Creating a Code of Conduct In A Small Business

By Mark Swartz


If everyone played nice at work, you wouldn’t need codes of conduct. But sometimes people behave badly.

Fudging numbers or bullying, dissing diversity or taking bribes…behaviours like these happen. Do you have policies in place to cover such contingencies?

They should be part of your company’s employee handbook. Including them helps reduce unacceptable activities. It also promotes a more ethical workplace.


Why Bother With A Code Of Conduct?

Misguided employees harm operations. Small businesses are especially vulnerable. A serious incident can disrupt the entire firm.

Ideally laws and common sense would guide the actions of staff. For the most part they actually do. People understand that assaulting someone at work doesn’t give them immunity. And theft (if discovered) will usually be punished.

Yet things like racist remarks or unwanted sexual advances are not necessarily illegal. A conduct code clarifies what’s acceptable or not.


What Should It Address?

There are basic topics the majority of conduct codes cover. These may include the following:


  • Conflict of Interest

Looks at actual and perceived circumstances where someone’s duty to the employer could be (or appear to be) compromised.


  • Integrity and Business Ethics

This is where honesty, corruption, bribery and fraud are discussed. Upholding the law is a foundational principle. So is acting ethically in all work-related situations.


  • Respect and Harassment

In today’s diverse workplace, sensitivity to people’s differences matters. Issues involving discrimination and bias go here. Also sexual and physical harassment, safety, and political or religious activity.


  • Confidentiality

If there isn’t a separate confidentiality policy, it should appear here. Safeguarding intellectual property and insider information gets dealt with.


  • Protecting The Brand

Each employee serves as a brand ambassador for the company. They must know that this applies whether interacting with customers, making work-related posts on social media, or when speaking about the company outside of work.


Contravention Consequences

Another category explains what happens when the conduct code is breached. This section points out potential consequences.

These might range from reprimands and demotions to dismissal for cause. It can also include legal actions the employer might take in case of sabotage, theft of property, money or information, damage, etc.


Where to Get Questions Answered or Whistleblow

Employees may still have questions after reading the code. Provide a contact person or department that can answer in a timely manner. Also make available a list of Frequently Asked Questions.

From time to time an employee may need to report wrongdoing. Having a confidential whistleblowing outlet can encourage disclosure. An outside service may have to be used to ensure privacy. It can be referred to in the conduct guidelines.


Should The Employee Have To Sign?

From a legal standpoint, the employer is better protected if all staff sign a copy of the conduct code. It serves as proof that the code was read and understood.

Certain violations of the code may require punitive responses. Those measures would be harder to enforce if an employee claims they weren’t aware of the firm’s behaviour standards.


Tips For Producing An Effective Code

Employee conduct reaches into many realms. Limiting the code to primary concerns makes it possible to provide usable details concisely.

The company’s values should lie at the core of this document. If fairness, transparency and environmentalism are part of the mission statement, these can be reflected throughout.

An employer spends enormous time and money building a reputation. This standing attracts new hires, investors and customers. Guidelines that govern staff behaviour – and proper enforcement thereof – can improve workplace ethics and reduce risk.