What Are the Roles of Ethics Committees?

by Linda Ray ; Updated September 26, 2017
Office workers in a meeting

A variety of organizations create ethics committees to oversee compliance with the rules of conduct, standards and policies that guide the company. Committees typically are made up of executives from various departments and an outside third-party consultant who chairs the committee. An ethics committee can serve a number of roles consisting of a range of responsibilities, but most follow a basic premise.

Conflict Resolution All the Way Around

Members of an ethics committee often get involved in setting up the initial guidelines and policies for behavior within an organization. The impetus for new or revised rules may start with a conflict. The problems may arise from conflicts between management and front-line staff or between customers and the company. The ethics committee then creates guidelines for various circumstances and may step in as the arbiter of conflicts and find solutions that then can be integrated into company policies.

Oversee Compliance to Company Standards

Businesses thrive in an atmosphere of accountability. When each department, manager and employee works with the best interests of the company in mind, success is more likely. Standards for patient care in a hospital, for example, are set for customer service to increase referrals. The ethics committee oversees the results of customer service efforts to ensure employees follow the parameters of the process in how they treat patients. Manufacturers may rely on an ethics committee to oversee government or trade compliance issues to ensure the company’s profitability.

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Conduct Reviews and Deliver Discipline

It’s often left to the ethics committee members to dole out discipline when an employee violates company ethics rules. At the very least, it’s the ethics committee that oversees disciplinary actions taken by managers to ensure they are distributed equally and fairly. Ethics committee members review disciplinary actions and make recommendations to managers about how to effectively handle employee problems. They also ensure managers comply with all legal requirements when enforcing company policies.

Review Company Ethics Policies and Recommend Changes

While the ethics committee may create the initial set of rules and regulations to govern company ethics, it also reviews those policies on a regular basis and refines them when necessary. The committee may get input from employees through surveys, employee hotlines and questionnaires. The member use situations and circumstances to create learning experiences from which they can determine other appropriate actions. Finally, their role is to effectively communicate company ethics policies to the entire company.

About the Author

Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."

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