Written by Marilyn Brown, SPHR, Senior HR Consultant

    Earlier this month, Christain Wulff, President of Germany, resigned his position due to unethicalBusiness Code of Conduct & Ethics decisions he made.  In my opinion, the position of President is more of a figurehead, however; one of the main purposes of the role is to be the moral compass for the nation.  Knowing his duties for the nation, Wulff, was still unable to keep his ethics in check.

    Reporting Unethical Behavior by Superiors Results in Retaliation

    According to the Ethics Resource Center (ERC), a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization which tracks ethical behavior; there will be extreme and substantial shifts in ethical behavior in US companies in 2012.  Employees are reporting their perceptions of their leaders are declining and that they are receiving more pressure to compromise on ethical standards.  Unfortunately they are also reporting that those who are reporting the unethical behaviors are experiencing retaliation.

    The most common form of retaliation being reported is that the employees were being excluded from decisions in work activity by a supervisor or management. This action pushes talented people to leave the company and deprives the business of key skills.

    How to Prevent Unethical Behavior in the Workplace

    Why should HR professionals be concerned?  As a business partner for your company you should be taking measures to prevent unethical behavior in the workplace.  This can be done by implementing a robust business ethics program including training of all employees on the expected behaviors in the workplace.  Additionally, reviewing the steps the employees can take if they witness unethical behaviors.  Sarbanes–Oxley Act has forced more employers to comply with a corporate code of ethics as well as disclosure requirements.  If your company is a government contractor, you must show that you have held trainings with your employees on ethics.  FosterThomas can assist with these trainings.

    The ERC publishes an annual report providing the status of ethics in the American workplace and compares the results from year to year. The report offers several recommendations for executives and boards of directors to boost ethical behavior and drive down risk:

    • Invest deeply in ethics and compliance programs, and make ethics a business priority. Organizations that do not have ethics and compliance programs should develop and implement them by adopting best practices.
    • Make ethical leadership a part of performance evaluations for managers at all levels. Such leadership is shaped significantly by the actions of executives and immediate supervisors.
    • Communicate your personal commitment to ethical conduct. Talk more about the importance of integrity, and integrate company values and standards in formal and informal communications.
    • Develop ways to strengthen your ethics culture using social networks. Engage employees in discussions about ethics issues.
    • Revisit your company’s non retaliation policy and practices. Make any needed improvements, and communicate them to employees at all levels.

    ERC concluded by stating that, “When business leaders invest in a well-implemented ethics program and take steps to build a strong ethics culture in their organizations, the payoff is substantial.”