early 13c., autorite "book or quotation that settles an argument," from Old French auctorité "authority, prestige, right, permission, dignity, gravity; the Scriptures" (12c.; Modern French autorité ), from Latin auctoritatem (nominative auctoritas ) "invention, advice, opinion, influence, command," from auctor "master, leader, author" (see author (n.)).
Usually spelled with a -c- in English till 16c., when it was dropped in imitation of the French. Meaning "power to enforce obedience" is from late 14c.; meaning "people in authority" is from 1610s. Authorities "those in charge, those with police powers" is recorded from mid-19c.
More concerning than people consciously acting unethically in order to stay in their boss’s good graces is the fact that sometimes employees are so intent upon pleasing their superiors that they do not even notice the ethical aspects of a decision. Egil “Bud” Krogh, who became infamous as head of the “Plumbers Unit” operating out of President Nixon’s White House, was instructed to oversee a break-in at the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, who had leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, embarrassing the Nixon Administration. Krogh later explained that he was so intent upon pleasing his superiors who were, after all, among the most powerful people in the world, that he never even activated his own ethical sense to judge the morality of what he was trying to accomplish. He did not see the ethical dimensions of his situation until it was too late.