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What is your Code of Ethics and Business Conduct?

This article is brought to you by Dr. Michele Harmon who provides HRM and benefits consultation to our clients.

If it is not in writing, then it never happened. That is one of my favorite things to say concerning documentation. Therefore, if your code of ethics and business conduct is not in writing, then there is no evidence that all your employees are required to be ethical in their behavior at work or their business dealings.

Every organization should have a code of ethics and business conduct, no matter what their size. Clients continue to request for guidance to ensure employees have read, been trained, and agree to abide by the company code of ethics to assure business conduct.

The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) provides its members with many useful sample policies, including this one. SHRM offers specific language for you to use as your model policy.

I want to state in no uncertain terms that if you have not been asked for yours yet, you will be in the future. It would help if you were aggressive, as this will make you more competitive. It is no longer just about price; it is about the quality of your organization and workforce.

You first need a company vision, a statement of your values, and a mission statement. If you need assistance with this or any other part of a well-articulated and understandable code of ethics and business conduct, some organizations can help you, such as BAM Consulting.

There must be a statement about how you build trust and credibility among your employees and customers. Trust is a two-way street, and your credibility can be lost with a bad rating or an angry customer rant on social media.

Explain how you expect your employees to respect each other and your clients with dignity. Equally important, state that the workplace is free of discrimination and any abusive behavior. It is not acceptable anymore to raise your voice, be condescending, or use profanity in the workplace. If this describes your company’s culture, the outlook is becoming unfavorable and consistent with a bleak survival rate. The time has passed to assume that your friend and/or long-term employee will not turn on you, and when they do, here comes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and/or the Department of Labor (DOL).

Create a culture of open and honest communication. Employees must know that they can come to their manager and/or human resources (HR) with their concerns. The manager and/or HR must also know that when they bring an employee concern to leadership, that they will be safe, and the matter addressed without fear of retaliation towards anyone.

Leadership must set the tone and follow it as well as address any questionable behavior immediately. Your organization must follow all the laws pertaining to operating their business. Do not forget that there was a federal law implemented for Enron’s creative accounting.

State that your organization will compete fairly and will not borrow trade secrets and further that your employees are not allowed to take their client lists when they leave.

I hear you, that's the process of conducting business; however, it also demands discouraging employee behavior. That means that you don't hire a new salesperson in anticipation of their established client list. I hear you laughing, but if the shoe were on the other foot, the laughter would stop.That means that you don’t hire a new salesperson in anticipation of their established client list. I hear you laughing, but if the shoe were on the other foot, the laughter would stop.

The organization should remain committed to the safety of its employees and visitors at any of these sites. If you haven’t been hit with it yet, you will be sent notice sooner than later that your new customer is going to audit your drug testing and will also require drug testing your employee if that employee has an accident on their location.

You must state that you will avoid any possible conflicts of interest that will interfere with you making fair decisions for personal gains. In plain language, you can’t pick your friend over someone else without ample evidence that your friend was the better business choice. Don’t ever have family members reporting to family. I do not care how fair you perceive yourself to be; the employees that are not your family will never believe it.

Gifts should be kept to a minimum with a maximum value in writing for your employees to receive or give customers. Everything is up for interpretation, and you must do everything you can to prevent the perception that you buy your customer’s loyalty. In tough times, when you cannot take them on a hunting trip, you better have built more than just a monetary exchange relationship. It would be best if you develop customer and employee loyalty on your word and actions the reflect company integrity.

Even if you are not a publicly-traded company, you need to have a statement about accurate accounting and recordkeeping. You must have a statement about media inquiries and who may issue press releases.

Finally, you can ignore my suggestions, but having a code of ethics and business conduct written procedure with a requirement that all employees sign it, is just as important as having a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy. When you get sued, and you know you will, my guess is you will want to show your proactive measures to assure your employees are expected to be ethical at all times and follow the law.

Get your policies and procedures in order and find the time to do it before you are scrambling when a prospective client makes the request. Please do it for your employees and the culture of your organization. It is never too late to do the right thing.

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