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What is an Employee Code of Conduct, and Why is it Important?

5 March 2024

Similar to a playbook belonging to a sports team, an employee code of conduct policy sits within your wider employee handbook and outlines expectations placed on workers to ensure that they are collectively contributing towards a common goal. Whereas that sports team’s goal might be to win the match, the ones belonging to your organisation are more likely to relate to nurturing a positive working environment and maximising overall productivity.

Within the policy document, you will find guidance relating to several human resources topics such as social media usage, health and safety, and what to do when a conflict of interest arises. It is also a good idea to include more conceptual, broader things like your organisation’s values and mission statement.

Having clearly outlined those expectations and goals, an employee code of conduct policy can also assist you if an employee fails to meet their responsibilities by highlighting disciplinary measures that could be taken.

While most organisations have an employee code of conduct, many fail to see its value and underestimate its role as a cornerstone document. In this blog post, we hope to convey the importance of creating one and specify what should be included in it.

First, however, it is necessary to establish a solid definition for an employee code of conduct in the UK.

What is an employee code of conduct?

In its most basic form, an employee code of conduct policy serves as a comprehensive guide that outlines behavioural expectations in the workplace. It is a framework often part of an employee handbook that defines what is acceptable and what is not, ensuring that employees adhere to the organisation’s core values in compliance with UK law.

Why is an employee code of conduct important?

An employee code of conduct is considered a cornerstone document by HR teams for two main reasons. First and foremost, it ensures that your organisation complies with regulatory standards, safeguarding against any potential legal action as a result of employee misconduct. 

Secondly, it serves as a beacon for fostering a workplace culture built on respect, integrity, and professionalism. When employees understand and embrace these values, they can contribute towards a harmonious environment, boosting morale, job satisfaction, and overall engagement.

In short, the document benefits your employees by equipping them with the knowledge and expectations necessary to do their job, your workplace, which will feel like a compliant collective rather than a group of disparate individuals, and your organisation as a whole because clearly defined expectations and published goals can increase engagement and output significantly.

Is an employee code of conduct legally binding?

On its own, no, but an employee code of conduct policy becomes legally binding once it is tied to a written contract. For example, if the contract states “I agree to the terms set out in the company’s employee code of conduct policy. Breach of these terms may lead to appropriate disciplinary action being taken”, then it is explicitly incorporated into the employment contract.

In the above instance, it would be sensible for you, the employer, to ask your employee to sign both the contract and the employee code of conduct. This confirms their understanding of that particular document, necessary if you change your code of conduct policy in the future.

Like with most things that relate to employment law, it is recommended that you seek qualified advice from experienced legal specialists.

What should be included in an employee code of conduct?

While the specific content and its wording will vary from one organisation to another, below you will find some suggested inclusions for your employee code of conduct policy document:

Your organisation’s values and mission statement

The employee code of conduct is a reflection of your company’s ethos. Rather than being exclusively a list of dos and don’ts, it is an opportunity to introduce the employee to your core values and overall mission. Doing so can significantly boost engagement which, according to Forbes, boosts profitability by as much as 21%.

Confidentiality

Whether it’s because of competition or the handling of sensitive information, most companies require strict confidentiality. While the adherence to professional secrecy comes as second nature to many of us, it would be worth reminding your employees within your employee code of conduct policy that they shouldn’t speak about private work topics outside of the office.

Health and safety

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides an important framework outlining the obligation to provide employees with a safe working environment. The ultimate responsibility to do so rests on your shoulders, but your employees all have a part to play too. 

The employee code of conduct should stress the importance of adhering to safety protocols, reporting hazards, participating in safety training, and following emergency procedures. Should an accident occur and legal action be taken, the document can show that an employee was aware of their health and safety responsibilities, potentially protecting your organisation should the need arise.

Social media policy

In today’s digital age, maintaining a respectful and responsible online presence is vital. After all, your employees – and their activities on social media – are an extension of your brand; any abusive or discriminatory behaviour they engage in will be a reflection of their employer. Your employee code of conduct might emphasise that point, also stressing that social media usage should only occur on breaks or outside of business hours.

Equal opportunity and non-discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 is one of the most important pieces of legislation published by the government concerning equal opportunity and non-discrimination. It highlights several characteristics that are considered to be protected against discrimination – age, race, sex gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, disability, religion or belief, and sexual orientation – and outlines the importance of being an equal opportunities employer. Your employee code of conduct document should explicitly reference and reinforce the principles outlined in the act and explain to the employee that they have a duty to do the same.

Few employment documents are more important than an employee code of conduct. It outlines your organisation’s expectations, values and mission to promote a sense of togetherness in the workplace. In calm waters, it provides a compass with which to navigate daily business activities; when seas get rough, it can protect against potentially damaging legal action.

If your organisation doesn’t have an employee code of conduct in place, our specialists can help you to draft one.

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