Legal vs Ethical

What are the similarities and differences between legal and ethical behavior? To answer this question, lets start by looking at their functional definitions.


Behavior is legal when it is falls within the laws establish by the government or organization. Laws are created to ensure social order, peace and justice within the jurisdiction. Laws are typically based upon a constitution or basic morals and ethics within the jurisdiction.


Ethics are based upon the principles and acceptable behaviors within society or organization. Ethics determine what is right and wrong. Ethics gives citizens within a society, or a member of an organization, a set of guidelines on how we should behave … a code of conduct.

Behavior contrary to ethical standards usually don’t involve punishment unless the person is a professional like a doctor, accountant, securities dealer or insurance agent, etc.

Legal vs Ethical

Many issues today undergo analysis to determine if an act, marketing campaign or a political campaign ad are legal and/or ethical. The relationship between the two are noticeable since many laws are built upon some basic principles of ethics. There are situations when a legal act is considered unethical, or an ethical act is considered unlawful.

  • A specific act is considered legal if it doesn’t break any laws within the governing jurisdiction. Laws apply to all members of society or the organization.
  • An act is considered ethical if it does not conflict with any morals or codes of conduct perceived by society or an organization. Observing ethical standards is often voluntary unless you are a professional in some select occupations as presented earlier.


While it is not unlawful, a blogger who recommends a product or service but hasn’t actually used the it would be unethical. It would also be unethical if the blogger does not inform her followers that she earns a commission on any sales generated from her recommendation of a product or service.

Published by W. M. Brown

I am a retired U.S. expat living in Ecuador. I was a business owner for 32 years before retiring in 2012.

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