Dealing with conduct is part and parcel of managing a workforce. Whether you own a small business or a large one, conduct issues will more than likely arise. This means you need to ensure you know how to deal with them effectively.
In this guide, we will cover what employee conduct is, how you can manage it and how to put together a code of conduct that will establish your company values and culture.
If you need immediate support or advice, get in touch with our human resources experts on 0800 470 2014.
What is employee conduct
Employee conduct is the way that your employees act and conduct themselves while they are at work.
It is important to document your expectations for employee conduct and share this with staff. This will help to reinforce the standards that are expected from your employees and it also helps to create a better company culture.
How to manage employee conduct
The following action steps can help employers manage conduct issues for the company employees that are working both remotely and in the office:
- Act quickly to establish the facts.
- Carry out a thorough investigation.
- Follow a fair disciplinary and/or grievance procedure if necessary.
- Seek advice for legal clarity.
- Decide on the appropriate consequence for the employee’s actions.
You can help to manage your employee conduct by putting together an employee code of conduct. This document will outline to staff what is expected of them, and what will happen if they don't follow the code. We'll show you how to do this later on.
Where remote working is concerned, employees who are working from home should be treated the same as those who are in the office. This includes matters of conduct. The way conduct is handled with a remote worker will be similar to how it is handled with employees in the office. However, it can be difficult to police misconduct amongst remote workers. This makes figuring out how to deal with these issues equally as challenging.
The easiest way to manage misconduct in this situation will be to put extra methods in place to make sure there is no misconduct. For example, hold regular catch-up sessions with remote employees and encourage self-appraisals.
Levels of misconduct, either reported or observed, start at unsatisfactory or minor misconduct. This can include poor performance of a task or poor timekeeping. Not all instances of misconduct should be managed with a heavy hand. Keep in mind that not all employees can successfully work from home without it impacting their mental health. It is crucial, therefore, that employers first talk to employees suspected of misconduct. You should use this opportunity to gather information about why their behaviour may have changed. It may be that they require emotional support. You can provide this through an employee assistance programme or adjustment to their work schedule.
At times, there can be cases of gross misconduct. This is an action that is so serious it serves to damage the trust and confidence of the employment relationship. Gross misconduct can result in a dismissal for a first offence. Although, a proper disciplinary procedure should be followed in all cases.
Gross misconduct whilst a person is working from home can consist of a few things. Harassment via a messaging platform, such as Teams, may fall into this category. Putting a client’s personal information at risk by not following company data protection rules may also be gross misconduct.
When employees are working in the office, it may be easier for conduct issues or behavioural changes to be detected. Misconduct, and gross misconduct, in the office, can sometimes take the same form as that which can be practised by employees at home. However, homeworking brings up types of misconduct that office working would not. For example, an employee might not work because they are busy watching their favourite show on the television.
What is a code of conduct?
A code of conduct is a set of internal guidelines that employees must follow while they work for you. It outlines your corporate values and commitments as a company. More specifically, it sets the standards and expectations for employee behaviour and allows you to tailor your company culture.
Don’t confuse a code of conduct with a code of ethics. While the two are very similar, and often used in tandem, a code of ethics helps staff members make the right choice when facing ethical dilemmas when conducting their work.
Why is a code of conduct important
There isn’t just one reason why a code of conduct is important. The benefits are numerous.
It provides a written fallback should you face a conduct issue. You set behaviour benchmarks in a code of conduct meaning when an employee falls short, you can hold them accountable.
Setting out expected behaviours from the outset means staff are more likely to follow the guidelines. If they’re posted after they’ve been with the business for a while, they’ll find it harder to adjust.
A code of conduct also provides an external statement to clients and prospective customers. This allows external parties to see what your company ethos is, and whether they want to work with/for you.
Overall, it makes working life easier for you, your employees, and your customers. Of course, your code of conduct should be well thought out and well-written. To ensure this, you can download our free code of conduct policy template at the bottom of the page or read the next couple of sections.
Code of Conduct rules
When you build an employee code of conduct, it should be specific to your organisation. That means no two codes of conduct look the same. However, to help you pick and choose which areas to cover, here are some code of conduct examples you can utilise.
One category of rules often used in a code of conduct is “integrity”. This refers to maintaining the reputation and dignity of the company. This is done by addressing topics related to:
- Impartiality, for example, “Employees must not allow themselves to be improperly influenced by others.”
- Conflicts of interest, for example, “When a conflict of interest arises, employees must declare it to all parties affected, and their immediate superior.”
- Fair competition, for example, “The organisation will not engage in price fixing, market sharing, or bid rigging.”
