Human resource policies and procedures affect employees' jobs and their future employment potential. HR managers, which in the case of a small business can mean the business owner, must continually balance the need to ensure the business meets it objectives but also ensure that the business follows and maintains ethical employment practices and standards. Among these is a key concept relating to an employee’s right to justice and fair treatment.

The Ethics of Behavior

Ethics are the moral principles that govern business behavior. It’s critical for HR personnel to understand that compliance with federal and state employment regulations doesn’t necessarily mean the business is practicing ethical behaviors. One problem is that while laws and regulations create definite standards of behavior, the concept of ethics is more subjective and perceptions about what constitutes ethical behavior often differs between individuals. To build an ethical behavior framework, HR employment practices must not only adhere to legal guidelines but also model and adhere to the business’s core values.

HR Ethical Issues

The lack of or a loosely enforced small-business ethics policy often leads to business owners continually struggling with a multitude of common fair-treatment issues. These include -- but aren’t limited to -- favoritism in hiring practices, employee training and promotion, and inconsistent disciplinary measures, which may lead to increased instances of workplace harassment. Other issues include a lack of confidentiality surrounding an employee’s personal and performance information, wage discrimination and basing annual reviews on factors unrelated to an employee’s role.

Trust and Mutual Respect

HR can foster an environment where justice and fair treatment is the norm by creating and living up to an expectation of trust and mutual respect. Trust is fostered when information-sharing is accurate, timely and complete, and when clear, specific and measurable goals are set for the business and its employees, and employees at all levels are encouraged to share their ideas and concerns. Mutual respect develops when dignity is a behavioral standard, when the business owner and management team encourage initiative and creativity, and when diversity isn’t simply tolerated but appreciated and promoted.

Maintaining an Ethical Environment

HR has the power to influence the company culture. It often takes more, however, than creating and adhering to a company ethics policy. Ongoing and open communication is essential to maintaining an environment that promotes ethical behaviors such as justice and fair treatment. After setting ethical behavioral expectations, a next step is the establishment of a communication platform, such as an open-door policy and focus group meetings, that ensures a forum for discussing ethical issues exists.