After the Enron, Tyco and WorldCom scandals, more companies have stressed a business code of ethics that define the basic ground rules of how they should operate on a day-to-day basis. Customers, clients and employees are holding businesses accountable for their business practices and social responsibilities.
Even the government joined this crusade by introducing the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX), enacted by Congress and either amends or supplements existing securities regulations. This Act protects investors from the fraudulent accounting practices of corporations.
What is a business code of ethics? Secifically, it’s a statement of rules and procedures which govern the professional conduct of a business or entire industry.
Why is it necessary to have a Business Code of Ethics?
Many companies have decided to make their business code of ethics prominent on their website. They are included in new hire materials and employee handbooks.
This is necessary to help define what is considered acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Companies that want to promote high standards of practice must draft and enforce what is expected of each employee. The employer should communicate to employees a consistent standard for a particular industry. Ethics provide a level of behavior for employees to evaluate their own behaviors and decision making.
Another reason why it is necessary to have a business code of ethics is to provide structure for professional behavior and responsibilities. Not only will employees make the right decisions at the right time, but they also will report any unethical behavior that is observed from others. Employees will feel invested in upholding the company’s reputation, eliminating adverse consequences to the company and employees.
Guidelines for Developing a Business Code of Ethics
Remember, a business code of ethics should be tailored to the needs and values of your company. What does your company aspire to achieve in its industry? This should be outlined in the introductory section. Also, the order in which the codes are listed in the policy will determine its prominence. This does not, however, diminish the value of the other codes.
Developing a business code of ethics not only establishes standards to govern how we do business, but also encourages employees to think about the importance of their obligations towards sound business practices.
Consider the purpose for the ethical codes when developing ethical guidelines. Has there been a concern about certain business practices of employees and you want to regulate behavior? Or, do you want to inspire your employees to take pride in their work and decision making? If your real purpose is to guide employees rather than set requirements, a Statement of Values, Mission Statement, or a Code of Conduct might be a more appropriate document.
Once the document is complete, you must determine how the new code will be implemented within your organization. Of course, you will want to publicize for employees. Consider posting the code to your company’s intranet site where all employees will have access. It can also be distributed individually with a memo from the president or CEO.
Like most business practices, you will need to periodically review and perhaps revise the business code of ethics, once they have been established. Make sure you have a trusted committee that is committed to the process.
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