Overview: 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.
Marta Moakley, J.D., Legal Editor
An employer need not actually violate the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) for its employees to receive SOX whistleblower protections, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.
Many firms have implemented an ethics program to satisfy the Federal Acquisition Regulations mandate to compete for a federal contract. Others implement a program to satisfy standards under state and Federal Sentencing Guidelines or under the Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act (the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002). This How To gives employers the steps to implement an ethics program.
In-depth review of the spectrum of Texas employment law requirements HR must follow with respect to training and development.
Whistleblowing is the act of informing an employer, government agency or other authority about fraud, misconduct or other illegal acts occurring in an organization. With proper procedures in place, an employer can create an environment of integrity that allows employees' concerns to be addressed, well in advance of employees reporting their concerns to an external entity. To promote integrity in the workplace and avoid the need for external whistleblowing, employers should take the steps in this How To.
Ethics focus on conduct that is morally acceptable in a specific sector of society, rather than legally required conduct. This section assists HR professionals in developing a strong organizational ethics program that includes reporting, training and investigation procedures.
Providing adequate training offers career development opportunities, improves communication within the organization and reduces any organization's exposure to workplace legal risks. This section describes required and recommended training topics, and options for training formats.
An employer may use this policy to help prevent employees from distracting co-workers with non job-related causes during work hours. The employer's Solicitation Policy should be communicated to employees at the commencement of employment and the employer should make sure that employees sign and acknowledge that they have received and understand the policy.
HR guidance regarding ethics in the workplace.
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