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How Often You Should be Updating Your Code of Conduct

A good code of conduct is an important part of a company’s structure. It outlines how employees, managers, supervisors, and those in top positions should act, and helps hold everyone to a high standard. However, many companies rarely review their codes, if at all, and with the rise in new technologies, regulations, and public expectations, it is crucial that companies are ensuring their code of conduct best reflects their values.

Regular Reviews

How often a company should be updating their code of conduct relies on a few deciding factors. For instance, organizations working in the public sector may be required to update their codes more frequently than those working in the private sector. Another deciding factor is the industry in which the organization works, as well as current laws, internal policies, and company culture.

If an organization works in the public sector, for example in healthcare, education, or government, they should be reviewing their codes annually, and will probably be updating their codes just as often. This is due to the constant updating and changes in laws, regulations and internal policies regulating work in the public sector. 

For the private sector, it is recommended that an organization’s code of conduct is reviewed every one to two years, although it does not have to be updated at every review. If an organization finds that their code of conduct still accurately reflects their values and expectations, reflects current laws and regulations and that all employees are able to understand and uphold the code, then there is no need to update.

What Should be Included? 

Codes of conduct can vary in length and content depending on the size of the organization and the industry in which the organization operates. The code of conduct for a hospital for instance, will differ from the code of conduct for a shoe store. However, many rules still apply to all organizations. 

For instance, the code of conduct should outline the core guidelines, values, and expectations within the organization and how this translates to acceptable behaviours as exhibited by employees. Codes should also use the top company values as a theme that is followed throughout the document for ease of readability. 

A good code usually also includes the following: a letter from the senior leadership demonstrating how those in leadership and senior positions are committed to the code, as well as respectful behaviours, safety, lawful business practices, conduct for and with business partners, and protection of company interests.

Codes should encourage speaking up in good faith and should include multiple resources for employees to use should they have questions, concerns, or wish to report a violation. Resources should also take anonymity and confidentiality into account, and these two factors should be clearly outlined in the code in regard to how anonymity and confidentiality is handled in the case of an investigation. There should also be clarity that there will be no retaliation for good faith reporting, and that there will be consequences if retaliation happens.

Code of Ethics 

A code of ethics can be included within the code itself or can be provided as a separate document. A code of ethics usually reads like a worksheet or interactive guide, and includes real-life scenarios that employees may find themselves in. It asks the employee how they would respond in a certain situation, and then gives clear guidance on best practices.

This is important as it helps ensure that employees understand what they are reading and can apply it to the tasks that they will be completing for the organization.

Writing Tips

Language should be consistent, clear, and easy to follow. The code should be absent of legal terms or technical jargon and should also be available in multiple languages to account for all employees. The code should also be actionable, clearly stating how each provision should be demonstrated. 

Most people absorb information better when it is broken down into small chunks and has graphics or pictures to help communicate the message. In addition, it is important to ensure that all guidelines are updated to reflect the current culture of the company, and that outdated guidelines are updated or removed.

Lauren Schwartz | Staff Writer

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