Ethics (NPPE Notes)


See all notes here:


Relationship between law and ethics:

Laws are created based upon a society's collective sense of right or wrong and set a minimum standard of behavior. Ethics guide us about what is right and wrong in all areas of our lives and can be considered a maximum standard of behavior.

Influence peddling:

Using your position in a company to support special groups or political parties. 

Reviewing another professional’s work without their knowledge:

Is only permitted at the request of a lawyer or when the work is of a confidential or proprietary nature. 

How to maintain professional competence? 

Maintain competence by developing a professional development program that meets your association's standards. 

Ethics (definition):

A system of moral principles which impact how someone makes decisions.

Duty to the employer/client:

Act with fairness and loyalty.

7 entities an engineer/geoscientist has a duty to:

Society and environment, employers, clients, colleagues, employees and subordinates, oneself, the profession. 

Moral principles:

Developed by societies and groups, they help us distinguish right and wrong. For a professional, it can help them choose the correct course of action under challenging circumstances.


When a professional tries to practice outside of their skills and training where they cannot do so properly.

Locke's (Human) Rights Ethics:

Every person is entitled to a set of rights by merely existing (life, health, liberty, possessions and the product of their work)

Aristotle's Virtue Ethics:

Virtue, or moral excellence, can be achieved by using reason and deduction to act good.  Moral excellence can often occur when selecting a course of action that is the mean between two extremes (excess and deficiency). 

Mill's Utilitarianism:

An action is right if it leads to the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people.

Duty to the public:

Regard the public's welfare as paramount.

Duty to the profession:

Enhance the public regard for the practitioner’s profession.

Core tenet of codes of ethics:

Protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.

When is moonlighting acceptable?

Acceptable if there is no conflict (i.e. your company and your client don't compete for customers), you can adequately serve both (i.e. you're not so tired from one to help the other out), you have informed your client about your employment status and limitations of work, and your employer has been notified and agrees there is no conflict. 

Conflict of interest (definition):

When there is an actual or perceived risk that an engineer or geoscientists work for a client will be negatively affected by another client’s interest or by personal interest. 


Legal authority of the code of ethics:

Your engineering or geoscience association has authority from the provincial government to discipline its members for any breach of the Act.  In all regions except Ontario (i.e. PEO), associations consider a code of ethics breach to be professional misconduct. 

Duty to report - Whistle blowing:

Resolving unsafe, unethical or illegal practices by first reviewing the situation, resolving it internally (if possible) and then reporting to an external regulatory agency.


Kant's Formalism or duty ethics:

An action is correct if it follows a course of action that would be acceptable as a universal principle for everyone to follow.

Secret commission:

Accepting a secret payment or significant gift from someone you have a business relationship with. 



What’s The Difference between Ethics and Morals?

Ethics: Is one of the four main branches of philosophy and can be described as “the study of right and wrong, good and evil, obligations and rights,” or more broadly, as the “theory of morality.”  Ethics are considered to be a SET of moral principles. Ethics applies more to groups of people, communities, or societies and are a set of agreed upon morals that are put into place as rules to guide actions and behaviors. 

Morals: Morals are more often one person’s beliefs about something, and can shape their ideas of what is right and wrong and guide their behaviors. In essence, morals are the BASIS for ethics.

What’s The Difference between a Potential Conflict of Interest and a Perceived Conflict of Interest (and A Clear Conflict)?

A conflict of interest: is a situation where a professional may have conflicting duties to two or more parties.  For example, an employer or client, colleagues, the profession, or to himself as a professional. A situation of conflict of interest could be where a professional receives any benefit or has any relationship that may interfere with the professional’s ability to fulfill their duties to their employer or client. All associations’ Code of Ethics requires immediate disclosure of conflict of interest.

There are 3 main types of conflict of interest:

  • Potential 
        • No actual conflict of interest at present, but it’s reasonable to believe/predict that one may arise in the future or the potential for a conflict of interest exists.
  • Perceived
        • This occurs when the professional does not have a conflict of interest; however, observers might believe that one exists.
  • Clear
      • This occurs when there is clearly a conflict that compromises the professional’s ability to fulfill their duties to the client or employer.  

    Are moral principles the same as the law?

    Moral principles refer to what society or an individual feels is right and wrong, whereas a law is a set of rules that govern a society and can be enforced.  Many laws are based on moral principles, but they are not classified as the same thing.

    In the context of conflict of interest, what is the difference between self-serving and influence peddling?

    A self-serving decision is something that would benefit the individual more directly, where influence peddling is a position or power to support a political party or group that they are in favor of.

    Can you explain kickback in the context of secret commission?

    Kickback is a form of secret commission that happens much later in the timeline. An example of Secret commission is where a party would be giving another party insider advice in exchange for cash. Kickback is where it is tied to an outcome. For example, a party gives insider information about a stock price that is likely to go up, and then if it does go up then that other party will pay them a certain amount of money. This is classified as kickback because it's happening much later in the timeline.

    Is the duty to report a dangerous activity applicable when you are not working, such as on vacation? Are you obligated to stick around until the situation is made safe?

    You only have to report something during your professional practice and you only have to stick around to make sure that the issue is resolved if you have the ability to make a change or the ability to direct work.

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