What Do You Do When Unethical Workplace Behaviour Strikes?

Hint: Don't Run Screaming for the Hills!

Are you at work right now? Take a look around you. Go ahead. Your work environment is subject to many of the same ethical challenges that you face in society. Every day we encounter different types of people, and many different cultures and personalities, therefore, unethical behavior can arise from time to time.

It's how you address unethical workplace behaviour efficiently and promptly that matters. Employees want a work environment that is both a pleasant and comfortable place to work. Business owners and senior management probably want to avoid any concerns that could blow up and throw a wrench in the works, so should also ensure that they provide a system to manage issues.

Misconduct in smaller businesses is going to be considerably less serious compared to larger organizations - all things considered. However, when you put it into proportion, smaller businesses suffer considerably larger consequences from that misconduct than their bigger brothers and sisters.

Some examples of inappropriate behaviour of employees that could affect smaller business:

  • making long-distance calls on business lines
  • duplicating software for at home use
  • falsifying the number of hours worked
  • falsifying accounting records

These are just a few examples, and yes they can happen in a larger organization too, but they have more resources to combat the wrongdoing.

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Though there is often a fine line between behaviours that are unethical and activities that are illegal, in many industries it is up to the business itself to decide how it deals with specific cases, whether it is internally or by self-reporting to an oversight entity.

Unethical behaviour that is not illegal can fall into a grey area that may be undefined without internal codes of conduct. This can make it difficult to decide how to proceed when it is encountered. Often times, different people have varying opinions in regard to what is ethical or unethical. Therefore, it is critical to have a clearly defined code of ethics and a system through which employees can report any wrongdoing they see. In most cases, there's an employee who knows something wrong is happening, but won't report it unless they can do so anonymously.

With a clearly defined program in place, with equally clear instructions on employee expectations, there will be less hesitation in reporting issues, and those issues can be dealt with quickly and efficiently before they develop in to situations that can affect a company's reputation, brand or bottom line.

By having clearly defined expectations and having a whistleblower system in place, both the person committing the breach, and the witness to the activity will be well aware of the way that things will be managed internally. There will be no concerns as to any risk of someone not reporting the problem because they fear for their own well-being, or that they are afraid the offender will be unfairly treated. Confidential and anonymous communication is key in the proper management of any issue.

[tweetthis status="Tips are the best method to detect and deter fraud %23whistleblower" align="right"]Tips are consistently and by far the most common detection method! - ACFE Report to the Nations 2014[/tweetthis]

In order to effectively implement an internal code of conduct, there are several techniques that allow for the management of these expected processes.

The first step is to create a company policy, in writing, that is read and signed by each employee. This lessens any feelings of ambiguity when it comes to deciding what to do after witnessing a behaviour that is legally wrong, or infringes upon company policy.

The second step is to give a clear outline of what is expected of the person who has discovered the problem. This where an independent third party reporting system is of great value. The ability to report anonymously, confidentially and without fear of retribution is a powerful tool in the creation of a speak-up culture.

When wrongdoing comes to light, many employees will question whether or not they should report it. It's important to let them know that it's expected that they do report it and should file a whistleblower report right way. If regulators come questioning and were to find out that the issue came to management's attention first, and management didn't do anything about it, then that is where fault and fines start to get handed out.

Being proactive is smart business. That means providing employees with the tools they need for them to do their jobs better and to help them in their efforts to drive your business forward. An ethics reporting system is one such tool.

eBook 5 Steps to Communicate Your Ethics Reporting Program