The PLUS Model for Ethical Decision Making

The Plus Model

The PLUS model is a practical tool designed to support ethical decision-making by ensuring that decisions align with an organization’s values and principles. PLUS stands for Policies, Legal, Universal, and Self, representing the key filters that should be applied to any ethical decision.

Steps to Use the PLUS Model

  1. Define the Problem: Clearly articulate the ethical issue or dilemma. Ensure that the problem is understood in its entirety, considering all relevant facts and stakeholders.
  2. Identify Alternatives: List all possible courses of action. Be creative and consider a wide range of alternatives, including those that might not be immediately obvious.
  3. Evaluate Alternatives: Use the PLUS filters to evaluate each alternative:
  • P = Policies: Does the alternative align with the organization’s policies and guidelines? Consider both written policies and the unwritten norms that guide behavior.
  • L = Legal: Is the alternative legal? Ensure that the decision complies with all relevant laws and regulations.
  • U = Universal: Does the alternative uphold universal ethical principles, such as fairness, honesty, and respect? Consider whether the decision would be considered ethical by broader societal standards.
  • S = Self: Does the alternative align with your personal values and beliefs? Reflect on whether you would be comfortable with the decision if it were made public.
  1. Make the Decision: After evaluating the alternatives through the PLUS filters, select the option that best aligns with ethical principles. Ensure that the decision is well-documented, with clear reasoning for the choice made.
  2. Implement the Decision: Put the chosen alternative into action. Ensure that the implementation process is transparent and that all relevant stakeholders are informed.
  3. Evaluate the Outcome: After the decision has been implemented, assess the results. Reflect on whether the decision achieved the desired ethical outcome and consider any lessons learned for future decision-making.

Using the Legal Filters

The ethical component of the decision making process takes the form of a set of “filters”. Their purpose is to separate the sought after elements from their containing environment.

The PLUS filters work as an integral part of steps 1, 4 and 7 of the decision-making process. The decision maker applies the four PLUS filters to determine if the ethical component(s) of the decision are being surfaced/addressed/satisfied.





PLUS presumes effective communication with all employees so there is a common understanding of:

  • the organization’s policies and procedures as they apply to the situation.
  • the applicable laws and regulations.
  • the agreed upon set of “universal” values – in this case Empathy, Patience, Integrity, Courage (EPIC).
  • the individual’s sense of right, fair and good springing from their personal values set.

PLUS also presumes a formal mechanism, provided by the organization, to allow employees access to a definitive interpretation of the policies, laws and universal values when their own knowledge of these PLUS factors is insufficient for them to make the decision with a high level of confidence.

Practical Application Example

Imagine a manager at a pharmaceutical company faced with a decision about whether to release a new drug that has shown promise but also has potential side effects. Using the PLUS model, the manager would:

  1. Define the Problem: The ethical dilemma is whether to prioritize potential benefits of the drug for patients or to withhold it due to possible side effects.
  2. Identify Alternatives: The manager might consider alternatives such as delaying the release for further testing, releasing the drug with clear warnings, or not releasing it at all.
  3. Evaluate Alternatives:
    • Policies: Does each alternative comply with the company’s safety and ethics policies?
    • Legal: Are all alternatives within the bounds of regulatory requirements?
    • Universal: Which alternative best upholds the principle of “do no harm”?
    • Self: Would the manager feel confident and morally right about each alternative if it were publicly scrutinized?
  4. Make the Decision: After careful evaluation, the manager might decide to delay the release for further testing to ensure patient safety.
  5. Implement the Decision: Communicate the decision to stakeholders, explaining the rationale and the importance of patient safety.
  6. Evaluate the Outcome: Monitor the results of additional testing and reassess the decision based on new data, ensuring the highest ethical standards are maintained.


When using the PLUS model, you need to be aware that the PLUS filters do not guarantee an ethical decision. They merely ensure that the ethical components of the situation will be revealed, so that they might be considered.

While PLUS provides a framework for assessing the ethical impact of a decision, ultimately whether or not the decision meets the ethical standards of the organization, or the values of the individual decision maker is a matter of personal responsibility. Fundamentally, ethics is about choices.

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