- Confidentiality & privacy, for example, “Employees must safeguard the privacy of the organisation’s customers and their confidential information.”
- Bribery & corruption, for example, “Employees must not accept or offer bribes or inducements.”
- Handling client money, for example, “Employees must return any money held in any of our customers’ accounts directly to the client as soon as reasonably practicable following a written request to do so.”
What is code of conduct competence? It refers to training, education, research, and learning. Staff will often pursue personal development—how they do this comes down to your policies. A code of conduct outlines how staff should conduct themselves while undertaking development and your organisation’s commitment to betterment. You can address competence through:
- Laws & regulation, for example, “Employees shall abide by applicable laws and regulations during training at all times.”
- Terms of appointment, for example, “All terms of appointment between an employee and a training provider must be clear, agreed, and recorded in writing before commencement.”
- Timekeeping, for example, “Employees are required to comply with the company’s rules relating to notification of absence.”
- Record keeping, for example, “Employees should maintain appropriate records of their development throughout their engagement.”
This refers to both internal relationships between colleagues, and external relationships with clients and the general public. It is also where you can outline any social initiatives your organisation supports. This can be done through:
- Copyright, for example, “Employees must not seek to pass off someone else’s work as their own.”
- Peers, for example, “Employees must not seek to damage anyone’s reputation or practice.”
- Modern slavery, for example, “Employees shall report abusive labour practices to proper and recognised authorities when they become aware of them in connection with work undertaken or supply chains.”
- Equality, diversity, and inclusion, for example, “Staff shall not discriminate unlawfully on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, culture or socio-economic background.”
- Whistleblowing, for example, “Employees should report dangerous situations and suspected wrongdoing to an appropriate person or organisation as soon as possible.”
Aside from the clauses highlighted above, you may wish to address other areas, such as company property, insider trading, personal searches, work uniform, smoking breaks, working environment, and so on. It depends entirely on your company’s purpose for creating a code of conduct. Take some time to think about the rules and principles you want to enforce.
While you may wish to have individual policies on each area of concern, it can be helpful to touch upon them in your code of conduct.
What are my company values and principles?
Before you write a code of conduct, you need to identify your core values. Every business is different, so each employer will have their own set of values. If you aren’t sure what yours are, we have a few tips for how to find out.
Start by asking yourself the question:
“Why did I start the business?”
If you didn’t start the business, then you can ask the question:
“What is my company’s purpose?”
This is a crucial first step to building your code of conduct. Once you’ve nailed down the answer, you can move on to other questions, such as:
- What are the goals you and your teams strive to achieve?
- How do you like to reward your staff?
- Which causes are important to you and your employees?
- Does your business have an existing mission statement?
- What do you want your company’s reputation to be?
Take some inspiration from the companies that you admire—look at their business practices. Do they have a public code of conduct you could reference? What does good practice mean to them, their employees, and their customers?
Can you condense your core values down to single-word examples? For example:
These aren’t meant to serve as a code of conduct themselves but inform the rules and values you will prioritise when building your company’s code.
Finally, make sure the core values of your business aren’t rigid as your business develops. As your organisation grows, some values may no longer make sense. Conduct regular reviews of your shared values and codes to ensure they still protect staff and reflect your company’s mission statement.
If you are building a new business from scratch, it’s a good idea to have business practise planned in advance. If you are looking to refresh existing practices, then you need to identify what those practises are and how they can be improved.
Some important details to consider when assessing rules are:
- Does the practice help us achieve our company goals?
- Does the practice promote communication amongst your team?
- Does the practice impede productivity?
- Does the practice have the potential to be discriminatory?
- Is the practice overly restrictive?
Your practices should achieve several aims. They should protect your employees and company assets. They should create a positive business culture. They should provide guidance on good practice, so employees are set up for success.
This next section explains how you should approach creating your code.
How to write a code of conduct?
First, some general tips. Your code of conduct reflects your organisation and its daily operations. This means it needs to be written clearly and effectively communicate your company goals. To make sure you achieve this, you should:
- Make the content digestible. Remove any unnecessary jargon and provide explanations for any technical wording which can’t be removed.
- Make it comprehensive. Your code should cover all possible areas and pre-empt common questions that employees may raise.
- Make it accessible. Provide a copy to all staff on their first day of employment. Keep a digital version in a central folder or on the company intranet.
- Get senior leadership’s stamp of approval. Include a foreword from the owner or CEO.
