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Guilt By Association II

(September 24, 2002) - Yesterday, we asked you to consider the possibility that the current anti-business witch hunt might end up targeting the Human Capital Management sector. We got to thinking about Ethics and the Human Capital Professions. This (much longer than usual) article suggests that the risk of scandal is somewhat higher than we though yesterday.

Our musings about Ethics led to a search of the web on the subject. We examined a dozen professional codes of ethics. It became clear that our industry needs significantly more accountability in a hurry. Essentially, there are no specific standards covering Compensation or Recruiting. The few HR Ethics pieces are remarkable for the fact that they assume situational solutions on every level. The rest of this article offers several Codes for your examination.

SHRM recently introduced its new code of ethics. The society chose to use a situational model of the ethical question. The SHRM Code Of Ethics is rooted in six core principles:

  • Professional responsibility: HR professionals are responsible for adding value to the organizations they serve and contributing to the ethical success of those organizations. They accept professional responsibility for their individual decisions and actions and are advocates for the profession, engaging in activities that enhance its credibility and value.
  • Professional development: HR professionals must strive to meet the highest standards of competence and commit to strengthen their competencies on a continuous basis.
  • Ethical leadership: HR professionals are expected to exhibit individual leadership as a role model for maintaining the highest standards of ethical conduct.
  • Fairness and justice: HR professionals are ethically responsible for promoting and fostering fairness and justice for all employees and their organizations.
  • Conflicts of interest: HR professionals must maintain a high level of trust with stakeholders. In the interest of professional integrity, they must protect the interests of stakeholders and should not engage in activities that create actual, apparent or potential conflicts of interest.
  • Use of information: HR professionals consider and protect the rights of individuals, especially in the acquisition and dissemination of information while ensuring truthful communications and facilitating informed decision-making.

Compare that to the specifics of the American Staffing Association Code Of Ethics:

  • To comply with all laws and regulations applicable to their business, and to maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct in the operation of that business and in their dealings with employees, customers, and competitors;
  • To treat all applicants and employees with dignity and respect, and to provide equal employment opportunities, based on bona fide job qualifications, without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, or disability;
  • To maintain the highest standards of integrity in all advertising, and to assign the best qualified employees to fill customers' needs;
  • To determine the experience and qualifications of applicants and employees as the staffing firm deems appropriate to the circumstances, or as may be required by law;
  • To explain to employees prior to assignment their wage rate, applicable benefits, and hours of work-and to promptly pay any wages and benefits due in accordance with the terms of the individual's employment and applicable legal requirements;
  • To satisfy all applicable employer obligations, including payment of the employer's share of social security, state and federal unemployment insurance taxes, and workers' compensation-and to explain to employees that the staffing firm is responsible for such obligations;
  • To determine that employees are assigned to worksites that are safe, that they understand the nature of the work the customer has called for and can perform such work without injury to themselves or others, and that they receive any safety training that may be necessary or required;
  • To take prompt action to address employee questions, concerns, or complaints regarding unsafe work conditions, discrimination, or any other matter involving the terms and conditions of their employment;
  • To observe the following guidelines to ensure an orderly transition when taking over an account being serviced by another staffing firm:
  •         the outgoing firm and its employees should, whenever feasible, be given reasonable prior notice that the account is being transferred;
  •         assigned employees of the outgoing firm should, whenever feasible, be allowed to continue working on the payroll of the outgoing firm for some reasonable transition period; thereafter, they should be given the choice of accepting an assignment with another customer of the outgoing firm if one is available, or applying to stay on their             current assignment with the new staffing firm

Now, take a look at the National Society of Professional Engineers Code Of Ethics. Imagine an HCM Ethics standard that included this level of personal accountability. There is no question that Engineers are professionals who are accountable to standards higher than the dynamics of their current employment relationship.

