The primary goal of the code of ethics is the welfare and the protection of the individuals and groups with whom sociologists work. Therefore, it is central that sociologists respect the rights, dignity, and worth of all those people. In the workplace (both academic and nonacademic), sociologists often serve in supervisory positions or other elevated-status positions with regard to colleagues, staff, both undergraduate and graduate students, and research participants. In those situations, it is particularly important to remember that status differentials are differentials in power. Sociologists need to be aware of such differentials and sensitive to them when they make requests of others.
The temptation to exploit those over whom you have power is often subtle. For example, academic sociologists need to be attuned to the possibility that they may be slowing down the progress of the graduate students who work with them on research projects. They also need to consider the additional demands of time and effort that can be made of staff, employees, and research participants, especially when deadlines are close. It is difficult to perceive and deal with such subtleties. Nevertheless, ethical treatment of colleagues, staff, students, and others demands it.
Should a sociologist have a sexual relationship with someone over whom they have either supervisory or evaluative authority, the possibilities of exploiting that person – or others with whom that person works or associates – are compounded. It is for this reason that the code specifically prohibits such relationships.