In the business I co-own, Walters & Simon Global Solutions, I often cross paths with people whose business philosophy is diametrically opposed to mine. For them, business and integrity simply don’t mix. For me, the premise upon which any successful business deal must be based is integrity. As a result, sometimes we have to end the professional relationship. Integrity simply isn’t a bargaining chip, in my opinion.

According to Merriam Webster, integrity is conduct that conforms to an accepted standard of right and wrong. As Human Resources professionals we are faced with ethical dilemmas on a regular basis. We are the company’s standard bearers. Lapses in judgement by HR professionals may cause a plethora of Equal Employment Opportunity complaints, Better Business Bureau reports, and various discrimination claims. The legal costs to the employer can be crippling especially for a smaller to mid-sized business.

How does a handful of HR professionals and people managers ensure compliance with a company’s code of ethics? That’s practically impossible because no one can be everywhere at all times. Companies rely heavily on other employees to report questionable conduct of co-workers. How do you get employees to feel comfortable being a snitch, for lack of a better word? First you have to accept that there is some degree of unethical behavior that will always go undiscovered. It isn’t typical for employees to feel comfortable turning each other in, so to speak. However, HR professionals can encourage ethical behavior and reporting by following these best practices.

Always Follow Through – Do what you say you will do, every time, without exception. Employees trust HR professionals that have been honest, transparent and reliable in the past. As co-workers engage in behaviors that could potentially leave the company open to liability, it is more likely to be reported to someone the employee feels will not only keep their report confidential but will actually follow through with appropriate action. No employee wants to feel as though they garnered enough courage to file a report with HR and then the company just resumes business as usual. It makes them feel like their voice wasn’t heard and it is unlikely that they will ever file another complaint.

Remain Confidential – I know. This should go without saying. Unfortunately I’ve worked with numerous HR folks who just don’t get that this is the main tenet of our profession. We should hear everything and say nothing. Employees are more inclined to report the misgivings of others if they feel confident that what happens in HR says in HR.

Be Transparent – The best defense is a great offense. HR professionals can minimize unethical behavior by setting clear expectations and explaining repercussions for unethical behavior. Provide all employees with ethics training, reviewing the company’s code of ethics and detailing what progressive disciplinary action is taken when employees are found in violation.

Integrity in business still matters. Aside from the financial cost of unethical business practices, there is the cost to a company’s reputation. A reputation of questionable business practices reduces your ability to attract top talent to staff your organization and impairs your ability to attract and retain consistent clientele.

We learned about honesty and integrity – that the truth matters… that you don’t take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules… and success doesn’t count unless you earn it fair and square.” Michelle Obama

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