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How To Write a Code of Ethics: 5 Steps to Follow

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What is a Written Code of Ethics?

A Written Code of Ethics, also referred to as an ethical code, is a document that sets out the expectations and guiding principles of conduct in a professional workplace. It is a key component of human resource management because it reiterates employer commitment to staff welfare, communicates core values of the organization, and signals employees to more specific documents and resources related to ethics in your organization.

A code of ethics typically reaches beyond the limitations of the law and specifies activities not prohibited by law that are nonetheless prohibited within the specified group. For example, being dishonest with your employer isn’t necessarily illegal, but may be prohibited in the code of ethics for an organization.

Here is an article where you can read more about code of ethics .

How to Write a Code of Ethics – Step by Step

An effective Code of Ethics should clearly communicate professional conduct and acceptable behavior among stakeholders and employees. The preparation of this document should pay attention to goals, research, and presentation and involves the following steps.

  • Step 1: Establish your goals. Set out the broad goals of the Code and decide on how the success of your ethics program will be measured. The Code should introduce employees to broad values of the organization such as lawfulness and respectful behavior. It should use examples to allow them to address their own ethical concerns and signal them to more documents that address specific issues such as harassment, discrimination etc.
  • Step 2: Gain approval. Receive approval and commitment from leadership in your organization. The support from leadership will allow you to allocate necessary resources and build an effective team to draft the Code of Ethics.
  • Step 3 : Conduct research. Research and gather information from stakeholders to understand key issues that should be addressed in the Code of Ethics document. Effective research methods include interviews, focus groups, and informal discussions. It should also include a review of ethical concerns that have impacted your organization in the past.
  • Step 4: Draft the Code of Ethics. Draft the Code with the help of a dedicated Task force and interested stakeholders. Use simple language and seek feedback from employees and leadership on the content of the Code to ensure that the tone adopted in the document is sensitive and effective. You should also have the Code reviewed and finalized by an employment lawyer .
  • Step 5: Communicate with your organization. Share the finalized Written Code of Ethics using email, posters and other popular mediums with employees, independent contractors , and other stakeholders at your organization. Finally, formalize the review and updating of the Code at regular intervals.

Here is an article that goes further into writing a Code of Ethics.

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What’s Typically Included in a Code of Ethics?

The Code of Ethics should definitely be tailored to your organization’s history, experiences and needs. Broadly, it should address lawful behavior, respectful treatment of stakeholders, safety of company assets, and redressal mechanisms. Topics that can be addressed in the Code include but are not limited to:

  • Code’s Title : Your code of ethics should communicate the content clearly and grab attention of the reader. This could be something like, code of ethics, code of values or compliance code.
  • Leadership Letter : The leadership letter demonstrates the organization’s commitment from the top towards creating an ethical culture within the organization. It allows the top leadership to speak directly to the employees through the code of ethics document.
  • Information and Resources : Every code of ethics document will list or mention general resources available to employees to either familiarize themselves further with the values, complain about a breach, etc.
  • Work Environment and Lawfulness: Define professional conduct in the workplace as it applies to employees, independent contractors and other stakeholders. The section on work environment should briefly address the company’s stance on discrimination , equal opportunity , harassment and safety . It must also link to more detailed Code of Conduct documents on these issues.
  • Conflict of Interest: Lay out what topics are considered as conflict of interest for employees, independent contractors and other stakeholders. This may include insider trading and running for public office.
  • Company Assets: The Code of Ethics should involve the protection not only of employee welfare but also of employer interests and company assets. To ensure that stakeholders act to protect company assets, the document should address topics like use of company property, acceptable use policy to regulate internet use in the workplace, and intellectual property.
  • Redressal Mechanism : The Code of Ethics must also discuss how stakeholders can formally raise concerns at the workplace. Individual Code of Conduct documents can guide individuals through the detailed processes for different issues while the Code of Ethics document introduces them to redressal mechanisms in general. It should also discuss disciplinary action up to and including termination of contract for those who violate the Code of Ethics.

Here is an article that goes further into what should be included in your Code of Ethics.

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Code of Ethics Examples

Most companies have their Written Code of Ethics documents available online for perusal. Some examples of effective Code of Ethics include but are not limited to:

  • Hershey : No matter what job you do or where you do it, you are Hershey. Think about that as you watch over every business relationship, every transaction, and every product, and make sure your actions always reflect our values.
  • Amazon : In performing their job duties, employees should always act lawfully, ethically, and in the best interests of
  • Starbucks: The Standards of Business Conduct apply to all partners, officers, and board of directors, as well as temporary service workers and independent contractors.

Here is an article that goes further into examples of Code of Ethics documents.

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Who writes a Professional Code of Ethics?

If your organization is small, you can very well draft your own Code of Ethics with the input of all stakeholders and staff members. If your organization includes more than twenty individuals, then it is highly recommended that you consult an ethicist, employment lawyer, or human resources specialist with the process of legally drafting the Code. Even if you go via this route, the input of employees and stakeholders will still be invaluable to the process.

There are numerous benefits of writing a code of ethics. A code of ethics document can make a difference in your business or organization. It helps in clarifying gray areas and providing guidance on everything. It can help the organization to:

  • Build trust within the organization as well as externally
  • Increase awareness of key ethical issues important to the organization
  • Stimulate and legitimize ethical dialogue within the organization
  • Build consensus around vital issues around the organization
  • Guide decision-making in regard to important issues in the organization
  • Encourage staff to seek advice
  • Foster the reporting of misconduct and related concerns
  • Clarify where employees should go to seek advice and set up a redressal system

A code of ethics document can also help create positive public identity for the company or brand. This can lead to a more supportive environment internally. An improved public image would also lead to increased level of public confidence and trust among important stakeholders.

Here is a sample code of ethics for you to review.

Get Help Drafting a Professional Code of Ethics

Do you want help from a professional to draft your code of ethics document? Post a project in ContractsCounsel’s marketplace to get bids from employment lawyers that work on Code of Ethics documents routinely. All lawyers are vetted by our team and are peer-reviewed for previous work.

ContractsCounsel is not a law firm, and this post should not be considered and does not contain legal advice. To ensure the information and advice in this post are correct, sufficient, and appropriate for your situation, please consult a licensed attorney. Also, using or accessing ContractsCounsel's site does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and ContractsCounsel.

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