How to Write Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics

The culture of each company is different. The code of conduct and the code of ethics help explicitly define the ethical norms of an organization, and they guide employees towards understanding the standards and expectations for behavior.

Any business, from small online shops to large corporations, can benefit from publishing a code of conduct and ethics. These documents also aid in establishing the company’s commitment to ethical values.

Customers and partners are more likely to engage with businesses that share similar values. The publicized commitment also shows that the company has done its part towards ensuring high standards and professional conduct as a form of risk mitigation.

What is a code of conduct?

Code of conduct

A code of conduct is a set of organizational rules and standards regarding the company’s values, ethics, and beliefs that determine the conduct or action of the organization and its members. It also includes matters of legal compliance. The different rules set out in a code of conduct determine which practices are required or restricted.

As a rule, a company’s written or unwritten code of ethics directly influences the code of conduct. The code of conduct specifically sets out actual guidelines with more specific dos and don’ts of action. This document details what is expected of employees.

Common scenarios that a code of conduct may discuss include conflicts of interest, acceptance of gifts and bribery, use of confidential information, financial reporting and accounting conduct, and proper use of the company’s property.

Employees who want to be part of the company need to adhere to the business code of conduct. Failure to comply with the code repeatedly or intentionally will lead to an appropriate sanction. As such, a code of conduct also usually states the penalties for failure to comply.

What is a code of ethics?

Code of ethics

A code of ethics is a company policy statement or document designed to guide employees in decision-making. As a form of a value statement, it views ethics as a guide of principles that help professionals in the business conduct dealings honestly and with integrity.

Ethics is not just an intangible concept under corporate culture or an unwritten understanding among members of an organization.

The ethical principles embodied within the code are based on the organization’s core values, mission, and vision, as well as any standards imposed on a related professional field, such as medical ethics or legal ethics.

A code of ethics will reflect all of these principles and a general guide of how members should approach problems. Thus, most codes of ethics are also disclosed publicly so that interested parties can know how the company does its business.

The general guide usually touches on common ethical concerns, such as employer-employee relations, environmental issues, social responsibility, and discrimination. The code will outline the responsibilities and obligations that members have to the organization and its stakeholders for these different concerns.

A code of ethics may be largely compliance-based, with guidelines explicitly set out along with penalties for violation of ethical principles. Large companies usually have a compliance officer who checks for ethical misconduct.

A value-based code of ethics is more interested in employees self-regulating themselves to follow the standards of responsible conduct.

Employees are supposed to be guided by this code when they make crucial decisions. Intentionally or repeatedly breaking the code of ethics can result in dismissal or termination.

What are the similarities?

Both the code of conduct and the code of ethics are formal documents that organizations create to encourage certain behavior from their employees. They need to be accepted before a member can join the organization.

Both outline the standards in which members must adhere to remain part of the organization, including specific scenarios or forms of behavior. The level of accountability is reflected in the sanctions for failure to comply with either code.

Both statements are also more effective when top-level management leads by example.

What are the differences?

The code of conduct and ethics differ in terms of purpose, focus, scope, and content.

The code of ethics is an aspirational document designed to influence individual decision-making and the thought process of the employees. On the other hand, the code of conduct are guidelines which are meant to influence the employee’s actions.

The code of ethics contains a company’s core ethical values, principles, and ideals, which serve as the foundation for the code of business conduct. The business provides more specific practices and behavior covering many scenarios, and therefore, it has a narrower scope and longer length.

Finally, the code of ethics is typically published online for the benefit of customers and shareholders, while the code of business conduct is a more internal agreement.

What to include in your code of conduct and code of ethics?

What to include in the code of ethics and code of conduct

Both codes can be in separate forms or combined into one document that blends ethical principles into professional action. The business conduct and the code of ethics contain policies and guidelines which are specific to the company.

However, there are several universal elements.

Clear introduction

The rationale behind the document must be written in clear and inspirational tones to motivate employees towards benefitting the organization. The introduction is sometimes a statement by a high-level executive showing personal commitment and support for the code of ethics and business conduct.

Statement of values

The statement of values, either within the introduction or as a separate section, outline the company’s purpose and values. It helps frame the code of ethics and business conduct following a bigger picture.

It may also include practical financial objectives and social and organizational goals that require good ethical practices and business conduct.

Employees are more likely to adhere to higher ethical values and conduct rules if they have an understanding of the company’s overall goal.

Specific laws

Certain companies or organizations may be dealing in a profession governed by a particular law, such as those encoding accounting rules or medical ethics. Commitment to government standards and licensing requirements may also be reinforced here.

Specific rules of conduct

Specific rules of conduct may be divided into separate sections, as discussed later. The focus of the specific rules depends on the interests of your employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers, and even wider society.

Diversity rules

One of the more important guidelines to include in your code of ethics and business conduct are rules on diversity. All types of businesses must strive to create an inclusive environment free from discrimination.

Employee and consumer privacy

Employees must feel comfortable in their place of work, so a commitment to employee privacy is one way to show employees that the code of ethics and business conduct is also for them. Stating principles related to consumer privacy helps build confidence in the company.

Environmental policies

Environmental policies may include adherence to regulations and industry best practices.

Labor and fair hiring

The code of conduct is an agreement between members of the organization. As such, it also outlines the professional and respectful treatment of employees to employees and managers to employees.

Security and safety

Companies are required to create and contribute to a safe working environment. Businesses may write explicit dos and don’ts to address specific issues.

Implementation of the code

The code should detail what will be done to ensure implementation. It includes administrative activities in reporting possible violations, the process for establishing facts, and issuance of warnings. Consequences such as the issuance of warnings, counseling or reeducation, suspension, litigation, and dismissal should be discussed.