  • Engineers in the fulfillment of their professional duties must carefully consider the safety, health and welfare of the public.
  • Engineers may perform services outside of their areas of competence as long as they inform their employer or client of this fact.
  • Engineers may issue subjective and partial statements if such statements are in writing and consistent with the best interests of their employer, client or the public.
  • Engineers shall act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees.
  • Engineers shall not be required to engage truthful acts when required to protect the public health safety and welfare.
  • Engineers may not be required to follow the provisions of state or federal law when such actions could endanger or compromise their employer or their client's interests.
  • If engineers' judgment is overruled under circumstances that endanger life or property, they shall notify their employer or client and such other authority as may be appropriate.
  • Engineers may review but shall not approve those engineering documents that are in conformity with applicable standards.
  • Engineers shall not reveal facts, data or information without the prior consent of the client or employer except as authorized or required by law or this Code.
  • Engineers shall not permit the use of their name or associate in business ventures with any person or firm that they believe is engaged in fraudulent or dishonest enterprise, unless such enterprise or activity is deemed consistent with applicable state or federal law.
  • Engineers having knowledge of any alleged violation of this Code, following a period of thirty days during which the violation is not corrected, shall report thereon to appropriate professional bodies and, when relevant, also to public authorities, and cooperate with the proper authorities in furnishing such information or assistance as may be required.
  • Engineers shall undertake assignments only when qualified by education or experience in the specific technical fields involved.
  • Engineers shall not affix their signatures to plans or documents dealing with subject matter in which they lack competence, but may affix their signatures to plans or documents not prepared under their direction and control where the engineer has a good faith belief that such plans or documents were competently prepared by another designated party.
  • Engineers may accept assignments and assume responsibility for coordination of an entire project and shall sign and seal the engineering documents for the entire project, including each technical segment of the plans and documents.
  • Engineers shall strive to be objective and truthful in professional reports, statements or testimony, with primary consideration for the best interests of the engineer's client or employer. The engineer's reports shall include all relevant and pertinent information in such reports, statements or testimony, which shall bear the date on which the engineer was retained by the client to prepare the reports.
  • Engineers may express publicly technical opinions that are founded upon knowledge of the facts and competence in the subject matter.
  • Engineers shall issue no statements, criticisms, or arguments on technical matters that are inspired or paid for by interested parties, unless they have prefaced their comments by explicitly identifying the interested parties on whose behalf they are speaking, and by revealing the existence of any interest the engineers may have in the matters.
  • Engineers may not participate in any matter involving a conflict of interest if it could influence or appear to influence their judgment or the quality of their services.
  • Engineers shall not accept compensation, financial or otherwise, from more than one party for services on the same project, or for services pertaining to the same project, unless the circumstances are fully disclosed and agreed to by all interested parties.
  • Engineers shall not solicit but may accept financial or other valuable consideration, directly or indirectly, from outside agents in connection with the work for which they are responsible, if such compensation is fully disclosed.
  • Engineers in public service as members, advisors or employees of a governmental or quasi-governmental body or department may participate in decisions with respect to services solicited or provided by them or their organizations in private or public engineering practice as long as such decisions do not involve technical engineering matters for which they do not posses professional competence.
  • Engineers shall not solicit or accept a contract from a governmental body on which a principal or officer of their organization serves as a member.
  • Engineers shall not intentionally falsify their qualifications or actively permit written misrepresentation of their or their associate's qualifications. Engineers may accept credit for previous work performed where the work was performed during the period the engineer was employed by the previous employer. Brochures or other presentations incident to the solicitation of employment shall specifically indicate the work performed and the dates the engineer was employed by the firm.
  • Engineers shall not offer, give, solicit, or receive, either directly or indirectly, any contribution to influence the award of a contract by a public authority, or which may be reasonably construed by the public as having the effect or intent of influencing the award of a contract unless such contribution is made in accordance with applicable federal or state election campaign finance laws and regulations.
  • Engineers shall acknowledge their errors after consulting with their employer or client.

The risk that our industry becomes the butt of the current witch-hunt is probably no more than 30%. Considering the question, however, is a way to open the door to much larger discussions about our crying need for legitimate institutions, clear professional standards and an underlying move to real professionalization across the industry.

 -John Sumser

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