What to Include in Your Ethics Policy

An ethics program should be top priority for all companies large or small. But creating the structure isn’t always easy. Many corporate executives become overwhelmed when starting a first-time ethics program. They don’t understand the format and organization. Others don’t know what to include. There are six primary sections every ethics program should include.

1. Legal Compliance

While legal compliance isn’t technically an ethics issue, this section is first on our list because it is the most common. Every business must follow the law or risk penalties. Include information about the general laws and regulations specific to your services or products. Consult with your corporate counsel or hire an attorney to walk you through this process. Drafting an ethics program that includes legal remedies should never be conducted by amateurs.

2. Defines What Unethical Behavior Is And Is Not

Before you can list the common and industry-specific ethics problems and solutions, we must define what is unethical. This section should be brief, include an academic definition, and show solid examples and techniques to help employees identify unethical behavior.

Defining Unethical Behavior

  • Look up the term in the dictionary
  • Include easy-to-understand examples
  • Keep it short and to the point

Don’t go into too much detail. We don’t want to confuse staff members. Your ethics program deals with identifying violations, reporting it, and investigations. Save specific violations for your code of conduct and SOP.

3. Company Mission And Values

While this is optional, many companies decide to list their mission, vision, and values. This helps employees understand what is important to the company and what is considered ethical behavior.

4. Corporate Bribes

Sadly, most companies face some form of bribery, but it often happens by mistake. Your team may not understand the difference between meeting with a high-profile client at a restaurant, networking at an entertainment venue, or accepting a real bribe. Clearly define what a bribe is and is not. Explain that the company has a zero tolerance policy. If they are confused, refer them to the ethics committee for advice.

5. How To Report Unethical Behavior

Employees are likely to uncover unethical practices in the workplace before senior executives do. Tell employees how to report misconduct. Stress the company’s open-door policy and encourage employees to use it. Include hotline phone numbers, ombudsman information and website addresses for anonymous reporting.

6. Anonymous Reports And Guidelines For Maintaining Privacy

Every great ethics program comes with an even better reporting system. Whistleblower programs should be run by a third-party, provide an avenue to anonymously report violations, and privacy guidelines for investigations. Just be clear that any investigation that leads to criminal or civil charges may require a named (non-anonymous) reporter to testify in open court.

Ethical Advocate helps businesses protect their company by providing hotline solutions and training. Learn more about how a whistleblower program can save your company money.