While laws against harassment are pretty clear, they can be ambiguous when you try to put them into practice in the workplace. If the harassment one employee complains about doesn’t exactly fit the legal definition, it can be difficult to address. In-house codes of ethics clear the way for a company to create its own policies that discourage teasing and unkind behaviors even though they may not fit the definition of legal harassment, making the workplace more enjoyable for everyone. At the same time, a code of ethics can be used to define legal harassment and its place in the work environment.
To Define Boundaries
A written code of ethics should clearly define the kinds of harassment that won’t be tolerated in the workplace. A general code that discourages any kind of joking around regarding sexual orientation, religion, gender, race, disability, age, criminal history or marital status puts everyone on alert that little at the company will be tolerated. A code of ethics that calls for only the utmost respect for fellow employees can cover all the bases and prepare workers for a totally respectful atmosphere.
To Give Workers Options
A code that includes company policies of no tolerance for harassment of any kind also includes avenues for workers to report harassment when they see it. When employees know that they have permission to tell managers or owners when harassment occurs, they may be more likely to report incidences they see or experience. The code of ethics gives employees permission to watch out for each other. It can even demand that harassment of any kind be reported by witnesses.
To Create a Safe Environment
Employees feel safer when there is a written code of ethics that references harassment on the job and clearly states that it’s forbidden in the workplace. They don’t have to worry that a supervisor will ask for favors or that their performance will be judged by how well they accept the teasing of their coworkers. A safe environment allows everyone to be most productive. A clearly written code of ethics also removes any ambiguities some employees may harbor about what constitutes harassment.
To Build a Reputable Business
When employees treat each other with dignity and respect, that attitude reflects outward to the community and to customers. When honesty and acceptance are the overriding ethical practices within an organization, those principles are picked up on by clients who show their loyalty by sending referrals and continuing to do business with the company. A clear code of ethics prepares employees to act in the best interests of the company at all times – even when they think no one is looking.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."