Workplace Ethics

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This Business English lesson plan on workplace ethics has been designed for business professionals or other adults and young adults at an intermediate (B1/B2) to advanced (C1/C2) level and should last around 45 to 60 minutes for one student.

We all like to think that we are ethical beings. But when the opportunity presents itself, it can be too tempting for some to resist the urge to act in an unethical way at work. Unethical behaviour can range from inappropriate behaviour to colleagues, to dishonesty and outright fraud. At the same time, what might be considered unethical by some, might be considered perfectly acceptable by others. In this Business English lesson plan on ethics in the workplace, students will have the opportunity discuss and express their opinions on issues such as workplace values, unethical practices and whether any professions are naturally more unethical than others.

For advice on how to use this English lesson plan and other lesson plans on this site, see the guide for ESL teachers.


Reading activity
Before the English class, send the following article to the students and ask them to read it while making a list of any new vocabulary or phrases they find (explain any the students don’t understand in the class):

Work Institute | How to Define Ethical Behavior & Why It’s Important in the Workplace

The article explains the importance of ethical behaviour in the workplace and what companies can do to ensure their employees conduct themselves in an ethical manner. At the start of the class, hold a brief discussion about what the students thought about the article. What do they think about the issues raised in the article? Do they agree with what was written? Can they think of any ways they might add to the content of the article?

Video activity
To save time in class, the English teacher can ask the students to watch the video below at home. In the class, the students will answer a number of conversation questions directly or indirectly related to the content of the video.

The video for this class is a TED Talk by Dan Ariely called “Why we think it’s OK to cheat and steal (sometimes)” which examines the psychology of acting in an unethical way.


The focus in the class is on conversation in order to help improve students’ fluency and confidence when speaking in English as well as boosting their vocabulary.

This lesson opens with a short discussion about the article the students read before the class. Next, the students can give their opinion on the quote at the beginning of the lesson plan – what they think the quote means, if they agree with it and how it could relate to business. This is followed by an initial discussion on the topic including what workplace ethics are, the importance of honesty in business, and the risks associated with acting in an unethical way.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with ethical behaviour at work such as nepotism, to claim expenses and to call in sick. The vocabulary is accompanied by a cloze activity and a speaking activity to test the students’ comprehension of these words.

If the students didn’t watch the video before the class, they can watch it after the vocabulary section and answer the conversation questions. Before the conversation, ask the students to give a brief summary of the video and what they thought about the content.

Finally, the students are presented with some workplace ethical dilemmas. In this speaking activity, students have to consider the dilemma and say what they would do in that situation and why.


After the class, students will write a memo to their team to explain their company’s code of ethics when dealing with business clients. The writing activity is designed to allow students to practise business-style writing as well as improving their grammar with the feedback from their teacher.


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