Do You Have a Code of Ethics?

Posted on November 13, 2013.

I recently participated on a panel for the 100 Entrepreneurs Project, which provides training for wounded warriors thinking of starting their own business.  The topic was hiring and firing.  It wasn’t too long into the session when someone asked, “How can you fire someone?” and “ What does someone have to do to get fired immediately?”

I wasn’t really surprised that this topic was top of mind.  It’s not only the military and government workers who struggle with how to remove someone who needs to go. A recent Talent Management article talked about the 4 essential elements in an employee handbook. It’s a good list and it mentions a termination policy for people who’ve missed time and need to go. But it’s missing one element that every company policy and employee handbook should have and that’s a Code of Ethics.

So in response to the veterans” questions, the panel outlined the reasons we see as cause for immediate dismissal:

1)   Stealing, including falsifying expense reports

2)   Pornography at work (more common than you’d think)

3)   Falsifying time cards

4)   Violation of safety provisions (especially important in manufacturing, construction and transportation companies)

5)   Violation of confidentiality rules  (sharing private information in the public domain, for example)

6)   Violence of any kind

There may be more depending on the industry. Many companies expand their list to include a Code of Conduct with items such as harassment and discrimination. But while you should have both, I would recommend keeping them separate.  There’s a process you need to go through when you see a violation in the Code of Conduct. If you make it clear up front that any violation of the Ethics Policy will result in immediate termination, you’re done.  No process, no documentation necessary. The violation is self-evident 

While I’m sure every entrepreneur and CEO would like to think they would only bring on the most ethical people, the reality is that sometimes people will surprise you. Having a Code of Ethics in every on boarding package and handbook makes it clear to everyone conduct that won’t be tolerated.