HR Support on Ensuring Workplace Ethics

Editor's Note: Promote a workplace of integrity by adopting an organizational ethics program.

Marta MoakleyOverview: Ethics focus on what should be done, in a moral sense, and not necessarily on what must be done, in a legal sense. Sometimes ethics and legal requirements coincide. However, ethical principles, especially in evolving areas of the law or industry, are not always clear. Employers that tend to push ethical boundaries may soon be faced with hefty fines and penalties from evolving case law or from emergent legislation that abruptly outlaws a morally questionable, but previously legal, practice.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) grew out of just such a situation. SOX set enhanced standards for public companies, executives and accounting firms in response to the collapse of Enron and other business giants due to questionable corporate practices.

Best practices in ethics encourage employers to adopt an internal ethics program that is consistent throughout all levels of the organization. However, certain employers may be legally required to do so in order to satisfy the Federal Acquisition Regulations mandate to compete for a federal contract, or to satisfy standards under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Ethics programs should include a code of ethics and a communications plan, and be accompanied by adequate staff training.

Trends: Regulators have been focusing on global employers' anti-bribery compliance. In addition, various federal and state agencies have created internal Offices of the Whistleblower in order to process complaints and offer rewards. The adoption of adequate corporate ethics programs is essential to managing these organizational risks.

Author: Marta Moakley, JD, Legal Editor

Latest items in Ethics

  • Code of Conduct: New Policy Added

    Date:
    August 4, 2016
    Type:
    Editor's Choice

    To assist employers in complying with ethics obligations and instilling a culture of integrity, XpertHR has added a Code of Conduct to the Policies and Documents tool. The resource establishes expectations regarding gifts, entertainment and payments, intellectual property and financial integrity.

  • Code of Conduct Policy

    Type:
    Policies and Documents

    An employer may use this policy to clearly communicate its emphasis on high standards of ethics and on overall compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

  • Contact With the Media Handbook Statement

    Type:
    Employee Handbooks

    Updated policy in light of ongoing scrutiny by the National Labor Relations Board.

  • How to Promote Integrity in the Workplace and Protect Whistleblowers

    Type:
    How To

    Updated to reflect whistleblower immunity protections under the Defend Trade Secrets Act, effective May 11, 2016.

  • Employee Duty of Loyalty in New Jersey: Employment Law Manual Updated

    Date:
    January 5, 2016
    Type:
    Editor's Choice

    The New Jersey Supreme Court has addressed court remedies for employers in duty of loyalty cases.

  • ERISA Fiduciaries Must Continuously Monitor Plan Investments

    Date:
    May 21, 2015
    Type:
    News

    The US Supreme Court has confirmed that plan fiduciaries have a continuing obligation to monitor investments in a plan under ยง 401(k) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). Plan fiduciaries need to take concrete steps to minimize liability risks.

  • Ethical Issues in HR: Federal

    Type:
    Employment Law Manual

    This section assists HR professionals in developing a strong organizational ethics program that includes reporting, training and investigation procedures. Ethics focus on conduct that is morally acceptable in a specific sector of society, rather than legally required conduct.

  • Office Depot to Pay $80 Million to Settle California False Claims Act Case

    Date:
    November 21, 2014
    Type:
    News

  • Conflicts of Interest Handbook Statement

    Type:
    Employee Handbooks

    Employers seeking to inform employees what may constitute a conflict of interest and that they have an obligation to disclose potential conflicts of interest and avoid financial dealings that present a conflict should consider including this model policy statement in their handbook.

  • Voluntary Open Door Policy Handbook Statement

    Type:
    Employee Handbooks

    Employers seeking to encourage open communication and effectively resolve disputes or tension in the workplace before they escalate should consider including this model policy statement in their handbook.