Wednesday, March 23, 2022

The nuts and bolts of your company code of conduct

Yesterday I explained why your company needs a code of conduct separate from or adjunct to your already-existing anti-harassment policy. 

Today, I'm back to explain what it should contain, to whom it should apply, how violations are addressed, and how it should be disseminated.

What Should Your Code of Conduct Contain?

  • An introduction that sets forth the core values you are protecting.
  • An explanation of scope — to whom it applies (employees, contractors, customers, vendors, other third parties) and where (at work, away from work, on personal time, in-person, and during online conversations, text messages, and social media posts). Let me suggest that you not limit your code of conduct to employees only. Anyone who enters your premised and could interact with your employees should be subject to the same expectations and same set of rules.
  • A delineation of expected behaviors — think respect.
  • A delineation of unacceptable and prohibited behaviors — racism, sexism, and other -isms, harassment, bullying, physical violence, and other misconduct.
  • An explanation of how complaints should be made, and to whom.
  • An unequivocal promise of no retaliation.

How are violations addressed?
  • For employees, it depends on the severity of the offense. An employer has a legal obligation in cases of protected-class harassment to instill corrective action reasonably likely to stop the employee from engaging in future protected-class harassment, up through and including termination. For non-protected-class harassment or other code of conduct violations, the remedy should be no different.
  • For non-employee business partners (e.g., contractors and vendors), violations should constitute a material breach of their agreement with the company, which entitles the company to terminate the agreement. At a minimum, and whenever possible, the offending person(s) should be banned from the premises going forward.
  • For customers, again, depending on the severity of the offense, remedies could vary from a warning to removal to a permanent ban from the business.

How should it be disseminated?
  • For employees, it should be handed out as a stand-alone document and included in the employee handbook. If there is an intranet, it should live there as well.
  • For non-employee business partners, it should be a material clause of any agreement.
  • For customers, it should live on your website in addition to being posted somewhere prominent that they can see when they enter the premises.

A final word —Having a code of conduct is one thing. Living it in your culture is another. Unless you're prepared to act on it no matter the perpetrator, there's no point in drafting it in the first place.