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Ethics in Accounting
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Ethicsa code or moral system that provides criteria for evaluating right and wrong. is a term that refers to a code or moral system that provides criteria for evaluating right and wrong. An ethical dilemma is a situation in which an individual or group is faced with a decision that tests this code. Many of these dilemmas are simple to recognize and resolve. For example, have you ever been tempted to call your professor and ask for an extension on the due date of an assignment by claiming a fictitious illness? Temptation like this will test your personal ethics.

Ethics deals with the ability to distinguish right from wrong.

Accountants, like others operating in the business world, are faced with many ethical dilemmas, some of which are complex and difficult to resolve. For instance, the capital markets’ focus on periodic profits may tempt a company’s management to bend or even break accounting rules to inflate reported net income. In these situations, technical competence is not enough to resolve the dilemma.


One of the elements that many believe distinguishes a profession from other occupations is the acceptance by its members of a responsibility for the interests of those it serves. A high standard of ethical behavior is expected of those engaged in a profession. These standards often are articulated in a code of ethics. For example, law and medicine are professions that have their own codes of professional ethics. These codes provide guidance and rules to members in the performance of their professional responsibilities.

Public accounting has achieved widespread recognition as a profession. The AICPA, the national organization of professional certified public accountants, has its own Code of Professional Conduct which prescribes the ethical conduct members should strive to achieve. Similarly, the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)primary national organization of accountants working in industry and government.—the primary national organization of accountants working in industry and government—has its own code of ethics, as does the Institute of Internal Auditorsnational organization of accountants providing internal auditing services for their own organizations.—the national organization of accountants providing internal auditing services for their own organizations.


Ethical codes are informative and helpful. However, the motivation to behave ethically must come from within oneself and not just from the fear of penalties for violating professional codes. Presented below is a sequence of steps that provide a framework for analyzing ethical issues. These steps can help you apply your own sense of right and wrong to ethical dilemmas:41

Step 1.Determine the facts of the situation. This involves determining the who, what, where, when, and how.
Step 2.Identify the ethical issue and the stakeholders. Stakeholders may include shareholders, creditors, management, employees, and the community.
Step 3.Identify the values related to the situation. For example, in some situations confidentiality may be an important value that may conflict with the right to know.
Step 4.Specify the alternative courses of action.
Step 5.Evaluate the courses of action specified in step 4 in terms of their consistency with the values identified in step 3. This step may or may not lead to a suggested course of action.
Step 6.Identify the consequences of each possible course of action. If step 5 does not provide a course of action, assess the consequences of each possible course of action for all of the stakeholders involved.
Step 7.Make your decision and take any indicated action.

<a onClick="'/olcweb/cgi/pluginpop.cgi?it=jpg::::/sites/dl/free/0072994029/0073130087_001_1784.jpg','popWin', 'width=NaN,height=NaN,resizable,scrollbars');" href="#"><img valign="absmiddle" height="16" width="16" border="0" src="/olcweb/styles/shared/linkicons/image.gif"> (K)</a>You have recently been employed by a large retail chain that sells sporting goods. One of your tasks is to help prepare periodic financial statements for external distribution. The chain’s largest creditor, National Savings & Loan, requires quarterly financial statements, and you are currently working on the statements for the three-month period ending June 30, 2006.
During the months of May and June, the company spent $1,200,000 on a large radio and TV advertising campaign. The $1,200,000 included the costs of producing the commercials as well as the radio and TV time purchased to run the commercials. All of the costs were charged to advertising expense. The company’s chief financial officer (CFO) has asked you to prepare a June 30 adjusting entry to remove the costs from advertising expense and to set up an asset called prepaid advertising that will be expensed in July. The CFO explained that “This advertising campaign has produced significant sales in May and June and I think it will continue to bring in customers through the month of July. By recording the ad costs as an asset, we can match the cost of the advertising with the additional July sales. Besides, if we expense the advertising in May and June, we will show an operating loss on our income statement for the quarter. The bank requires that we continue to show quarterly profits in order to maintain our loan in good standing.”

Ethical dilemmas are presented throughout the text. These dilemmas are designed to raise your consciousness on accounting issues with ethical ramifications. The analytical steps outlined above provide a framework with which to evaluate these situations. In addition, your instructor may assign end-of-chapter ethics cases for further discussion and application.

41 Adapted from Harold Q. Langenderfer and Joanne W. Rockness, “Integrating Ethics into the Accounting Curriculum: Issues, Problems, and Solutions,” Issues in Accounting Education (Spring 1989). These steps are consistent with those provided by the American Accounting Association’s Advisory Committee on Professionalism and Ethics in their publication Ethics in the Accounting Curriculum: Cases and Readings, 1990.

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