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A Code of Ethics in the Workplace

Corporate Values Establish Ethical Obligations in the Workplace

What comprises a code of ethics in the workplace? This is an issue I have addressed before and want to revisit in light of recent questions raised about corporate ethics. It is critical for the success of the American capitalistic economic system to start focusing more on the ethical behavior of those at the top and pay less attention to managing earnings, increasing stock prices, and enhancing stock option packages. The Occupy movement started with this concept in mind but, unfortunately, it has morphed into a demand by the occupiers for economic equality and the redistribution of wealth. Perhaps if companies made decisions more ethically, the result would be a better balance of wealth between the top earners in our country and the middle class.

In order to develop an effective code of ethics in the workplace we must first identify potential ethical issues to be covered by such a code. Here is my list. I’ve restricted the list to the top ten ethical issues from the perspective of top management and employees in the workplace.

  • Misreporting the amount or number of hours worked.
  • Taking credit for the work of another person.
  • Stealing resources (i.e. cash, inventory) or falsifying financial statements.
  • Treating others unfairly including employees, customers, and suppliers.
  • Accepting gifts or other forms of payment that might cloud one’s objectivity in decision-making.
  • Getting too personal with any colleague or superior in a professional setup. Sexual harassment occurs when such actions create a “hostile work environment.”
  • Violating one’s confidentiality obligation to the organization by divulging sensitive information.
  • Using sensitive company information for personal gain including insider trading.
  • Misrepresentation of data, knowingly or unknowingly. It also involves failing to report such misrepresentation by other employees of the organization.
  • Failing to disclose all the information the public has a right to know. This would include product safety and financial information.

In developing a code of ethics my preference is to use a values-based approach. I have previously discussed what I call the six pillars of corporate character. Here they are:


  • Do not lie or deceive stakeholders in conducting business operations
  • Fully disclose all the information that stakeholders have a right to know


  • Act in a reliable manner by exercising diligence in business decision making
  • Be consistent and dependable in word and deed


  • Judge performance in the workplace in an unbiased manner
  • Act in accordance with established standards of behavior (i.e. code of conduct)


  • Keep promises and carry through decisions with ethical action
  • Act to prevent improper behavior or to stop it once it has been detected


  • Meet obligations to stakeholders
  • Accept the consequences of decisions and act to improve corporate behavior

Civic virtue

  • Follow the laws and customs of society
  • Act in a socially responsible manner

I believe these values cover virtually all activities and relationships that confront corporate America. They are aspirational statements that cry out for meaningful corporate commitment to save our free-market economic system. I hope this blog stimulates debate on the ethical obligations of corporate management at a time when our very economic system is under attack.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 19, 2011