What is a code of conduct?
A code of conduct is a document outlining the core vision of an organization and how that vision can be maintained through the actions of its members and employees. In a way, a code of conduct is the body of laws that govern the community of people that make up an organization. Further, a code of conduct is a critical reference for employees. It lays out the organization’s expectations of them, and it identifies what actions are explicitly forbidden. Thus, a code of conduct gives employees a concrete guide as to how they should behave at work, and what is and isn’t considered a violation of that vision referenced above. There are several reasons a code of conduct should be implemented, some of them legal, but most of them practical. We’ll explore a few below.
Setting Employee Expectations
Not every company is required by law to implement a code of conduct. If it’s not required, why have one? Importantly, regardless of it’s legal requirement, a code of conduct can serve as a yardstick against which an employee’s actions can be measured. How can an organization claim to have principles, if it has no way of articulating those principles to its employees, and no way of identifying those who refuse to uphold those principles?
By providing a reference, employees are on notice which actions would be considered unethical, and ultimately grounds for termination. For example, many retail stores have a policy that requires the destruction of defective merchandise. It’s only natural, however, that an employee might desire to take something for themselves that the company is effectively throwing away. Without a code of conduct barring such actions, the employee might take the defective merchandise home without even realizing they’ve done something wrong. But what happens if that employee is hurt by the item they took? Without a code explicitly banning such conduct, that employee might have grounds to pursue their employer legally for their injuries. In short, a code of conduct is a good instrument for keeping employees safe, while simultaneously serving as an effective shield against potential liability as well.
Protecting Supervisors and Other Management Level Personnel
Another particularly useful aspect of the code of conduct is its ability to provide a clear guide to management in making termination decisions. And while this might sound burdensome on those employees supervised, it’s actually not. A code of conduct not only keeps employees honest, it keeps management from playing favorites. If an action is clearly unethical, and it’s identified as such in the code, an employee cannot attempt to lean on the goodwill of a friend in management to avoid termination. Thus, the code of conduct is a good resource not only for the protection of management and their employees, but it is also an effective instrument in ensuring equality in the workplace.
Presenting An Organization’s Best Face
Finally, a code of conduct is one of the best ways an organization can communicate that core vision to it’s clients, customers, and partners. By establishing a code of conduct and using it to govern the internal workings of an organization, a company can show it’s constituents that their interests will be protected. Customers are more apt to trust a company that transparently displays their ethical standards than one that refuses to develop any. And ultimately a code of conduct is only as good as its development, implementation, and enforcement.