Last month, we talked about the beneficial reasons for having a workplace ethics policy.  Now, we’re going to talk about the components that actually make up your policy.

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.

Thomas Jefferson said, “I consider ethics, as well as religion, as supplements to the law in the government of man.”  This highlights another important consideration for employers as they develop their ethics codes.  What special laws apply to your workplace?  Those laws not only provide the floor for the ethical behavior you expect from your employees, they also can provide the inspiration for what your policy should cover.

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.

Now that we’ve reviewed who needs ethics policies and what goes in them, we still have to discuss how to go about incorporating ethics into your workplace.  Stay tuned!

Vanessa Towarnicky's primary focus is in the area of labor and employment law. She has been involved in representing clients in various employment cases, including sexual harassment; deliberate intent; age, race, and disability discrimination; wrongful discharge; and various other employment-related torts. She is admitted to various state and federal courts as well as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
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