The biggest mistake many people make about ethics is to confuse ethics and the law. Many people assume that because something is legal that it is ethical. They also make the often equally big mistake of assuming that whatever is illegal is unethical.
The sad truth is that the law and ethics are often two separate things. There are many illegal activities that are unethical, murder and theft for instance. Yet there are also many illegal activities that may not be unethical such speeding in your car or smoking in a restaurant.
Being legal does not make an activity ethical because the law is not always based on ethics. Many unethical business practices such as making false claims in the name of customer service may not be illegal for example.
Just because something is legal does not mean you should engage in it. Even though it can be legal to make questionable claims to sale your product you shouldn’t do it. Another example is in journalism, even though it is legal for journalists to use anonymous sources it is not necessary ethical to do so.
Always Be Aware of the Difference between Ethics and the Law
A person, especially a business person, should always be aware of the difference between the law and ethics. Many unethical business practices are not illegal, for example a restaurant could sell cheap cuts of meat as premium cuts of meat. This wouldn’t be illegal but it would certainly be unethical.
Do not use the law as an excuse to indulge in unethical behavior. In particular don’t use it as license to engage in questionable or unethical business practices.
Lies and deception are almost always unethical especially in business, even though they are usually legal. Not servicing products you sell and not making refunds or returns is also usually legal but it is certainly unethical.
Simply obeying the law does not constitute ethical behavior. Ethical people should always try to obey the law but they should realize that the law does not constitute a set of ethical guidelines.