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Workplace Codes of Conduct: The Complete Guide

Published March 28, 2024 | Adam Wyatt - Copywriter and Content Creator

A male manager presenting to a room of male and felame employees

A well-crafted code of conduct serves as a foundational document that outlines company policies relating to standards of professional behaviour and ethical principles expected of all employees.   

This guide delves into the meaning, importance, and practical examples of codes of conduct in workplaces. It offers employers and employees in New Zealand a comprehensive understanding of how these guidelines shape corporate culture and personal conduct.  

Understanding the Code of Conduct 


What is a Code of Conduct? 

A code of conduct is an essential document that outlines the standards of appropriate behaviour, ethical principles, and professional practices you expect of all employees within your organisation. It’s a comprehensive guide detailing the company values and ethical framework underpinning daily operations and decision-making processes.   

This code is designed to assist company employees in understanding their obligations and responsibilities, ensuring their actions align with the company’s core values and legal requirements. By clearly defining acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, a code of conduct helps to generate a positive and respectful workplace culture.  

Why is a Code of Conduct Important? 

The importance of an employee code of conduct in the workplace cannot be understated. It acts as a cornerstone for establishing a culture of integrity, accountability, and professionalism. A well-implemented code: 

  • Guides behaviour: It provides employees with clear guidelines on how to conduct themselves, promoting ethical decision-making and reducing the likelihood of misconduct. 

  • Ensures compliance: Outlining legal and ethical standards helps the organisation and its employees comply with regulatory requirements and avoid legal issues. 

  • Promotes a positive work environment: A code of conduct sets the tone for a respectful and inclusive workplace where all employees are valued and treated fairly. 

  • Protects the organisation's reputation: Upholding high standards of conduct enhances the company’s image and credibility, building trust among clients, partners, and the broader community. 

  • Mitigates risk: It serves as a risk management tool, identifying potential areas of ethical vulnerability and providing mechanisms to address them. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Workplace Code of Conduct 

Developing an employee code of conduct requires thoughtful consideration of the unique aspects of your organisation, including its values, industry standards and legal requirements. Consider these initiatives when crafting an effective code of conduct for your New Zealand SME.  

1. Gather information and assess needs 

  • Identify key stakeholders: Involve representatives from management, human resources, and different departments to understand their perspectives and concerns. 

  • Review relevant legislation: Ensure your code aligns with current New Zealand employment laws and regulations, including the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Privacy Act 2020

  • Research industry best practices: Look at codes of conduct from similar organisations in your industry for inspiration and learn from their approach. 

2. Define your company values and desired behaviours 

  • Brainstorm core values: Identify your organisation's fundamental values that guide ethical decision-making and professional conduct. Examples include integrity, respect, fairness, innovation, and customer focus. 

  • Translate values into behaviours: Define specific behaviours that exemplify your company values. For instance, under "respect," you might include treating colleagues with courtesy and avoiding discrimination. 

Key elements often addressed in workplace codes of conduct include: 

  • Professional integrity and ethics: Standards for honesty, integrity, and ethical decision-making. 

  • Compliance with laws: Adherence to all relevant laws, regulations, and standards governing the organisation's operations. 

  • Respect and fair treatment: Guidelines to ensure respect, fairness and non-discrimination in all interactions. 

  • Confidentiality and privacy: Policies to protect sensitive information and respect privacy rights. 

  • Conflict of interest: Identifying and managing potential conflicts of interest. 

3. Develop the Code of Conduct document 

  • Structure the document: Divide the code into clear sections, addressing key areas like ethical conduct, workplace behaviour, use of company property, confidentiality, social media use, dress code and substance abuse policy. 

  • Use clear and concise language: Ensure the code is easy to understand for all employees, regardless of their education or background. 

  • Maintain a professional tone: Use professional language while remaining approachable and respectful. 

  • Include specific examples: Provide concrete examples to illustrate the types of behaviours expected and prohibited under each section. 

  • Outline reporting procedures: Clearly explain how employees can report potential violations of the code, ensuring a safe and confidential process. 

4. Obtain legal review 

  • Consult with an employment lawyer or HR specialist: Seek legal advice to ensure your code complies with current employment laws and best practices. This helps minimise potential legal risks and ensures the code is enforceable. 

5. Communicate and train employees 

  • Develop a communication strategy: Utilise various methods to inform employees about the code, including company meetings, printed handouts, and online resources. The code of conduct should also be referenced in the employment agreement

  • Conduct training sessions: Organise training sessions to explain the code's contents in detail, answer employee questions, and clarify expectations. 

