Moral Turpitude – Should an employer assume the role of Moral Police?


As per the Black’s Law dictionary, Moral Turpitude means: ‘Conduct that is contrary to justice, honesty, or morality. In the area of legal ethics, offenses involving moral turpitude such as fraud or breach of trust. Also termed moral depravity.

Moral turpitude means, in general, shameful wickedness so extreme a departure from ordinary standards of honest, good morals, justice, or ethics as to be shocking to the moral sense of the community. It has also been defined as an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which one person owes to another, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between people.’

In essence the definition implies that a) the act should be willful, b) dishonest, vile or immoral, c) breach someone elses trust and c) conduct for defrauding another person. Hence, any willful act for defrauding another person that is against the standards of good morals or justice can be termed as moral turpitude.

Now a question arises why am I discussing this legal term here. Many corporates have moral turpitude as a ground of dismissal from duty in their service rules. Moral turpitude ranges from fraud, forgery, blackmail, theft, bribery, perjury, indecency to crimes such as murder and rapes. Even adultery, bigamy, prostitution and dowry are treated as moral turpitude.

A question comes to mind that should an employer be assuming the role of a moral police? It is a tricky situation as punishing a guilty person is the responsibility of the police & judiciary and by dismissing an employee from service does the employer assume that role?

In today’s competitive sphere, employees are the real asset of the company and a major source of competitive advantage which the company enjoys. Therefore the corporates try to instill the highest standards in their employees by way of code of ethics and service rules. It is seen that there exists a causal relationship between ‘Moral Turpitude’ and ‘High Risk’ of professional misconduct. The ‘Employee Risk Triangle’[i] tries to identify certain personality traits, sources of employee pressure and behaviour pattern in employees who have been seen to have a higher risk to commit professional misconduct.

As per the ‘Social Disorder Theory’ by Keizer and Lindenberg[ii], when people see that other are violating a social norm they tend to let loose their moral compass. An idiom aptly summarizes this concept which is ‘a bad apple spoils the lot’.

It may be said that these could be few of the reasons why employers tend to take up the role of moral police. The ideology being that the code of conduct, ethics and service rules are required to maintain integrity and public’s trust in the company.


2 Responses to Moral Turpitude – Should an employer assume the role of Moral Police?

  1. avinash says:

    Quite true in todays context where Sexual harrasment at workplace bill has been passed.
    Employers might use this as a tool to retrwnch employees.
    What is required is adequate safeguards to prevent misuse.

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