Developing a Business Ethics Program

By March 6, 2020No Comments


P.T. Barnum, an American showman, is credited with the witticism that ‘all publicity is good publicity.  In the entertainment arena this may be true but in the business world being exposed as an unethical operator can be the death knell for an organization.

Creating and implementing an ethics program will not only enhance the reputation of the organization it will demonstrate to the firm’s employees an effort to create a successful company culture which values those employees. Developing an ethics program takes time and energy but it will have a positive impact on the bottom line.

The ethics program applies to every aspect of the organization and all the interactions within it and those with the customers and society. The company culture helps determine the ethics of the organization. It is crucial that businesses behave ethically in every working relationship.

Ethical Obligations:

Employees: Companies need to treat all of their employees ethically. Begin by providing employees with the rights guaranteed to them by the United States Department of Labor. Ethical businesses, however, may go beyond the minimum requirements in the way that they treat their employees.

Shareholders and investors: There are moral obligations to pay back investors and meet the needs of shareholders, particularly low level shareholders.

Customers: Every business needs to build ethical customer relationships by providing safe products and honoring warranties. Consumers are growing more aware of which companies treat them fairly, and they will support the ones they trust.

Community: Businesses have an ethical obligation to be involved in their local communities. This includes communities where they interact with customers and beyond.

Vendors and Other Companies: Always deal ethically with vendors and other organizations you work with.


Guidelines for Managing Ethics in the Workplace

Managing ethics in the workplace requires certain tools. Every organization needs a Code of Ethics, a Code of Conduct, and Policies and Procedures, which we will discuss later. These tools direct the organization as leaders attempt to manage ethics.

Guidelines for Implementing and Managing Ethics:

Give it time: Managing ethics is a process-oriented activity that requires time and constant assessment.

Focus on behavior: Do not give vague requirements; make sure that ethics management has an impact on behavior.

Avoid problems: Create clear codes and policies that will prevent ethical problems.

Be open: Involve different groups in ethics program and make decisions public.

Integrate ethics: Make sure that all management programs have ethical values.

Allow for mistakes: Teach employees how to behave ethically, and do not give up when mistakes happen.


Roles and Responsibilities


The roles and responsibilities necessary to effectively implement workplace ethics will vary with each organization. A manager should be in place to oversee the ethics program, but he or she will need the support provided by other positions. Smaller organizations may not need to fill all of the roles listed below; determine what your company needs before executing an ethics program.


CEO: The CEO of every company needs to support business ethics and lead by example.

Ethics committee: An ethics committee will develop and supervise the program.

Ethics management team: Senior managers implement the program and train employees.

Ethics executive: An ethics executive or officer is trained to resolve ethical problems.

Ombudsperson: This position requires interpreting and integrating values throughout the organization.


Types of Responsibilities

There are different types of responsibilities related to businesses. Ethical organizations need to cover different areas of responsibility and consider the social ramifications of their actions.

Legal: Socially responsible companies are obligated to meet legal requirements that govern their industries. Health and safety standards and fair treatment of employees fall under this type of responsibility.

Financial: Financial responsibility is more than turning a profit. Financial ethics cover everything from fair salaries to fair payments for raw materials and services as well as not price gouging customers.

Philanthropic: Many organizations are being recognized for their philanthropy. Philanthropy can come from donations, service, education, and environmental programs. Some companies consider the environment its own type of social responsibility.

If you want to learn more about developing an ethics program for your organization you can enroll in the course Business Ethics