With these tips in mind, the first thing you should do is make a list of all of the areas you want to cover. This could include any of the following:
- Company standards
- Company practice
- Attendance & timekeeping
- Standards & conduct
- Gifts & hospitality
- Drugs & alcohol
- Flexible working
- Conflicts of interest
- Work clothing
- Health & safety practices
- Company property
- Use of company equipment
- Personal searches
- Personal property
- Workspace environment
- Changes in personal details
- Gross misconduct
There are more, but this covers the most common code of conduct areas.
Once you have your list, decide how you want to separate these out. You could follow a format similar to that already highlighted, through integrity, competence, and relationships. Or you could choose an approach more suited to your workplace.
However you decide to split your sections, you can begin to outline the rules and responsibilities for each. We would recommend using a standardised approach—applying clauses that are applicable to all workplaces first. Once you’ve established this basis, you can move on to clauses specific to your industry and organisation.
For support with this, you can download a free code of conduct pdf below.
Enforcement and reporting concerns
Of course, having a code of conduct is just the first step. You need to enforce positive business practices to ensure your company’s expectations are met. Let’s start with enforcement…
Enforcement of company policies
Firstly, your code of conduct should act in tandem with other procedures and policies. For example, your disciplinary process should mention how breaches to your code of conduct will be handled. If your code covers data protection, then it will help to back this up with a data protection policy.
Detail all parties involved and emphasise their role in the process. We’ll go into this in more detail later, but an example of this is who to report concerns to. When should an issue be taken to a line manager, and when should it move higher up the chain of command? A threat to a company’s intellectual property or data is more likely to need input from senior management than a minor conduct issue.
Once you’ve reviewed your documentation and additional resources, making sure effective safeguards are in place, you need to ensure day-to-day enforcement of these rules. It is not enough to rely on self regulation amongst staff during their daily lives. Make sure your managers are aware of your code of conduct and can take appropriate action to deal with issues effectively when they occur. It’s also important that senior management abide by the guiding behaviours in your code. This will set expectations for junior staff to follow their example and act accordingly. It will also help to foster a positive work environment. If senior management fail to do this, others will feel they can act how they want. This could result in serious issues, such as data protection breaches, workplace conflicts, and losing public trust.
Of course, even the best enforcement measures won’t be able to stop every instance of code breaches. This is where effective reporting is important.
How to report breaches of code
To effectively manage this, you can include a process dealing with the reporting of breaches in the code of conduct itself. It may be useful to highlight potential situations where a breach could occur, and how it should be reported. A data protection issue might require a different approach than a whistleblower making claims about product safety, for example.
First, highlight who the employee should go to with their concerns. If you need testimony in writing, explain which details you need from them and why. Always provide more than one point of contact, in case the concerns relate to the person they need to report to. Once concerns have been raised, it is important that you act on them quickly. You can outline a time frame to deliver results which will prevent the employee from chasing for answers. However, if you do give a time frame, you must respect it as staff will expect you to deliver.
When you are dealing with an issue of this nature, compliance is key. Make sure to investigate claims, and allow the employee a chance to speak in their own defence. Failure to do so could result in claims of discrimination, unfair treatment, or even unfair dismissal.
Code of conduct template
Misconduct at work is an unfortunate reality when employing people—but managing it doesn’t have to be a drain on time, resources, and productivity.
Establishing a code of conduct for employees can be a challenge. Each workplace is different, and what’s acceptable in one environment may be completely inappropriate in another.
Outline how you expect staff members to act, including the behaviour and standards that are fundamental to their employment. Managing difficult employees and disruptive behaviours is the objective, after all.
However, a company code of conduct for employees shouldn’t just be a set of limitations. Got a company mission or goal? Include it. What’ll make your code great is the inclusion of your company’s vision and culture. Make sure it’s free of jargon, accessible, and visually appealing.
If done correctly, you’ll start to see the effect positive employee behaviour and attitude within an organisation can have.
But remember that a code of conduct is just the beginning. To ensure it has a lasting, positive impact you need to enforce it and review it.
Speak to an Expert
If you’re having trouble drafting yours, download a free code of conduct template by clicking the link below. If you need further support and advice, you can speak to one of our advisors today by calling 0800 470 2014.
Disclaimer: This template is provided ‘as is’ and Croner Group Ltd excludes all representations, warranties, obligations and liabilities in relation to the template to the maximum extent permitted by law.
Croner Group Ltd is not liable for any errors or omissions in the template and shall not be liable for any loss, injury or damage of any kind caused by its use. Use of the template is entirely at the risk of the User and should you wish to do so then independent legal advice should be sought before use.
Use of the template will be deemed to constitute acceptance of the above terms.
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