What are the general types of ethical statements your organization could develop, along with their relative strengths and weaknesses? And how do you go about developing such a statement and implementing it day to day?
There are four general types of ethical statements: a Code of Ethics, a Code of Conduct, a Conflict of Interest Agreement, and a Statement of Values. Each is intended to serve the general public by guiding the behavior, methods and manners of communications of those subject to the ethical statements in their long-term and day-to-day activities.
Yet each is different in the time necessary to create them, the resources required for compliance, and the degree of involvement of individuals in the creation of the ethical statement.
A Code of Ethics is the most comprehensive and difficult to generate and maintain. Most codes contain at least “Canons” and “Rules of Conduct.”
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Canons are general standards. They are lofty, altruistic and indicate inspirational goals for the individuals subject to the code. They serve as principles and the basis for the Rules of Conduct.
Rules specify the minimum level of conduct required. Disciplinary action may result from a rule violation. In some cases, intermediate statements are included in codes. These may be called “Guidelines” and fall below canons and above rules in offering specific guidance to professionals subject to the code.
Canons and related rules are difficult and time consuming to develop. After each iteration during their creation, they are subject to review and revision by those who will be subject to them.
Further, because rule violations dictate punishments, methods of reporting of violations, punishment standards and a structure of due process must be created. These activities require an increased commitment of manpower.
Once codes are in place, further time and effort is required for their enforcement and for offering specific guidance. For example, The American Institute for Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters, in addition to canons and rules, provides guidelines, advisory opinions and summaries of previous opinions.
Codes of Ethics are generally impractical for all but professional societies and the largest organizations. Most organizations cannot afford the manpower and monetary resources required to develop and enforce a code.
A Code of Conduct is a second type of ethical statement. The code could be written as general principles, and hence be aspirational. At the other extreme, a Code of Conduct could be statements of acceptable, unacceptable or both types of behavior, and hence, more like legislative or regulatory sets of rules.
Codes of Conduct are easier to write given that there tend to be fewer arguments about pure aspirations for good actions or about specific actions that are deemed either acceptable or unacceptable.
Codes of Conduct that tend toward a set of rules usually are reinforced with penalties for violations. In many cases, due process is either ignored or left to whatever due process is inherent in any human resources action.