At Workplace Law, we work with our clients to help them establish a set of workplace values and a Code of Conduct to set the standards expected from all employees.
Google’s much-publicised decision to dismiss an employee in America who wrote an internal memo to all staff criticising the tech company’s diversity policies has highlighted the necessity of a workplace Code of Conduct. The memo accused Google of silencing conservative political opinions and shared the employee’s own opinion on gender stereotypes.
In an official statement released to all staff, Google stated that the decision to terminate the employee was because the employee “violate[d] our Code of Conduct and cross[ed] the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes.”
From a workplace relations point of view, it encourages an interesting discourse on what a business’ Code of Conduct should be and what it should seek to regulate – does something like promoting equality have its place in a Code of Conduct?
What is the Code?
A Code of Conduct is essentially a document that establishes behavioural and ethical standards for employees in a particular workplace and confirms the business’ official position on a range of issues.
For example, a Code of Conduct might have policies on:
A Code of Conduct should also outline that breaches of the Code may result in disciplinary action.
Adding “value” to the Code
Some workplaces may even take this a step further and incorporate an expectation that employees will uphold the business’ values in their day to day work. And whilst this is a very well-intentioned prerogative, the problem that an employer might face – and certainly Google did face this – is that sometimes an employee’s personal values do not completely align with those of the business.
For that reason, a Code of Conduct should be well drafted to ensure that they unequivocally state the employer’s position and that employees will be expected to conduct themselves, whilst in the workplace, within an acceptable behavioural framework. The goals are not to silence an employee’s opinion but rather to ensure that all employee’s clearly understand what is expected of them in terms of their behaviour and conduct when presenting as a representative of the employer, that the workplace remains a safe environment for all employees and is free from prohibited behaviour and, that an employee’s unique personal opinions are not linked to the employer in any way.
These types of documents should be provided to, and discussed with, new and current employees to ensure that they are aware of the standards they are expected to meet in the workplace. If and when an employee breaches the Code, the employer is then in a much better position to handle the issue and minimise the possibility of the conduct or behaviour evolving into a much bigger problem.
Of course, as a business grows and develops, so will its policies, so there should also be a system in place that allows for a regular review and update to ensure policies are meeting the desired standards.
Aside from providing a regulatory structure for the workplace, a Code of Conduct also has a particular importance in establishing the culture of the workplace. The way this document is drafted and implemented by management is not only an indication to employees of the standards of the work environment, but it also speaks volumes to clients and the public about the way the business operates.
Shane Koelmeyer is a leading workplace relations lawyer and Director at Workplace Law. Workplace Law is a specialist law firm providing employers with legal advice, training and representation in all aspects of workplace relations, employment-related matters and WH&S.
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Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog. Where applicable, liability is limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.
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