s business owners, you spend a substantial amount of time and resources selecting your employees; and you trust that your investment has generated an honest, hard-working group of people. So, who needs a policy on ethics? Your employees know right from wrong, don’t they? Ethics policies are more than sandbox rules known to every employee. Like a wellness program, an ethics program is a way of life that should be embodied in the operation of your business, top-down and in every respect. At Woodall Batchelor PLLC, our labor & employment law attorneys can help walk you through the design and implementation of ethics policies.
Why do you need ethics policies?
There are many reasons to have an ethics policy. In addition to civil lawsuits, employers can be held criminally liable for their employees’ conduct, and a key way to prevent criminal conduct from happening is to train your employees to work ethically. One function of your policy should be to raise awareness and sensitivity to ethical issues and provide a mechanism for handling them. If criminal violations should occur, the existence of an effective ethics program may lessen the fines or penalties your organization could face.
Another reason for or benefit of an ethics policy is less misconduct from your workforce. A management philosophy that embraces ethics not only makes employees conduct themselves ethically, it makes them more likely to report the misconduct of others. In the employment law field, this proclivity makes it more likely that defenses to harassment and discrimination claims will be preserved.
Obviously, the biggest (no-brainer) reason for having an ethics policy is that it’s the right thing to do. Most employers know this, but sometimes overlook the added ‘legal’ perks and protections that one can provide. And that’s without even considering the benefits that are harder to measure, like increased employee morale, an enhanced public image, and consistency throughout your operation. It’s like a wellness program for your organization.
What to include in your ethics policies?
While every employer will have different needs and goals to be addressed, two key provisions should be found in every policy.
First, every ethics policy should contain a non-retaliation provision. Creating an ethical workplace requires employees to police themselves and each other. It is vital to the success of your program that employees feel safe reporting misconduct and other ethical violations.
Second, your policy should contain investigation and communication guidelines. Not only do you want your employees to feel safe making reports, but you want them to have a level of confidence that their reports will be taken seriously and addressed.
Beyond those provisions, the array of remaining topics to be covered by an ethics policy is endless. For instance, in this blog, we have discussed the use of employer assets, like the computer, by employees. The internet can be a monster of a productivity eater – unseen and devouring hours of employee time. Your ethics policy can address your employees’ appropriate use of the resources you provide.
By way of other example, your ethics policy may include more specific provisions which address selling and marketing practices, or billing and contracting practices. It may touch on simpler items like proper attire, honesty, and reliability/promptness. As your policy grows into a well-nourished ethics program, you can incorporate your workplace’s anti-discrimination/harassment/retaliation policies under this umbrella, and you can do the same with your health and safety policies.
One final message must be included in your ethics code. Employees must be informed that they are expected to understand, internalize, and apply the principles set forth in your ethics code in all situations, even those not expressly covered by the code. This means that ethics must become part of your reward and discipline system.
Implementing your ethics policies
It isn’t uncommon for HR professionals to work diligently to create an ethics code for their employer only to find that no one will take the lead in following it. The reality is that upper management must demonstrate a commitment to creating an ethical workplace or no amount of policy-making is going to be successful. If the top-down approach fails, instead try generating a “grass roots” interest in your employees to act ethically. Sometimes, spreading the code upward through your organization can overcome that blockade.
If you have the support of your upper management, incorporating ethics into your workplace can be summed up in three words: Demonstrate, Communicate, Celebrate.
Interested in learning more about labor & employment law?
To find out more about ethics policies for your company, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our labor & employment law attorneys in The Woodlands at Woodall Batchelor PLLC.