Code of Conduct 101

Code of Conduct 101

Recent corruption scandals and the associated PR fallout have created a buzz in the business community concerning ethics standards and codes of conduct across multiple industries. While people (especially the media) are talking, it appears that many do not know where to begin when it comes to implementing a formal code of conduct or business ethics policy.  Indeed, while many businesses have publicly expressed their desire to adhere to a strict set of ethics, those same companies have difficulty putting the pen to paper to get their beliefs into a formal statement.

How do you implement an ethical structure within your organization? The first thing to do is put pen to paper on a business code of conduct. This may seem like a daunting task that requires professional assistance, but it doesn’t have to be. Assuming your company desires to adhere to a certain set of beliefs or rules from the top down, which is what compliance is all about, you can quickly formulate a philosophy that will have all members of your organization thinking about compliance in short order.

What is a Code of Conduct?

A code of conduct is a formal statement containing a set of beliefs and principles by which a business aims to exist.  The code of conduct is typically a written statement that is publicly available to employees, competitors and clients alike. While not necessarily a long document, the code of conduct serves to put others on notice that the business adheres to a strict set of moral principles and vows to maintain the highest standards of business ethics. 

Frequently, a code of conduct has several derivative policies that display the business’s values. For example, a non-discrimination policy would be a “compliance with labor and employment laws” portion of a broader provision on “legal compliance.”  Likewise, a policy prohibiting bribery, both domestically and abroad, would certainly be important for a business that is operating overseas (or even in the U.S. if you believe the circumstances are right).

Codes of Conduct are Specific, but Broad Enough to Give the Reader an Overview

While the foregoing statement sounds contradictory, there is a fine line between giving the target audience too much information and using general sweeping language that the company “promises to uphold the highest standards of integrity in the business community.” The latter sentence does not tell the audience exactly what standards the business aims to aims to uphold.  For example, a broad statement followed by a series of bulleted “fine points” that the company wishes to elaborate on would be a better way to go.

Keep in mind that the best codes are industry and company specific.  Therefore, there may be a wide variety of other topics that could be crucial to your business. Therefore, it is important that you seek specific training to learn the nuances of business ethics and code of conduct implementation.

We Want to Implement a Code of Conduct, What Goes into it?

Absolutely anything you feel is critical to tell your audience can go into your code of conduct. However, the following is a non-exhaustive list of items your code of conduct may seek to cover, and can get you started:

  • Company Mission
  • Prohibition on bribery and corrupt payments
  • Adherence to the law
  • Description of honest corporate culture
  • Culture of respect
  • Prohibition against bullying
  • Respect for employee, client and customer privacy
  • Open desire for competition in the marketplace
  • Health and Safety standards

Again, the foregoing is simply a very brief list of the types of topics that commonly go into modern company codes of conduct. Undoubtedly, the best policy is to provide training to your employees on codes of conduct and the consequences that can occur if they choose not to follow them. After taking our detailed training course on business ethics your employees and managers will be better educated on these topics and will come away looking at your code from an honest, fresh, and clean perspective. Your business will then be ready to convince those you deal with that your company has ethics at the forefront of its mission.

Syntrio is a leader in both the employment law and ethics and compliance field, with an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content. Contact for more information about our ethics and code of conduct online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your company!

Written by Jonathan Gonzalez, Chief Counsel for Syntrio.

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