Code of conduct and code of ethics examples

Publishing a code of ethics and business conduct is a way of underlining the company’s commitment to ethical behavior. As smaller businesses grow, ethical hazards and risks will increase, solidifying the need for a clear code for employees to follow.

Many well-known companies have their own code of ethics published for the interest of the general public.

Here are excerpts from the code of ethics and business conduct from well-known websites.

Google's code of conduct

Google's code of conduct
The Google Code of Conduct is one of the ways we put Google’s values into practice. It’s built around the recognition that everything we do in connection with our work at Google will be, and should be, measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct. We set the bar that high for practical as well as aspirational reasons: Our commitment to the highest standards helps us hire great people, build great products, and attract loyal users. Respect for our users, for the opportunity, and for each other are foundational to our success and are something we need to support every day.

Amazon's code of business conduct and ethics

Amazon's code of business conduct and ethics
In performing their job duties, Amazon.com employees should always act lawfully, ethically, and in the best interests of Amazon.com. This Code of Business Conduct and Ethics (the "Code of Conduct") sets out basic guiding principles. Employees who are unsure whether their conduct or the conduct of their coworkers complies with the Code of Conduct should contact their manager or the Legal Department. Employees may also report any suspected noncompliance as provided in the Legal Department's reporting guidelines referred to in paragraph IX below.

Twitter's developers' code of conduct

Twitter's developers' code of conduct
We believe the Twitter Developer Community should maintain a positive and inclusive experience for everyone. Twitter is committed to providing a friendly, safe, and welcoming environment for all participants and expects everyone to treat each other with respect and courtesy. The following Code of Conduct outlines our expectations for participant behavior as well as the consequences for unacceptable behavior. We require that all participants abide by this Code within the Community and any community-related events.

Facebook's code of conduct

Facebook's code of conduct
Employees of Facebook, Inc., or any of its affiliates or subsidiaries (“Facebook”), and others performing work for Facebook or on its behalf, collectively referred to in this code as “Facebook Personnel”, are expected to act lawfully, honestly, ethically, and in the best interests of the company while performing duties on behalf of Facebook. This code provides some guidelines for business conduct required of Facebook Personnel. Persons who are unsure whether their conduct or the conduct of other Facebook Personnel complies with this code should contact their manager, another Facebook manager, Human Resources, or the Legal Department. This code applies to all Facebook Personnel, including members of the Board of Directors (in connection with their work for Facebook), officers, and employees of Facebook, Inc. and its corporate affiliates, as well as contingent workers (e.g., agency workers, contractors and consultants) and others working on Facebook’s behalf. This code is subject to change and may be amended, supplemented, or superseded by one or more separate policies. If any part of this code conflicts with local laws or regulations, only the sections of this code permitted by applicable laws and regulations will apply. Any policies that are specifically applicable to your jurisdiction will take precedence to the extent they conflict with this code.

Spotify's code of conduct and ethics

Spotify's code of conduct and ethics
Being a member of the Spotify band comes with many good things and responsibility is one of them. Our culture, our reputation and the vibe of our work environment are made up of how each and every one of us acts, talks and behaves, every day. So we all answer to the other band members, our stakeholders, artists, Spotify users, and the general public. This is our Code of Conduct and Ethics (the “Code”), it is based on our policies and our values (innovative, collaborative, sincere, passionate, playful). Mostly, it describes our three main rules and how to make sure we live up to them: (1) Do the right thing. Always act with honesty, integrity, and reliability. Keep moral and ethical standards sky-high. (2) Be nice. Treat people with dignity and respect, regardless of who they are and where they came from. Stay decent and courteous in all relationships. (3) Play fair. Don’t cheat. Be careful to balance the interests of all groups (stakeholders, artists, users, employees and the general public) when you go about our business.

Sample free code of conduct and ethics template

This generic code of conduct and ethics template will help you see how everything we talked about so far comes together to form a legal agreement. Keep in mind that this is just an example and you should tweak it to your own needs and practices.

Genetic code of conduct and ethics template

Our employee code of ethics and business conduct outlines our expectations regarding the behavior of our employees towards other members, customers, stakeholders, and society.

Our company stands for the core values of synergy, honesty, and integrity. As such, we expect all organization members to be directed by the same values in their judgment and behavior.

Open communication and expression should be guided by the desire for a respectful, safe, and collaborative working environment.

Scope

This policy applies to all organizational members regardless of rank or employment type.

Compliance with law

Employees must work to protect the company and its legal interests by complying with all environmental, trading, safety, and privacy laws.

Safety in the working environment

All employees should respect their colleagues, supervisors, and customers. Any discriminatory behavior or harassment will not be tolerated.

Professionalism

Employees must show integrity and professionalism in every aspect of conduct, including matters involving absenteeism, tardiness, and dress code compliance. Personal appearance should project the company’s commitment to professionalism.

Integrity

All employees should fulfill their work with integrity and respect toward our stakeholders. Members are discouraged from accepting gifts from clients, or partners for the benefit of another party. We are all expected to avoid any personal, financial or other interests that may interfere with the quality of work.

Care for the physical environment

Employees should treat company property and their physical environment with respect and care.

Disciplinary Actions

Employees who repeatedly or deliberately fail to follow our code of conduct will meet an appropriate disciplinary action.

Following a clear warning, employees who persistently show indecorous behavior may face demotion, reprimand, detraction of benefits, suspension, or termination.

Legal actions may be taken in cases of theft, embezzlement, corruption, and other unlawful actions.

Download PDF Download DOCX

Use our professional legal policy generators to create attorney-drafted documents tailored specifically for your business and website and how you operate them.

Conclusion

The business conduct and the code of ethics guide employees in their decision-making and actions. While the two codes differ in the scope and focus, they both help the company in establishing and promoting certain behaviors in line with their organizational culture, ethical principles, and professional standards.