  • Incorporate the code into onboarding: Include the code of conduct in the onboarding process for new hires, ensuring they understand their responsibilities from the start. 

6. Implement and enforce the code 

  • Establish a fair and consistent enforcement process: Develop clear procedures for investigating reported violations, including gathering evidence, providing an opportunity for the employee to respond and applying appropriate disciplinary actions, which may include termination

  • Maintain confidentiality: Ensure all parties involved in the investigation and disciplinary process are treated with respect and confidentiality. 

7. Review and update regularly 

  • Schedule periodic reviews: Regularly review the code of conduct to ensure it remains relevant, effective, and compliant. This might be every one to two years or more frequently, depending on changes in your organisation, industry, or legal landscape. 

  • Seek employee feedback: Encourage employee feedback during the review process to gather suggestions for improvement and ensure the code reflects their concerns. 

Additional Tips: 

  • Maintain an accessible format: Make the code readily available to employees in a format that is easy to access, such as a printed handbook or on the company intranet. 

  • Promote open communication: Encourage employees to raise concerns about potential violations of the code without fear of reprisal. 

  • Lead by example: Management should demonstrate the behaviours outlined in the code, setting a positive tone for the entire organisation. 

Code of Conduct examples 

While codes of conduct are tailored to each organisation’s specific context and needs, several common elements are often included: 

  • Ethical standards: A commitment to integrity might be demonstrated through policies on honesty in communications, transparency in financial reporting, and fairness in competition. 

  • Workplace behaviour: Guidelines might cover issues like harassment, discrimination, and workplace safety, ensuring all employees feel respected and secure. 

  • Conflict of interest: Employees might be instructed to avoid situations where personal interests could conflict with those of the organisation or its clients. 

  • Confidentiality: Protecting sensitive information is crucial, with policies outlining how employees should handle and secure proprietary or client information. 

  • Compliance with laws: This ensures that employees are aware of, and adhere to, the legal standards relevant to their role and the industry. 

  • Stewardship of resources: Ensuring all employees use all forms of company resources responsibly, with misuse of company equipment, violation of copyright laws or damage to company property strictly prohibited. 

  • Social media and online behaviour: Establish guidelines for the responsible use of company technology and online platforms. Discourage actions that could damage the company's reputation or create conflicts with colleagues. 

  • Dress code and professional appearance: Define the appropriate attire you expect employees to wear based on the company's industry and work environment. Maintain a professional image while allowing for individual style and cultural considerations. 

  • Alcohol and drug policy: Outline expectations regarding alcohol and drug use in the workplace and during work hours. Provide support and resources for employees seeking help with substance abuse. 

Industry examples  

  • Tech industry: Emphasising data protection, intellectual property rights, and innovation while ensuring responsible use of technology. 

  • Healthcare sector: Prioritising patient confidentiality, informed consent, and ethical medical practices. 

  • Finance and banking: Highlighting compliance with financial regulations, transparency, and avoidance of conflicts of interest. 

Moving forward with your Code of Conduct 

A comprehensive code of conduct is a living document that evolves with your organisation. Regular reviews and updates ensure it remains relevant and effective in guiding employee behaviour and maintaining organisational integrity. 

Embark on the Journey: Crafting and implementing a code of conduct is a significant step toward fostering a positive and ethical workplace culture. It’s an investment in your organisation's future, promoting a safe, respectful, and professional environment for all employees.  

Contact Employsure today for free initial advice about employment relations and WHS support. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a code of conduct legally required in New Zealand?

While not legally mandated, it's strongly recommended that all businesses establish a code of conduct to comply with various employment laws and promote a positive work environment.

How detailed should the dress code section be?

The level of detail depends on your industry and company culture. Focus on establishing general guidelines that promote professionalism and avoid discriminatory practices. 

Can I have different appearance standards for different roles or departments?

Yes, you can have some variation in appearance standards based on job duties and professional context. However, ensure any such variations are clearly defined, objective, and non-discriminatory.

What if an employee's religious beliefs or cultural practices conflict with the dress code?

It's crucial to be flexible and make reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs and cultural practices, as long as they don't pose a safety hazard or significantly disrupt the workplace. Open communication and finding a solution that respects the employee's beliefs and the company's professional image is key. 

How do I handle potential violations of the code of conduct?

Develop a clear procedure for reporting and investigating potential violations, ensuring fairness and due process for all parties involved.

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