Corporate ethics policies
Many companies have formulated internal policies pertaining to the ethical conduct of employees. These policies can be simple exhortations in broad, highly-generalized language (typically called a corporate ethics statement), or they can be more detailed policies, containing specific behavioral requirements (typically called corporate ethics codes). They are generally meant to identify the company’s expectations of workers and to offer guidance on handling some of the more common ethical problems that might arise in the course of doing business. It is hoped that having such a policy will lead to greater ethical awareness, consistency in application, and the avoidance of ethical disasters.
An increasing number of companies also requires employees to attend seminars regarding business conduct, which often include discussion of the company’s policies, specific case studies, and legal requirements. Some companies even require their employees to sign agreements stating that they will abide by the company’s rules of conduct.
Not everyone supports corporate policies that govern ethical conduct. Some claim that ethical problems are better dealt with by depending upon employees to use their own judgment.
Others believe that corporate ethics policies are primarily rooted in utilitarian concerns, and that they are mainly to limit the company’s legal liability, or to curry public favor by giving the appearance of being a good corporate citizen. Ideally, the company will avoid a lawsuit because its employees will follow the rules. Should a lawsuit occur, the company can claim that the problem would not have arisen if the employee had only followed the code properly.
Sometimes there is disconnection between the company’s code of ethics and the company’s actual practices. Thus, whether or not such conduct is explicitly sanctioned by management, at worst, this makes the policy duplicitous, and, at best, it is merely a marketing tool.
To be successful, most ethicists would suggest that an ethics policy should be:
- Given the unequivocal support of top management, by both word and by example.
- Explained in writing and orally, with periodic reinforcement.
- Doable….something empoloyees can both understand and perform.
- Monitored by top management, with routine inspections for compliance and improvement.
- Backed up by clearly stated consequences in the case of disobedience.