Statistically, businesses that enforce internal codes of conduct are much less likely to lose revenue to lawsuits, government fines, and costly payouts related to things like discrimination and harassment suits.
And while the potential savings related to decreased legal fees may be an obvious benefit of strictly enforcing ethical standards in the workplace, an even more important aspect of maintaining a good and effective ethical environment at your place of business is the vital preservation of your organization’s good name and reputation. No one wants to be another Enron, or even to be mentioned in the same sentence as that company.
As we have explored elsewhere, one of the best ways to enforce your company’s code of conduct is to establish an anonymous hotline so that employees can report potential abuses without fear of repercussion. Time and again, ethics auditors have found this to be the most effective means of policing your company’s conduct. But what do you do once you’ve received an anonymous tip? That’s what we’ll be exploring below.
Be Proactive In Your Expectations
Before you can begin disposing of a potential ethics issue, employees must be aware of your organization’s standards and expectations. Disseminate an employee handbook that outlines in detail the “do’s and don’t’s” of your work space. Conduct regular trainings emphasizing issues like harassment and discrimination. Post signs around the office place reminding employees that they cannot take supplies home for personal use. Just as in medicine, preventing an ethical issue is always easier than curing one after the fact.
Protect Your Complainants
Employees will not make anonymous complaints if their anonymity is threatened. It’s absolutely vital that personnel tasked with following up on employee complaints do not divulge the identity, or other private information, of the complaining party. Even if a complaint is not well founded, revealing this information will hurt your organization’s ability to develop ethics and compliance participation in the future.
Dedicate Resources to The Problem
A company should have dedicated compliance enforcement personnel, even if the compliance department is staffed by just one person. An organization needs at least one human being with the sole focus of ensuring compliance with that organization’s code of conduct.
Having other management level employees handle ethics training and compliance in addition to their other roles often reduces the effectiveness of ethics enforcement and can in fact create significant conflicts of interest.
A dedicated ethics team is a must.
Solve Problems As Quickly and Efficiently As Possible
Furthermore, having a dedicated team of compliance professionals helps ensure the speedy disposal of complaints. This is important, because employees may become disenchanted with a human resources department that responds to their concerns, but only long after those concerns are relevant. If an investigation validates an employee’s concerns, but only does so after that employee has been forced out of their position or has chosen to leave voluntarily, the investigation will have little appreciable effect on the issue itself–and may actually wind up hurting the business in the long run.
Enforcing ethical standards is only effective when done right from the very beginning