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Code of conduct — ethics agreements needed

Business ethics are essential in business today more than ever.  Employees of businesses should be held to the highest ethical standards. A Code of Conduct or Ethics Agreement is a policy statement issued by a business, school, organization, etc., that is a form of internal legislation for staff members.

It should be a requirement of employment for all employees. It is binding with specific sanctions on employees for violation of the code. These codes are moral obligations and can go beyond actual legal requirements.

Most large companies have a formal policy agreement often referred to as a Code of Ethics or Conduct. They address the values and standards by which the company operates.

It is also common for boards of directors to be required to sign agreements for their roles in the company. Confidentiality and privacy issues are much more prevalent than in previous years because of disclosures of information that can be harmful to the company’s business.

Standard agreements usually include the following topics.

1. Various possible conflicts of interest including outside employment.

2. Misuse of company/organization assets.

3. Buying or selling property on a personal basis to the company.

4. Accepting gifts from customers, clients or vendors.

5. Buying or selling arrangements with customers/clients.

6. Being a “silent” partner with a supplier, vendor, customer or any provider of services.

7. Non-disclosure of confidential information.

8. Insider activities, such as buying or selling based on insider information.

9. Proprietary information not being shared except on a “need to know” basis.

10. Processing business transactions of your personal business with the company.

11. Discrimination or harassment of employees or customers.

12. Use of company equipment, such as PCs, vehicles and other equipment for personal use.

13. Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol while on the job.

The above is not an exhaustive list but is representative of many things normally covered. There are some areas specific to the business which also may be included. Other very important issues which are governed by state and federal laws and regulations are also often included in the agreement.

When an employee is faced with a difficult situation they are expected to choose the right and ethical course of action. It is an expectation of employment. A person’s character should determine the right course of action by letting good character be the guide.

Employers attempt to determine the character and trustworthiness of candidates before they are hired so that they will fit the culture and standards of operation of the business. Ongoing ethics training also supplements the basis of behavior of employees.

Actions that are contrary to the Code of Ethics put an employee’s job in jeopardy. Ethical behavior ranks higher than technical skills. Businesses cannot afford to tolerate unethical behavior. People who want to be successful in their jobs and become a contributing part of the organization must possess good character traits and exercise diligence in being ethical in all their dealings.

Becky Vaughn-Furlow retired from Trustmark Bank as executive vice president and human resources director. She can be contacted by emailing bvaughnfurlow@gmail.com.