organization have been used to reach up to the highest levels of management.

  • There is reasonable hope that whistleblowing can help prevent or remedy the harm.

Protecting Whistle blowers

Whistle blowing entails a substantial risk of retaliation which is difficult and expensive to challenge. So, the Government introduced protections to the employees of an organization to protect the whistleblowers against reprisals for lawful disclosures of information believed to show a violation of any law, rule or regulation, mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.

Laws, when carefully formulated and enforced, provide two types of benefits for the public, in addition to protecting the responsible whistleblower. They are episodic and systemic. The episodic benefits help in preventing any harm to the public in particular situations. The systemic benefits are in sending a strong message to the industry to act responsibly or be subject to public scrutiny once the whistle is blown.

Beyond Whistleblowing

The need for internal whistleblowing occurs when there is no openness or freedom to communicate the odds within the organization. There should be direct access to the higher levels of management, at least under certain special circumstances. A further better step can be the involvement of an ombudsperson or an ethics review committee with genuine freedom to investigate complaints and make independent recommendations to top management.

The crucial factor that must be involved in any structural change is the creation of an atmosphere of positive affirmation of engineer’s efforts to assert and defend their professional judgment in matters involving ethical considerations.