What Is a Code of Ethics in Business? (With Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 15 November 2022

Published 16 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A professional code of ethics can give employees, industries and organisations guidelines and best practices to use in the workplace. It often acts as a set of expectations of how you conduct yourself professionally, what's socially acceptable and how teams approach problems or make decisions. Creating and managing professional and ethical codes can foster a healthy work environment and group morale by allowing you to work with honesty and integrity. In this article, we explore what a code of ethics is, the two types of moral principles and specific examples of how they apply to different professions and industries.

Read more:

  • What Is Integrity? Definition, Attributes and Examples

  • What Is Professionalism? Traits and Tips

What is a code of ethics?

To understand what is a code of ethics, it's a guiding set of principles meant to help businesses and organisations govern decision-making and establish right from wrong. Sometimes called an ethical code, these tenets outline the values and mission of a company, the standards to which employees get held and how professionals approach problems, issues or decisions. Common attributes of ethical codes often include:

  • Confidentiality

  • Professional behaviour

  • Professional competence

  • Objectivity

  • Integrity

In some industries, like healthcare and finance, there are specific laws around ethical conduct, bribery and anti-corruption, for example. Other industries and organisations might voluntarily adopt an ethical code. For example, a business that doesn't necessarily work on addressing climate change might still share a commitment to sustainability officially.

Related: What Is Company Policy? (Importance, Tips and Examples)

Why is a code of ethics important?

An ethical code is important because it helps ensure employees behave in a respectful and socially acceptable manner. It establishes rules for behaviour, lets employees understand expectations and serves as the groundwork for a preemptive warning if someone violates the code. An ethical code also serves a purpose externally, too, as it shares the values and mission of an organisation to consumers, competitors and other professionals. Establishing an ethical code in the workplace also helps guide a code of conduct, which is more focused and instructs employees on how to act on a daily basis and in specific situations.

Related:

  • Code of Conduct in the Workplace: Importance and Examples

  • How To Write an Employee Warning Letter (With Examples)

What are the types of ethical codes?

There are several types of ethical codes, including these three:

  • Value-based: A value-based code focuses on a company's core values and beliefs, like how it relates to the public good or the environment, for example. Sometimes values-based ethical code requires greater self-regulation to maintain.

  • Compliance-based: A compliance-based ethical code focuses on regulations, laws and industry practices a company complies with to prevent penalties or fees. Compliance-based tenets are typically well-defined with clear consequences if violated.

  • Profession-based: Depending on the industry you work in, you might have professional codes of ethics by a governing body or organisation, like the Singapore Nurses Association (SNA), for example. Or there may be other legal regulations put in place by the government.

What are examples of using a code of ethics?

Here are eight examples of professional and ethical codes in various professions and industries:

Teachers

Professional educators at all school levels typically have a universal ethical code to protect the rights of students. The code might vary slightly from school to school, educational age level, school district or by location, though often the basic principles are the same. Teachers get asked to show impartiality, integrity and ethical behaviour in the classroom and their interactions with students, parents and guardians and their colleagues.

Here are some examples of specific ethical responsibilities, outlined by the Association for Early Childhood Educators (Singapore):

  • To respect and value each child and the diversity of their culture, family, community and beliefs

  • To support all children's right to learn and play in an inclusive environment

  • To provide physical, mental and emotional safety to every child

  • To present professional experience, education, background and qualifications truthfully

Lawyers

Lawyers and those in the legal profession often have a professional code of ethics that exists independently of their employment with a firm, corporate or business. For example, the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules 2015 states a lawyer's duty lies with the court, taking precedence over their duty to a client. This helps ensure truth, justice and fairness are always a priority, rather than winning a case at any cost.

Financial advisors

Financial advisors help plan your finances, give advice on investments and insurance and navigate different stages of your personal and financial life. Many follow ethical standards like integrity, truthfulness and objectivity, operating with everyone's best interests in mind. While the Financial Advisers Act doesn't impose a fiduciary duty, financial advisers are expected to give investment advice reasonably.

Related: Q&A: Why Pursue a Career in Wealth Management? (Plus Salary)

Accountants

Similar to financial advisors, industry ethical codes guide the work of accountants, too. The Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) ethical code dictates all members conduct themselves professionally to uphold the reputation of accountancy professionals. Activities strictly forbidden include defrauding persons or businesses, money laundering and financing terrorism.

