Definition of Code of Conduct

by Scott Thompson; Updated September 26, 2017

A code of conduct is a set of written guidelines that spell out what constitutes professional and unprofessional behavior for employees of a company or members of a professional association. It should reflect the core values of the organization, ensuring that employees will act in service of those core values rather in contradiction of them.

A Code to Work By

A code of conduct or code of ethics is a decision making tool. In situations where the right course of action is not immediately clear, the code of conduct can help you figure out which option will reflect best on your organization, according to the Ethics and Compliance Initiative. By making decisions that create a positive public perception of your organization you can build trust with the public, reducing the risk of future problems, such as litigation.

If something does go wrong because of the unethical actions of an employee, a code of conduct can reduce the harm to the organization. For instance, the Department of Justice is less likely to press criminal charges against a company with a written ethical code according to an article by Chuck Williams, Dean of the College of Business at Butler University.

Elements of a Good Code

Your organization's code of ethics should reflect the specific circumstances of your profession, but there are some elements all codes of ethics have in common. Your code of conduct should discourage any unprofessional behavior. This includes any behavior that goes against the public interest, any behavior most people would consider immoral, any behavior that would reflect badly on the profession even if not everyone would consider it immoral and any behavior showing professional incompetence.

For example, if an accountant audits a company her husband has a financial interest in, she would be in violation of the code of ethics of the International Federation of Accountants. If an attorney fails to represent a client competently, he would be in violation of the first rule of the American Bar Association code of ethics.

Areas to Cover

Your code of conduct should include guidelines for both the external and internal practices of the organization. Internal practices include equal opportunity, diversity and sexual harassment policies, the organization's drug and alcohol policy and anything else that relates to how the organization deals with its own members or employees.

External practices include confidentiality of client information, marketing and advertising policies, conflict of interest issues, environmental policies and policies for communicating with the public.

Make sure you're up to date with all current regulations affecting your organization. When necessary, make prompt changes to your code of conduct to ensure that your members or employees remain in compliance with all regulatory changes.

About the Author

Scott Thompson has been writing professionally since 1990, beginning with the "Pequawket Valley News." He is the author of nine published books on topics such as history, martial arts, poetry and fantasy fiction. His work has also appeared in "Talebones" magazine and the "Strange Pleasures" anthology.