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Employee Code of Conduct

Employee Code of Conduct – Definition and Design

I would define an employee code of conduct as a general guideline for workplace performance that enforces key work ethics and severely discourages unethical, immoral, or illegal behavior. A code of conduct can be either an introduction to the employee handbook or, in some cases, a completely separate document that is reviewed and signed at the time of hiring.

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As with most documentation, anything that requires a signature has the potential to become legally binding, but hopefully the organization has vetted such documents with a legal professional to ensure that the terms of the code are ethical, legal, and enforceable.

The following are a few key tips for creating a strong employee code of conduct policy that will, hopefully, increase employee effectiveness.

5 Tips for an Effective Employee Code of Conduct

Use a Simple, Strong Format

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A code of conduct should be very clear, concise, and broken up by easy-to-reference ideas. Each subject should be a different paragraph, and go immediately to the point of what that code is referencing. Additionally, it should be written in such a manner that it compliments any current workplace policy found either in an independent document, or included in the employee handbook. The paragraphs should generally be limited to five sentences or less, and directly focus on the expected employee behavior. Although the code may also be written to compliment the values of the organization, it’s not always necessary.

Consider The Values

Your employee code of conduct should capture several types of ethical workplace behavior. First and foremost, it should address such key legal issues such as harassment, workplace violence, and discrimination. Simple paragraphs such as the following work well in an employee code of conduct, and address the issue in question:

Sample of Conduct Code:

“As an employee of this organization, I will not engage or tolerate any sexual harassment in this workplace by any employee, vendor, visitor, or any other such person that should enter this workplace. I understand that it is my obligation to report any suspected sexual behavior to the appropriate personnel, and that I do not have to tolerate any such activities and I will do my part to ensure this is a strong, healthy place to work.”

Beyond the key legal issues, the code of conduct can also serve to capture various value items such as creativity, loyalty to the organization, devotion to the overall mission, and even a commitment to self-development. The code of conduct can provide both legal protection, as well as investment into the employee.

Connect the Values

Connecting the code of conduct with organizational values can help to reinforce positive, ethical employee behavior. Additionally, posting the code of conduct or printing it on wallet-sized cards can communicate to employees, and other workplace personnel, that the organization views ethical employee work behavior as paramount to mission success. Organizations that train and reinforce ethical behavior tend to have stronger, more focused employees. For instance, the military has core values and codes of conduct for soldiers and sailors that are consistently echoed and embedded in the daily activities.

Review the Employee Code of Conduct And Keep It Ethical

In authoring codes of conduct, the code should avoid any subject matter that could be construed as illegal or unethical. Additionally, it needs to capture expectations that are conducive to a strong, healthy work environment. And again, legal review can provide excellent feedback as to the content and the enforceability of the document. Unrealistic content can serve to confuse and possibly demoralize new and existing employees. Also, if the contents of the code become too lengthy or high reaching, it could be viewed as being pointless and just the “phony” creation of the organization.

Revisit the Code of Conduct Time and Again

An employee code of conduct is very effective for communicating the baseline expectations of the employer in that it states them very succinctly. Unfortunately, these expectations can be moved to the back of the mind if they’re not reviewed and possibly resigned by the employee on a regular basis. Additionally, training can be designed around the code of conduct and serve to reinforce organizational ethics. This training also provides a good opportunity to review and possibly update the code of ethics, if need be.

Although an employee code of conduct is most likely not used by all organizations, this is a tool that provides a strong, upfront look at the organizations’ values and beliefs. Furthermore, it can provide an additional layer of protection against unethical employee conduct. Organizations should strive to develop and foster an ethical workplace that is supported not only in the daily workplace, but also in the fundamental, bureaucratic baseline.


Donald Nickels

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