Related: 8 Financial Career Options (Plus Top Jobs and Salaries)

Mental health professionals

Counsellors, therapists and others in the mental health profession abide by ethical principles, too. For example, this field often requires patient-therapist confidentiality and not disclosing information about a client to others, unless legally compelled to or when a patient poses a risk to themselves or others. The Singapore Association for Counselling (SAC) is one organisation that outlines how these professionals strive to build trust and protect clients' interests and it outlines the general conduct, ethics and professional manner of the patient relationship.

The Association of Psychotherapists and Counsellors Singapore (APACS) also has a professional code for social workers, psychotherapists, psychologists, counsellors and other allied health professionals. Their ethical code includes elements like:

  • Not taking advantage of a client's weakened emotional state

  • Not exploiting a client financially or promising unattainable services or outcomes

  • Not engaging in personal or sexual relationships with current or former clients for at least two years post-counselling

  • Not discriminating on age, gender, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or any basis prescribed by the law

Related: Psychologist vs. Therapist (With Differences and Skills)

Physicians

Healthcare is another field that has its own universal ethical conduct codes. Specifically, the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) outlines guidelines for physicians and those in healthcare professions, addressing everything from patient care to relationships with other staff members. As medical advancements, business models in medicine and treatment options change in the industry, so do elements of the ethical code. Every registered practitioner within the SMC also makes the physician's pledge or oath, which is a common and long-standing tradition in the medical field worldwide. It focuses on respecting autonomy, upholding justice and ensuring non-maleficence.

Common elements of a doctor's ethical code include:

  • Maintaining respect for life and upholding a patient's welfare and best interests

  • Providing competent, compassionate and quality care

  • Advocating for patient rights and preventing harm or risk

  • Abiding by the highest standards of honesty, integrity and moral behaviour

  • Keeping all medical information confidential

  • Ignoring prejudices or moral bias regarding race, religion, sex, creed, disability, sexual orientation or socioeconomic standing that may influence patient care

Related: Highest Paying Jobs in Singapore

Pharmaceuticals

Medical ethics also apply to the pharmaceutical industry, no matter the position level. Because there's a risk in using prescription medicines, the Singapore Association of Pharmaceutical Industries (SAPI) has specific ethical guidelines around:

  • Clinical research and study publications

  • Interactions with patient organisations and other healthcare professionals

  • Communications to the press

  • Off-label use and issuing drug samples

  • Promotional material and labelling standards

  • Continuing professional education

Ethical guidelines help pharmacists properly execute their professional responsibilities and duties. They also set expectations of what behaviours, like errant or unprofessional advertising, go against industry ethics.

Related: 5 Interview Questions about Work Ethic (With Answers)

Research scientists

Scientists and research and development professionals also have a code of conduct based on honesty, accountability, professionalism and stewardship. This ethical guidance helps ensure research by organisations, governments and scientists is fair, balanced, unbiased and truthful. As advancement in science and technology progresses and grows, policies and regulations may change, though having a foundation of ethical standards continues to shape current and future guidelines.

Related: How To Demonstrate a Strong Work Ethic to Your Employer

Businesses

Businesses often establish a professional code of ethics to help employees know what behaviours are acceptable. Here are some examples of ethics a company might include in its code:

  • Confidentiality and privacy policies: Companies often require you to keep confidentiality when working with a customer's private and identifying personal information or when working with the company's own proprietary data.

  • Obeying the law: Typically, companies also require you to abide by the law and not engage in any illegal activity. For example, they might include theft, drug use or profiting from inside information about a company's financial status, performance or internal issues and concerns.

  • Consideration and caring policies: Companies often establish ethical policies about behaving in a caring, considerate and appropriate manner toward clients and other colleagues. Policies against harassment and discrimination help maintain and foster a positive work environment.

  • Professional appearance policies: Companies might require dress codes, like a uniform for a specific workgroup or business professional dress, like a suit and tie. Dress code policies often reflect the values-based ethics of a company.

Related: What Is Ethical Leadership? And How to Develop Your Skills

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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